Elden Ring is one of the greatest games I've ever played. Period!
We're like, what, 3 months in 2022 and we've already been blessed with amazing games like Dying Light 2, Horizon Forbidden West, etc. but Elden Ring, man, this game is in a league of its own. I've never played such a captivating game that even if you die 10-20, hell, 30 times in a row to the same boss, or just to a random dog for that matter, you want to just keep playing for hours upon end.
That's exactly what I've been doing for the last week or so. I can't put this game down. Every time I have felled a major boss, I have to satisfy the urge to see what's next, what path, creature, and most importantly, pain hides after the next grace. It's been like this for 65 hours so far. Behind every corner, there's a new jaw-dropping area filled with all sorts of engaging and intriguing creatures for me to kill, dark caves and catacombs to explore, cool new weapons, gear, and secrets to find - it never ends - and I am loving every second of it.
FromSoftware has always understood their assignment as each game they have released in the "soulslike" genre has been an amazing experience. Elden Ring, for the time being, is their magnum opus. Never has the word "masterpiece" felt more appropriate for a game before.
This open-world that the geniuses at FromSoftware have meticulously crafted and put together is incredibly vast, unique, and absolutely gorgeous. The art direction of Elden Ring is unprecedented in gaming, in my opinion. I've never seen a game, let alone an open-world game, look this good. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about the graphics fidelity as Elden Ring is nowhere near the stupid high level of fidelity of Horizon Forbidden West or even Bluepoint's remake of Demons Souls here. I am talking about the art, how unique each of the environments, enemy designs, pieces of gear, etc. look. I am talking about the different color palettes and how they masterfully use them to differentiate and build the atmosphere of each region in this gorgeous world. I am talking about the many gorgeous vistas and landscapes you get to see and the sheer number and density of unique assets that they have put into this game. I saw someone tweet something like "Elden Ring is not Dark Souls 4. It's Dark Souls 4, 5, and 6 all in one" and after playing it myself, that statement rings 100% true.
There are many different regions in the Lands Between and each one is unique and well, massive. Now, if you've played any FromSoftware game before, you know how exceptional their world design is and how each level has tons of shortcuts you can unlock so the next time you come around, you know where to go. Take that same design principle and apply it to a massive open world and you get Elden Ring. But, remember that it's still a FromSoftware game after all and unlike pretty much all other open-world games, in Elden Ring, you have no direction as we've come to expect from said open-world games. After a short tutorial sequence, you are thrown into the world and well, good luck. You can go wherever you want. Of course, there are hints spread out either while you're exploring or directly on the beautiful map. But for the most part, it's all up to you on what to do next.
Do you want to travel directly to the castle, fight against the first boss and die like 100 times in a row? You can do that. Or you know, you can spend 20 hours in the first region alone exploring, killing everything in your path, and leveling up your character so when you face that first boss you can absolutely obliterate it in just 59 seconds and feel like an absolute god as I did? Yup, you should definitely do that. And you'll do that cause this world is just begging you to explore it. You will be riding your horse-goat thingy towards the boss area and your eye will catch a peculiar structure, maybe some ruins, maybe a church, maybe a door on a side of a mountain, or maybe you just want to see if there's something hidden right by that corner over there so you have to stop cause who knows what you might find. In 99% of the cases, there will be something there for you and you will be always rewarded with a key item, a weapon or a piece of gear, a crafting book etc. And even if there's nothing, you will still find a funky message left by another player that might go along the lines of "If I only had a giant but hole" - get it?
The progression of your character is exactly like the one on all of the other previous Souls games. Killing things nets you runes, the main currency for almost everything in the game. Then when you rest on a Grace, this game version of bonfires, you can use runes to level up any of the attributes of your character which in turn levels up the stats. When I started playing, I went for the Samurai build type, as in my head I was imagining myself running around and murdering everything as an off-brand Jin Sakai. I enjoyed the shit out of this build. I upgraded my Uchigatana to +13 and I was dodge rolling, slashing, and causing bleeding to everything that came in my path. I dunked all of my runes into Strength, Dexterity, and Vigor and it was fine for a long time. Then, then I hit a wall some 30 hours into the game. I was going against hard enemies or groups of lesser enemies and I was having a lot of trouble surviving.
I know the whole "git gud" mentality of the soulslike genre, but I don't want nor have the time to "git gud" and feel miserable while playing a game. There's been a lot of discussions online about an "easy" mode for soulslike games, especially FromSoftware ones, and how they should add one cause it'll make the game more accessible to more people and yada yada. The thing is that FromSoftware games, apart from Sekiro, have a couple of "easy" modes and that rings true for Elden Ring.
The first "easy" mode is well, a magic build. Dump all points on Faith or Intelligence, Mind and Vigor, and go ham with using all sorts of amazing sorceries and incantations. Going back to my Jin Sakai build, after hitting that wall, I went ahead and respec my character this time going for a magic build. I then went ahead and found the "Kamehameha" sword and never looked back. I was and still am practically melting everyone and everything that goes in front of my energy beam. The second "easy" mode is ringing that ding-a-ling. I am talking about summoning and here in Elden Ring, you can not only summon other players but also NPCs and enemy spirits that you find either while exploring or as rewards for killing open-world bosses. You can summon a couple of skeletons that can constantly revive or a tanky as fuck jellyfish that will take aggro leaving you to just focus on damage. Then there's the mimic tear, which even after the nerf in the latest patch, is still a godlike summon that will make each encounter that much easier. Finally, there's the "cheese" and I am not talking about any gorgonzola here. I am talking about cheesing your way to victory. Since most of the open-world bosses have no set boundaries, there's always a possibility to cheese them. For instance, I sneaked behind a heavily armored cavalry boss that kept one shooting me and just used a poison breath incantation on him for 15 minutes straight and he went down, without a fight or death on my part. Banked my runes and off I went to my next adventure. Another time, I climbed up a tree-looking thing and just snipped a boss using Loretta's Greatbow, a badass sorcery. Again, no sweat, just cheese. What I want to say with this long-ass paragraph is don't skip on playing Elden Ring just cause you might think it will be a hard and impossible game. It will be hard, at times, but never impossible as there are a lot of things you can use or strategies you can try and you will ultimately succeed. Elden Ring is indeed the most accessible FromSoftware game to date. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Each of the main boss fights is an experience in itself. The arenas where the fights take place are a sight to behold from a rundown castle and infinite pool under the moonlight to a massive desert filled with the remains of those who tried before. The character designs are fantastically creepy and disgusting, usually with a ton of dangly bits that add a lot to the character animations. Then there are the attacks and, man, how do they even come up with this stuff and each time they one-up the last one that you fought? Just when you think you got one figured it out mid-fight, bam, they switch it up and when you beat them, bam bam, second phase baby! Did I say how much I love this game already?
There is a lot of variety of pretty much everything in Elden Ring. There is a ton of gear you can try. There are a lot of different weapon types you can try. There are a lot of unique and special abilities/attacks connected to weapons, known as Ashes of War, you can try. There are a lot of magic sorceries and incantations you can try. There is an unprecedented number of unique and optional bosses for you to try and beat. If you don't get it by now, Elden Ring has a ton of stuff in store for you and probably, you will absolutely love trying every single thing.
Usually, when a game's story is convoluted and hard to follow or it doesn't really make much sense, we reviewers tend to "complain" about it and knock off a couple of points from the overall score. But for FromSoftware games we really don't.. care? I know it's weird and hard to explain, but it's the truth. I have fond memories of playing Bloodborne, I loved that world and that amazing gameplay, but I have no idea what that was all about. Dolls, hunters, werewolves, and a freaking tentacle monster as the final boss... yeah it made no sense to me. Elden Ring is well, the same. All I know is that my dude needs to kill some demigods and become the Elden Lord. The how what and why I have absolutely no idea and I just don't care about it.
You interact with a lot of characters, but all of these interactions are generally one-sided as only they talk and what they say is as cryptic as ever. 65 hours in and I think I am the good guy in this story.. am I? I've fought against tons of enemies, all over the Lands Between, but sometimes it feels like I'm the invader? I mean I've decimated entire villages, one, in particular, was full of happy dancing ladies minding their own business until I rained on their parade. Now, I know that if I carefully digest what the NPCs say and read all of the item descriptions, I might understand what's going on. But I don't care about any of that as I have a ton of caves, catacombs, ruins, outposts, you name it, and they aren't going to clear themselves. Plus, I will do what everyone does after finishing a "Souls" game - I'll just watch the VaatiVidya's lore video.
Elden Ring is absolutely exceptional and I honestly believe it's an industry-defining moment as it will have a massive effect on how other developers approach open-world game design. FromSoftware has done it again. Elden Ring is an essential game, one that I can't recommend enough. Thanks for reading!
The game was reviewed on a PS5 using a promo copy provided by the publisher. Elden Ring is available now for PC, Playstation and Xbox.