Few games have been as eagerly anticipated as Elden Ring, and it’s been the perfect game to cap off a month full of big releases after it launched at the end of February. Here’s why, with our account that’s based on the PlayStation 5 version.
In all honesty, we were somehow expecting Elden Ring to not live up to the hype. When it started winning “best game of the show” at trade shows without even showing any content, it felt like the hype train was running just a little too fast. With that kind of anticipation, in most cases, the end result can only disappoint. Yet, here we are, and the game is getting rave reviews all around – this one is going to be no different.
As FromSoftware’s first game in almost three years, Elden Ring doesn’t stray too far from the studio’s previous work on the Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro games. They’re not afraid to be associated with the genre they created either, and even manage to raise the bar in the process. This is a new benchmark that’s destined to be an all-time classic, despite the fact that this developer’s games aren’t exactly the most inviting ones.
What started on the PlayStation 3 with Demon’s Souls has turned into a trendsetting gameplay template, and for those who felt like FromSoftware’s games were a little underdeveloped in the narrative sense they’ve brought George R.R. Martin aboard for this one. So yes, we do get the hype, especially because (unlike Martin’s books) this one is actually finished now and fantasy fans worldwide can (and should) get their hands on it.
But all of George R.R. Martin’s involvement, Elden Ring is distinctly low on narrative guidance, especially at first. You start out as a nameless “Tarnished” warrior who has risen from the dead to find the world in tatters because the Elden Ring was broken. You’re then told your goal is to become an Elden Lord. Good luck and goodbye. We’ll admit it was a bit underwhelming to have this little to go on and just get dumped in what seemed like a giant open environment with no clear indication of where to head next.
Any direction will do, and that’s the biggest change that Elden Ring brings to the Soulslike genre. Its world is massive, presenting players with the biggest FromSoftware experience yet – and that can be disorienting at first. You’ll discover some more enclosed dungeon-type areas later on as well that feel more familiar in how they’re structured, but the overworld you encounter early on seems to mainly serve as a means to overwhelm you. Not just with its size, but also with the fact that is seems to be littered with giant enemies that you thought you weren’t going to face until it was time for a boss fight. Here, they’re everywhere you go – and thanks to some impressive verticality, that truly means any direction you choose to travel to.
Traversal becomes less overwhelming once you gain access to your horse Torrent, who later also becomes an exciting part of the gameplay when you use him to quickly capture loot from a busy enemy base or take out a few enemies by circling them. Even later – but this is 15 hours into the game – you start getting a firmer grasp on the narrative world that’s been crafted for Elden Ring, with plenty of well developed characters, stories and lore. It’s deeply rewarding as an experience that keeps growing, yet at the same time some of those rewards are tucked away so deep that those who are new to FromSoftware’s catalogue might hit a wall and never see it.
The mix of open world traversal and dungeon-based gameplay, along with a wide diversity of enemy types, makes for a great mix, and combat is beautifully balanced everywhere. While you’ll meet the grim reaper many times, it always feels like you can take down your conqueror with just a tiny bit more skill development. Boss fights are no exception, and are highly tactical in that it’s smart to just try and stay alive while learning their patterns and recognizing the openings in their defenses.
That diversity is echoed in the game’s audiovisual presentation as well, although the combined release for last and current gen systems probably holds it back a little, and it doesn’t feel more technically impressive than Demon’s Souls did, once of the few next gen exclusives we’ve seen so far. Don’t get us – Elden Ring is gorgeous, but a lot of that is by design rather than pushing the technical envelope.
And while it’s a dream to play for FromSoftware fans, it’s also not perfect for them. As freeing as the open world can be, it can also feel disorienting, and there are times you’ll wish that you had a better idea of what and where to push for – whether it’s knowing which boss should be next or which dungeon was logical to tackle. You eventually find out through trial and error, but the game is long enough to not require you to spend hours figuring out you’re looking in the wrong place.
Still, it’s an absolute must-play for those who’ve been waiting for it since the Dark Souls games and Sekiro. The combat is extremely refined, there’s so much content that it always feel like there’s something new to do in the game world, and once it gets its hooks in you Elden Ring won’t let you go until you’ve gotten through its absolutely massive campaign. A triumph and already a game of the year, though possible geared too much towards a niche audience.