When it comes to Soulsborne fans, some are born by the blood, others are unkindled, and some prefer to die twice. No matter where you started or how many different ways you have died, you have both cursed and praised the mad man known as Hidetaka Miyazaki. It has been 12 years since From Software released Demon’s Souls, and to say there is a giant weight of expectation on their shoulders over the new open-world action/RPG game, ‘Elden Ring’, would be putting it lightly. These games have almost become a religion in masochism, and for all the infamy surrounding these titles, its fan base only grows stronger with each new release.
Elden Ring is officially the first of a new franchise that will be leaning heavily into the fantasy genre based on ‘The Lands in Between’. ‘The Tarnished’, banished during the fall of Queen Marika have returned to restore their grace, in doing so they must topple the five remaining descendants that each hold a shard of the shattered Elden Ring. George R.R Martin collaborated with the legendary Miyazaki to help craft the rich and disturbing lore, as a platform to build from, and what a world they have built. Everything from the soldiers of Godrick and their simple human forms, disgusting and terrifying abominations with more limbs than should be allowed, to the happy little deers that roam the lands, this world is fully realised from top to bottom.
The musical score of the game is a somber tale of ruins as violins hummed in and out during exploration. When it was time to fight, however, a goosebump-inducing symphony of chanting war cries backing the clash of spine-tingling music would keep you on the edge of your seat. It felt familiar yet invigorating, complemented by the stunning art design with the ravished and ruined landscape being illuminated by colossal-sized glowing trees peppering the land. It’s an art form in itself to maintain the look and feel of past projects while making it feel new and exciting. It was something as simple as being able to rest so that you can wait until morning, afternoon, or night time which changes the setting and possibility of new events.
These additions are subtle but ultimately they set this game apart from its predecessors. Large open environments provide ample opportunity for countless hours of exploration that has plenty of eye-catching landmarks that house many secrets to uncover. No matter the location, the performance of the game held up, and with extra features for next-gen such as performance priorities for frame rate or quality, you will be treated to a visual masterpiece that is hauntingly beautiful.
This time around you are even given a spectral steed, being able to summon and dispel Torrent was quick and easy, and also necessary to unlock or find new areas. One feature that I will never get tired of seeing was the air drafts that are placed at the bottom of cliff faces. While on horseback you can leap into them, be catapulted hundreds of feet into the air to survey the land, and then easily clear the cliff face. A new map system lets you collect fragments to reveal more locations and allows you to mark points of interest with a beacon system or place markers for noteworthy places to return.
Lost grace sites serve as the checkpoint or bonfire system which you can fast travel between provided you have found them and a new feature is introduced, namely the stakes of Marika. This stake offers a respawn point with a much more forgiving location, often found outside of a boss room so you can jump right back in and die some more. If you choose to respawn at these stakes, you will have all of your healing and magically flasks restored but won’t be able to rest. It’s a significant change that is completely optional and will save many punishing trips through a whole dungeon to fight the boss and encourages players to keep going.
All of this came together to combine the new and the old. With underground dungeons providing close quarter environments likened to the chalice dungeons of ‘Bloodborne’ and traditional castle environments with looping corridors and hidden shortcuts, there is much to traverse. I cannot even begin to explain how hard this game was to put down, in previous franchises such as ‘Dark Souls’ or ‘Bloodborne’, you could visit areas out of order, to an extent. In Elden Ring, if you get stuck, turn around and ride into the sunset the other way and you will run into the plethora of open-world bosses roaming freely, new locations, people, or events; it was truly staggering the amount of content that can organically occur.
The combat system is modelled after Dark Souls’ stamina management fight system with a few helpful additions. Firstly, you can now jump freely, which opens a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to chaining light, heavy, and jumping attacks. An add-on to the counter system gives players more options than a perfect block to stun enemies, holding guard and taking a hit lets you unleash a counterattack that can be just as deadly. Much like other From Software titles, at times bosses can extend their reach and nab you due to wall clipping but thankfully the new flask system makes that very much so less frustrating.
They have also carried over the stealth elements from Sekiro by being able to crouch and hide in foliage to further open up your options for engagement and landing those explosive critical strikes. Battle arts offer weapon-specific power moves that can turn the tide of a battle and can be customised freely for different abilities when you find more ashes of war. This was a huge implementation as it allowed for experimentation without the fear of being locked into one play style.
For those that are curious, yes, Elden Ring is indeed a difficult experience, but there are options for you to find a way to prevail. A new crafting system allows the player to purchase recipes from many different lands that let you craft throwable weapons, ailments, or enhancements on the fly. Being able to harvest flowers, hunt small animals for meat and bones, or killing larger enemies all provide a much deeper experience than just farming for Runes to level up. At first, the new menus may be a little overwhelming even for a seasoned veteran, but quickly you will learn to navigate it as well as you do to the path of some unruly creature that has killed you many a times.
If the craft-able tools won’t help, you can unlock spirit summons that can aid in battle during solo gameplay such as a pack of wolves or a Minotaur with a giant bow. Another noteworthy edition is the ‘flask of wondrous physick’, which is an addition to your health and magic replenishment flasks. You are able to find tears that can be slotted in the flask that offer boosts for extra strength, damage negation or health and stamina boosts. Pair these buffs with talismans that can be worn for magical resistance or extra damage, and you could become a nightmare that a boss that can’t even fit on the screen would want to avoid.
If you are still struggling after all of that, then good news because multiplayer has returned. If an area has not been cleared of a boss, you can send out requests for other players to join or place your own marker down for others to summon you. For the nefarious players out there, invading has also returned, and you can attempt to slay a player in their own world, just be careful as they make have a friend or two waiting for you.
An absolute master class in game design, storytelling, and world-building come together to make Elden Ring the game to beat in 2022. It can be daunting knowing the history of From Software producing difficult games, but if you have the patience to learn the rules of engagement in this tough but fair experience, you will achieve some of the most exhilarating achievements a video game can offer.
- The music, theme and environments are amazing to experience
- Tough but fair combat system is reinvigorated and satisfying
- Spectral stead is fun and easy to control in combat or exploration
- Open world setting creates events organically as you explore
- Boss fights give an incredible rush when you master them
- Crafting system adds an extra layer of gameplay
- Spirit summoning is a game changer for solo players
- Boss fights can still kill you due to wall clipping issues
- Menu can be a little overwhelming at first