Time played: 70+ hours
Here comes another grim fantasy epic RPG by FromSoftware, the team behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne. The titular Elden Ring has been shattered, leaving The Lands Between in tatters and factions vying to take advantage of the situation. Cue you fighting beasts and bosses of every variety.
To say that this is more of the same would be reductive; not only is each FromSoftware game creative and exceptionally well crafted, but they've also never been this big before. Elden Ring goes all out on open-world ambition with dazzling, dizzying results.
Elden Ring price and release date
- What is it? An open-world fantasy action RPG
- Release date? February 25, 2022
- What can I play it on? PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$99.95
A nice ring to it
Elden Ring may well become the most talked about game of the year, which will be insufferable for those who don't get why we're all obsessed with being mulched in boss fights against lads like Lord Massive, Master of the Biggest Swords. The allure of these games is such that you're either into its gauntlet of punishing combat or you're not. FromSoftware has at least added regular tutorial pop-ups, but even with that concession, what the game tells you is the tip of the iceberg; everything it doesn't is a vast body hidden beneath the surface.
Elden Ring is vast. There's far too much to even touch upon in a single review. The methodical pacing and intricate battles of a Souls game expanded to a continent is a banquet, but it's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer possibility of it. Even many dozens of hours in, the map only continues to grow, doubling and tripling in size. Numerous NPC questlines exist (including some of the best FromSoftware has created), and you'll almost definitely miss several entirely on a first playthrough. The two significant additions to the formula, the open world and mounted combat, seem unexciting on paper, but they're woven into the fabric in clever ways in execution.
FromSoftware’s games are renowned for their difficulty, an overstated quality but not untrue. You know, that boss you can't quite beat, that ambush you can't outwit, or a puzzle that seems unsolvable. What the open-world brings is simply a way to disengage from struggles. When a tough boss seems impossible, you can make progress elsewhere. Come back stronger. Find ways around the challenge. You can argue this has been true in FromSoftware’s older games, but that was with one or two alternate paths. This is a whole world to explore.
A hopeful world
What a world too. While lovers of messed-up fantasy lands will get their kick, Elden Ring is a notably colorful and slightly more friendly place to roam. The main menu music sets the stage, starting with foreboding notes before diving into loud brass that conjures up the more grandiose adventure that awaits.
Dark Souls and Bloodborne see you wading through dying streets and sewers. Elden Ring sees you charging over hills strewn with giants under the glow of a skyscraping, glowing tree. You're a Tarnished, a forgotten warrior tasked with ascending to the role of Elden Lord, to repair the Elden Ring, and maybe restore order to the world. Of course, that's what you're told to do - learning what's really going on and what other paths exist is the real treat of this game.
The fact that it's almost impossible to answer the simple question "what is an Elden Ring?" at the game's start speaks volumes for its intentions. Exploration leads to real discovery, unraveling the world’s mysteries and machinations. Don’t look for clear answers, however. After 70 hours with the game, most of its story still exists as a hazy collection of themes. It's a rumination on how the powerful suffocate the world to sustain their reigns.
Unlike FromSoftware’s other games, set in dying worlds, in Elden Ring it feels like maybe, just maybe, you can save this world. Perhaps a vain hope, but finding out for sure drove us to seek out its far corners.
For all its portent and doom, Elden Ring has moments of silliness, too. The tone shifts between the epic fantasy of Lord of the Rings to popcorn adventure of 80s movies like Excalibur or The Neverending Story. The skeletons could have stepped right out of Jason and the Argonauts. There is a heavy metal album cover for every grandiose landscape of somber, mournful contemplation or a giant tortoise who hands out history lessons.
While we have run into a smattering of performance issues, these weren’t game-breaking - occasional stuttering and frame drops. It's frozen more than once, too, but it’s not stopped us from playing. Still, these are a nuisance in a game where you want no distractions in its brutal boss battles. Publisher Bandai Namco and FromSoftware have released performance patches to resolve these issues.
Dungeons & Dragons and everything else
Veterans of FromSoftware will find themselves at home in Elden Ring quickly. The combat fundamentals are as strong as ever. You need to manage your stamina, picking your moment to strike or dodge. Frantically attacking will leave you tired and vulnerable in the path of enemies who hit hard, slicing your health bar to nothing in just a few strikes. You want to make sure you are ready and blocking their attack or not in the path of their weapon at all.
There is a wealth of options for specializing your character, with many weapons and spells to support your play style. You can now even bring summonable monsters to battles, Pokemon style. Underneath all of Elden Ring’s lore and world design, there’s a simple joy to smashing enemies with a big sword underneath all of Elden Ring's lore and world design.
While some of Elden Ring’s optional dungeons are a bit rote, just as often, you'll stumble into one with a wild boss fight or a series of joke design choices that lead to laugh-out-loud twists. There's little in its open-world that feels like a chore - something you can say about few open-world games. It's all meaningful, even if some parts are less thoughtful than others. In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, each new piece of the world slots together like clockwork, expanding your understanding of the story, reframing what came before. Elden Ring has similarly intricate parts but doesn’t create the same coherent whole. You'll explore a vast castle on the edge of the world and have a great, classic FromSoftware time doing it, but will it provide any insights into the game's larger story? Not always.
Not everything has to have strict utility to the plot. We've accepted side-quests and their like for decades. Even Bloodborne had its Chalice Dungeons. But we can't help wonder if more - even more good stuff - is necessarily better. The level of quality sustained across its many hours is almost unparalleled, and yet, is it lesser for it? If the world’s arcs and themes are lost in the sheer amount of stuff, should they be there at all? Only time will tell. For now, we cannot deny the allure of having a FromSoftware title that’s this vast. It’s all we’ve thought about for weeks now and no matter how it compares, it’s a wonder in its own right.
Its novelty isn't endless, though, and in the later areas of Elden Ring, you will find a handful of similar bosses populating the optional dungeons that fill out the world.
This repetition is only notable because the game is so consistently inventive, so happy to surprise and delight. That these brief let-downs even stick out is really a testament to the game’s overall quality, given we've simply come to tolerate them in other games.
FromSoftware almost justifies the immense scale of Elden Ring’s world. We felt like it was three or four FromSoftware titles crammed into one game. There have been bigger games but none so densely packed with ideas. Provided you can click with FromSoftware's particular way of communicating things to the player.
Elden Ring is both helped and hindered by its multiplayer community. Its popularity ensures there are always people around to help you with bosses. You can go online to request aid from friends or strangers, summoning them into your world regardless of their progress.
However, the messages players leave in the world, a mainstay of FromSoftware’s games, are less useful. In the past, these mysterious notes would say things like “Enemy ahead”, “Raise your shield”, or “Ambush”. Now they are riddled with memes and in-jokes instead of guidance.
The early days of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, where players shared in discovery, have given way to a space dominated by those who race ahead. It is lovely to help new players through the game as a veteran, but it’s difficult to not over-guide them, depriving them of their own memorable failures and triumphs.
Elden Ring is absurdly good. A new FromSoftware game is Christmas for lovers of masochistic fantasy RPGs. It is a sprawling gallery of monsters, a titanic arsenal of weapons to best them with, and a massive arena that's great to look at and compelling to unravel. There's simply never been so much of it in one place or so neatly packaged. It is, frankly, obscene.
Still, I worry a little about the collective destination of FromSoftware's games. The days of community and cooperation elevating FromSoftware’s games may be over - the player base is too familiar with the studio’s work.
It's almost impossible for FromSoftware to turn back the clock, but it's a shame that its richest, biggest game is maybe lesser for its lineage. Elden Ring is not for everyone - it doesn’t try to be - but those eager to learn may struggle because of how it is discussed, inside the game through its notes, and outside of the game. Maybe it's unfair to critique the game based on that, but it's hard not to when FromSoftware invites the community into the experience. Like The Lands Between, Elden Ring is a magnificent thing fractured by its immensity and its denizens.
Elden Ring is FromSoftware at its most playful, gleefully throwing out every idea it can conjure up to pull players through The Lands Between. It abandons the tight framework of its predecessors in favor of a more sprawling, overwhelming open world. Only time will tell if it stays with players as strongly as those previous efforts but it is, on its own merits, an obscenely compelling adventure for those who enjoy the challenge.