Elden Ring - Review

Elden Ring - action

In the 87 hours that it took me to beat Eldon Ring, I went through an absolute ringer of emotions. I felt a fair amount of sorrow for the hundreds of thousands of lost exp stolen by some of the toughest boss encounters software has ever conceived of, and a lot of anger, especially at these. I was in near constant awe of the many absolutely jaw-dropping vistas, by the sheer scope of an absolutely enormous world, by the frequently harrowing enemies, and by the way in which Eldon Ring nearly always found a way to reward my curiosity with either an interesting new A valuable reward, or something even greater from software, takes the ball that the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild got rolling and runs with it, creating a fascinating and dense open world about freedom and exploration above all else, while also somehow managing to seamlessly weave a full-on Dark Souls game into the middle of it.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Elder Ring ended up as one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences I've ever had. Someone must extinguish this flame. To set the stage, all you know from the outset is that you play as a tarnished lord of no renown, blessed by grace, and are compelled to make the journey to the lands between and become an elden lord.

What that actually means, how one might go about doing that, and what the deal is with that giant glowing golden tree are all things that you have to discover for yourself, like in other FromSoft games. The grand story is hard to fully digest on the first playthrough, but it's a story that I nonetheless enjoyed trying to piece together for myself.

Elden Ring - bandai namco games

It ended up being the organic side stories that kept me most enthralled rather than the grand overarching plot that credits Game of Thrones' George R. Martin as its scenario writer. Soft From Smartly doesn't change much in its approach to these from the Souls games, Bloodborne or Sekiro. You'll just naturally meet characters as you explore and discover the world and become involved in their problems.

There are no exclamation points, point markers on the map, no waypoints to guide you to them, and these characters don't always flag you down or initially want or need anything from you. They're just people with their own agendas and goals, whose stories are impacted based on your own actions or inactions.

The problem, of course, is that without any markers in a quest log or journal, it becomes very easy to forget about certain plot threads and accidentally leave them unresolved by the end. That's a bummer, and I've already felt regret about missing out on stories that some of my colleagues have had, but for me it was worth it because even after 87 hours.

Elden Ring - before you buy

I never once felt the open world fatigue that usually sets in when my brain gets overloaded by a map absolutely full of unresolved side quest markers. Besides, any missed quests give me extra incentive to continue on to the new game. Freedom is the word that every aspect of Eldon Ring's design connects back to.

From the moment you set foot in Limgrave, the first of many interconnected regions in the lands between, you are completely free to go wherever you want. Sure, that's far from a new concept in an open world game, but the way it's handled here is truly extraordinary. You could follow the light of grace guiding you toward the main path and the first major dungeon, or you could find a hidden path to a new region that's meant for higher levels and completely bypass the first major dungeon entirely, maybe even steal yourself a cool weapon early while you're there again.

This is not unprecedented, but a few things set Elder Ring apart from games like Skyrim that provide a similar openness. For one thing, for one, the elder ring doesn't scale enemy levels to your own, so jumping into a later region means you're always dealing with stronger enemies, making the risk-reward prospect of doing so very real.

Elden Ring - bloodborne

But perhaps more notably, the way its different areas are connected makes finding these new ones more than a simple matter of choosing a direction and heading towards it. Limb Grave is designed very specifically with a main path in mind that takes you through Stormville Castle, and finding a way around feels like you've truly discovered a hidden passage or alternate route, which is a super cool feeling not present in most open world games I've explored.

You also have more freedom in how you approach combat than in any previous FromSoft game, thanks to a bunch of familiar new systems that are used in interesting ways here. You can crouch, walk, and use stealth to avoid detection, or more easily sneak up for a backstab. You can fight on horseback.

Elden Ring - boss

You can craft items on the fly. You can summon a huge variety of creatures to fight for you, most significantly. You can equip ashes of war to your weapons and completely change their affinity and skill. The most important element of Elder Ring's philosophy, though, is the freedom to just walk away and do something else when you hit a wall.

The Eldren Ring is hard, which is to be expected from a Fromsoft game, but its difficulty surprised me even as a veteran of the Souls-like genre. I hit multiple points, even all the way up to the moment I reached the very last boss, where I had unlocked paths to several bosses and simply could not make headway on any of them, but even though I hit dead ends on those paths, there was always somewhere else I could go.

A region i hadn't thoroughly explored, an npc, a quest that I had set aside for later, a light of grace indicator that I had not yet followed, there was never a point in the elden ring where I was at a complete loss of what to do and every time I explored those other regions and followed those alternate paths.

Elden Ring - dark souls

I would find new gear and items and level up my stats. I would also learn new spells or skills that would eventually give me the extra edge I needed to power through a boss that had given me problems. It isn't just the promise of making my numbers go up that called me to turn over every stone on the map; the lands between are positively brimming with riches, intrigue, and danger at every turn.

Much of what Eldon Rings' open world does well can be traced directly back to things that made Breath of the Wild stand out from the many open world games that came before it. It's that same feeling of starting out in a world with little explicit guidance, finding something that piques your curiosity on your own, doing whatever it takes to get there, and then being rewarded for that curiosity.

The big difference is that in the breath of the wild, I can usually predict what's going to happen when I get to that orange glowy thing off in the distance. I'll do a puzzle, unearth a shrine, do another puzzle, and probably get a cool temporary weapon in a spirit orb. That's not to take anything away from Brethren Wild.

Watch our Elden Ring review. Elden Ring is a massive iteration on what FromSoftware began with the Souls series, bringing its relentlessly challenging combat to an incredible open world that gives us the freedom to choose our own path. Elden Ring Reviewed by Mitchell Saltzman on PC. Also available on PlayStation and Xbox.
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