I preface this with a heading of ‘Two Weeks Later…’ due to the fact that I still have yet to complete Elden Ring’s incredibly mammoth campaign. Let’s do some recon here; This title is massive, challenging, addictive, masochistic and yes, the apropos terminology would be – without pun intended – soul-crushing. It’s no joke how FromSoftware have managed to compile such madness into a game that will have generations of replay value, given how much of a grind the initial playthrough of its campaign can be. A ‘time sink’ would be an understatement, as 65 hours of in-game decadence has yet to be enough to satiate its bloodlust, nor mine. I adore and respect the love that has been put into Elden Ring, but I hate this game so much… so much that I love it. It’s driven me to points of insanity in gaming that I’ve never really experienced in the genre before.
Sekiro, Dark Souls, Demon Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh. How is it fair that Elden Ring has managed to outclass these prestigious franchises? Yes, partly to do with flash and flair; its presentation does aid it tremendously over the aforementioned, but its grind hits different. Albeit a gameplay loop that falls within familiar ground, Elden Ring’s open environments are the disparity between prior souls-like’s that deliver a refreshing take on the undeniably gruelling trials that await you. If there’s anything I learned within the first few minutes of playing, it’s that nothing is safe or sacred here, and best to be on your guard as no matter what, you’re perceived by all as enemy of the state. The enormity of Elden Ring’s landscape had me questioning limitation and how FromSoftware broke literal boundaries by taking the conventional corridor escapade into the open field.
Well, it's Groundhogs Day... again...
So let’s get the obvious out of the way. You’re going to die… a lot. Sure, it’s not the most appealing factor when playing an adventure game, but a souls-like is not your average hack-and-slasher; the one thing I would probably say is try to be patient with this game past its opening; you know as they say, it’s a virtue? Well there’s definitely a rewarding exploit awaiting on the other side. So let’s talk premise and basics then. The Lands Between is a heavenly seeming estate – or at least it fools you into thinking it’s heavenly – that harbours over 10 central districts, which in itself holds landmarks and locale of its own. Additional areas are discoverable, but are noted as independent from key points of Lands Between. After the dissipation of the Elden Ring, shards of the Ring itself end up separated across multiple areas claimed by those that overrule their respective location.
Each shard known as a Great Rune, can be acquired by defeating a demigod – main antagonists of the campaign – to restore the Elden Ring, and then become the great Elden Lord. As a Tarnished, our protagonist of choice leads a life as a stray, exiled from the Lands Between. A marked man, it’s your job to avoid all authority that protects each area. Choosing from 10 classes – Hero, Bandit, Astrologer, Warrior, Prisoner, Confessor, Wretch, Vagabond, Prophet, and Samurai – I assumed the role of a Samurai, escaping the catacombs where I was reborn, to the open plains of Lands Between where I was immediately greeted by a Golden Knight, charging right towards me. Without the feintest clue, I stood there like a golf ball on its tee, and he swung his ginormous axe and Happy Gilmore’d me halfway across the map; great, I knew where this was going.
With less haste, I sauntered my way around him upon respawning from the last Site of Grace, the title’s checkpoint system which are manually activated and can be used to pass time and regroup ala Bonfires from Dark Souls. Maining my Uchigatana, I was able to hone my skillset in simultaneous weapon usage, that included my Longbow which allowed to me shoot regular old Arrows, but also Fire Arrows that engulfed my foes in flames. The one thing I was weary of was Elden Ring’s complex attribute system, as it not only applies to our hero, but to nearly each key item you collect, or equip. Samurai’s Class holds high Dexterity, Endurance, Strength and Vigor while weak in Faith and Arcane. These are base stats than can be worked on as you play.
Weaponry however comes with an excessive tree of attributes in both defense and offense. Like Bloodborne, if you don’t meet certain skills to wield a weapon, you won’t be able to use it to its full potential. Matching the criteria with your class is imperative, but its also a case in grade that each arm carries. This of course comes in letter grade seen in many titles of the same ilk. An “S” is the best weapon grade you can equip, with subsequent scores “A” to “E” scaling the effectiveness if each weapon. The better the grade, the more damage dealt. Legendary Weapons are the elite pieces of arms within Elden Ring that you can obtain. There a Nine in total, which will help you conquer the more menacing boss or beast that you come across – ala The Master Sword in Breath of the Wild… but there’s nine of them.
a gameplay loop that falls within familiar ground, Elden Ring's open environments are the disparity between prior souls-like's that deliver a refreshing take on the undeniably gruelling trials that await you.
So let’s talk design real quick. Elden Ring is absolutely stunning. An immersive world that demonstrates how far the technology we’ve been handed can be pushed. The immense detail constructed within separate pieces of this map highlights bold integrity and themes that the game is looking to deliver. A gaunt wasteland that has a bright light in the Edtree, but is choking on a dreary, dank horizon for which danger looms. It’s perfect representation of what kind of ambience and emotion is expected to be delivered. Performance wise, there is almost zero issues with this game. I have not experienced any hiccups, bugs, crashes or anything game breaking that’s noteworthy to say the least. I will note some texture pop-in does occur in some fragments, and possibly some depth of field rendering that does become somewhat apparent, but nothing that breaks the intertia of Elden Ring’s credibility.
So at 65 hours, I’ve barely put a dent into Elden Ring. While progress has been achieved, and monsters slain, I still have a ways to go before I become the Elden Lord. Yet, Elden Ring has sunk its claws right into me, and I’m feeding into this disturbing addiction. Two sleepless nights, a Red Bull or two here and there, a myriad of deaths, plethora of respawns, and a brand new Dualsense later, I know that I’m in it for the long haul. Oh, the messaging system is genius. There are so many traps and trolls laid by players themselves that I’ve instinctively fallen for them, and have had to respawn many moons back. Yes, I was utterly destroyed, enraged by this act of betrayal by a fellow gamer, but it’s part of the fun. And you know, I may have planted a trap here and there. Hopefully you won’t stumble on any.
Another Two Weeks Later...
✔️Souls-like sensation. A unique twist that takes the traditional linear experience and turns it open-world.
✔️A stunning service of immeasurable proportion, from size to scintillating presentation.
✔️A gruelling effort in gameplay, that formulates and evolves role-playing and the grind of its ilk.
❌Some bugs, but nothing a quick patch can’t fix.
So here’s the deal. Elden Ring’s grind will trap you into an enclosure of non-stop insanity. An addictive, masochistic display of wanting more from an unforgiving gameplay loop; how is that even possible? How could you bottle all that sinister and sell it? Souls-like devout will tell you that it’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how you dust yourself off, and try, try again. Taking deaths is part of the learning curve, but it’s about time and patience, and you must have a lot of that available to you before even considering a title like Elden Ring, or any Souls game for that matter.
But Elden Ring’s sandbox-like open world gives the player the choice to backtrack, level-up, upgrade arms, and dive back into the battle, whereas the fixed structure of a Souls-like title would existentially force the player to recycle their stash, or lose it before either heading into battle a naked warrior, or completely restarting their campaign. However, a great portion of the title’s early stages encourage players to learn as much as they can on their respective class, as it’s vital to master each skill before jumping into a district’s ruler. It’s simple enough to engrain each ranged, and melee attack in one’s repertoire but learning the extensive reach in how each blow can be capitalised, and followed through is another story.
Boss battles are excruciating if not prepared. In total, I spent up to 20 hours alone in Boss fights and it’s not that they’re a slog, or that they are boring in any way, but they can take a beating. If anything, they’re an endless punching bag that won’t quit. My advice would be to train yourself with your respective weaponry or arcane abilities; go back into an empty field and master your techniques, then use them against simpletons in the area before diving back in for another go – everybody loves a good Rocky montage. Be aware that jumping in from the title’s beginning and trying to speedrun your way through the game will not help when dealing with aforementioned “simpletons”, they’ll be some the strongest foes within the game. Unlike other role-players and souls-likes, the game will not buffer any levels to suit your rookie status, instead, have you on course a head-on collision with enemies of much higher calibre than you could possibly handle. Take your time.
Limgrave is your land to take essentially, use it as your character’s own toybox to hone their craft. It’s beginner’s paradise before jumping through the outer sanctums of Elden Ring’s hell. Multiple mechanics from previous Fromsoftware games such as Bloodborne ,are present, but have been fleshed out for more flexibility. Stealth will play a big part in your journey, to avoid enemies that may way ahead of the curve in early areas. Mercifully, riding horseback can be such a relief while exploring the Lands Between, due to its vast scale, however, utilising your steed in combat can be risky yet rewarding, and may be imperative in some circumstances. Goblins, Knights, Behemoths, Giant enemy crabs, Gods and Deities, Zombies, Mutant Octopus, Sorcerer’s, the list of encounters are endless as you find yourself fighting for dear life in a myriad of frightening circumstances. Flanked on a rickety bridge, cliffside by two enemies triggered massive anxiety, and had me plunging to my untimely demise.
Got arachnophobia? Well, reanimated corpses that have somehow morphed into spider-like creatures should scare the living daylights out of you, right? Especially when they leap as far as a football field to attack. Forget about the Doggy treats, there are pestering pets of the undead that will gnaw at you, some as far as 20-plus hits in a single strike – unbelievable. It can be frustrating at times, I understand but please, don’t hurt Mr. Turtle, the nicest NPC in the entire game. Yes, he’s shy and will hide in his shell, but he means no harm is just trying to get to his destination in peace, leave him be. And finally, I have to hand it to the development team for designing some of the greatest Boss sequences I’ve ever seen in gaming. Mechanically awe-struck by how fluid and smooth their characteristics and movements are, make them seem like credible threats and way too realistic for my liking. A marvellous feat that now sets the bar high for other Souls-likes and similar genres to follow.
With all that said, 80 hours of gameplay has been the bare minimum to complete this massive escapade. I’ve still yet to complete an abundance of sidequests which I’m looking forward to. Knowingly taking my time through this task, will seemingly demand another hundred hours but I’m willing to give this game my undivided attention, as FromSoftware has carved out quite possibly their most ambitious project and have unequivocally sacrificed hundreds of their own in development. While Bloodborne was the studio’s crowning achievement in the past, Elden Ring stands as their Magnum Opus – a tour de’ force that now implants a newly enriched appreciation for the challenging, and outright relentless genre. Souls-like’s were an uneasy category to commercialise on gamers with its cruel, ruthless and inexorable gameplay loop, yet Elden Ring defies this logic with a renewed blueprint that may take the genre to new heights, and appease a new generation of gamers into understanding its meaning in our medium. Elden Ring is masterful; a once-in-a-lifetime experience to which gamers must experience.
Elden Ring is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The game was made in collaboration with fantasy novelist George R. R. Martin, who provided material for the game’s setting.