Elden Ring Review – The Dark Souls of Open World Games
Developed by FromSoftware
Published by Bandai Namco
Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
I look at other writers, reviewers, and video game people, and I’m struck by a single thought: “How the hell, does anyone review Elden Ring?”. I have played all of the Souls games, I have written extensively about the difficulty in reviewing Elden Ring. The sheer size of the game is staggering. I did not expect to see a generation-defining game so early into the 2020’s. Make no mistake: Elden Ring is a generation-defining game. It sits in an auspicious spot previously held by games like Grand Theft Auto and Breath of the Wild. It transcends the boundaries of what we know in games, and will inspire countless others moving forward.
I’ve been playing for about a week since I bought the game on release day instead of receiving a review copy. I’ve been there with you since day one. Let me get one thing out of the way really quickly: Elden Ring is not perfect. Far from it, actually. There are occasional performance problems. These will be fixed with time. Also, Elden Ring doesn’t really do anything new. The thing is what it does do, it does exceedingly well. In standard souls fashion, you’re thrown into a cutscene explaining how the world is broken, and you, the nastiest little dirt boi, are to light the fire/fix the ring/take the throne. It’s standard Souls stuff, but it can still produce that little shiver of anticipation.
You’ll pick a class out of a frankly impressive list of archetypes. There are astrologers, heroes, and whatever the hell the prisoner is. I chose wretch, because I like to completely customize my character to my liking (I usually just end up doing a strength build). You’re then let loose in this massive, sprawling world. If you take a look at the map, it seems pretty sizable. What you don’t know, is that the map reveals itself gradually, and by the time you’ve put in 50-60 hours the original bit of map you’re shown is a quaint suburb in the middle of one of the biggest game maps I’ve ever seen. The world stretches out in all directions. It doesn’t fall into the trap of other open-world games, where the world is large but empty. Something strange is always going on in the Lands Between where Elden Ring is set.
Giants pull massive carriages, long-forgotten giant soldiers crawl from the earth, giants with swords roam the countryside. The first area has a lot of giant-centric stuff going on. There are ruins, catacombs, mines, and other mini-dungeons that are each fully featured and also usually contain a boss. My favorite part of the Souls series is discovering what the boss designs are going to look like, and Elden Ring has many, many bosses around the world to take in, and take on. So the world is massive, and you don’t want to walk. That’s fine. Elden Ring gives you a horse. Torrent is your valiant steed, – and an excellent simple anti-piracy measure – ferrying you through the lands between with a whistle. Unlike other open-world affairs, torrent never wanders, gets lost, or is otherwise unretrievable. It is kept on a whistle on your belt and materializes when needed. It’s one of the small things Elden Ring does that makes a huge difference.
For those that feel like Elden Ring might be shying away from the intricacies of the areas in previous souls games…don’t. When you’re not in the secret-filled open world, you’ll be exploring legacy dungeons, which are like the previous games main areas slotted into an open world. The interesting routes, hidden corridors, and deadly enemies are still present. There’s just more of it. If Torrent just isn’t getting you around fast enough, you can now fast travel from the beginning of the game to any sites of grace (bonfires, it’s just the new name for bonfires) you’ve unlocked. The ability to go wherever whenever is a huge departure from previous games, but one I feel like was needed when the scope is upped so dramatically.
The game is still hard, if you’re wondering. Well, I’ve never actually considered the Souls games to be hard. That sounds like a really wanky thing to say, I know. I’m not saying that I’m some sort of steely-eyed badass, cutting through swatches of enemies from the back of my noble steed. I’m not. The combat in Elden Ring – and the Souls series in general – is tactical and exacting. It isn’t button mashing, it isn’t glory kills. It expects you to learn its intricacies or suffer. That doesn’t mean it’s hard. It just asks slightly more of you than the average game. Some folks get really good at parrying in the Souls games, and I feel like that’s a legitimate skill. I certainly can’t get the hang of it. That’s the beauty of Elden Ring. If you can’t play one way, then switch it up. The combat options are almost endless. Carry a sword bigger than you, use your fists, get an ax, there’s a whip somewhere. This is all coupled with the most robust magic system ever seen in a souls game. There is something there for everyone.
The story is…certainly a Souls story. Elden Ring touts writing by George R.R. Martin, famous for his Game of Thrones books. I honestly don’t see it. The world feels every bit as souls-y as it did in the first Souls game, with item descriptions still goofy and vague. GRRM must be good at aping that distinct style. That’s probably why they brought him on. I will say that story-wise, the side quests have gotten a big boost for this outing. Characters will offer you cryptic hints that will lead you to other characters which lead you to long, multi-stage quests. I’m sure there are tons of quests I haven’t found yet, and that’s definitely part of the fun. The main story doesn’t really matter. Elden Ring focuses more on the small-scale, personal stories that are told when you interact with a broken world.
Elden Ring will of course bring those old arguments out. Can a game be too hard? Does the Souls series need to add an easy mode? These arguments are fully secondary to the quality of what’s on display. Whether it’s your thing or not, you owe it to yourself to check out Elden Ring. Or, just wait a couple of years, for when most games will implement something done in this game. It is truly the Dark Souls of open world games.