Elden Ring review: Game of Thrones meets Dark Souls
Elden Ring is the tight, action game that fans of the Souls genre have been craving, even if its high barrier to entry may deter newcomers.
REASONS TO BUY
Addictive combat that is super satisfying
Monster designs are inventive and horrifying
Electrifying orchestral soundtrack
REASONS TO AVOID
Not great for newcomers
Graphics are lacking by today's standards
Tarnished, rise. Elden Ring is a colossus. It's enormous. It's heinous. And if you're not careful, it'll eat you up and spit you out.
I should know, because, within my first few hours, I took on a strange stone statue of what appeared to be a decrepit cat wearing a cape that spewed fire, only to have it repeatedly kick my ass. The satisfaction of returning to that damn cat and tearing it apart piece by piece, on the other hand, was out of this world.
Almost three years after the release of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware returns with Elden Ring, its largest game to date and its first attempt at an open world. Hidetaka Miyazaki, widely regarded as the creator of the grueling Souls genre, returns as the game's director, with Game of Thrones novelist George R. R. Martin collaborating.
It's a star-studded event that has piqued the interest of those who don't normally participate in these types of games. Is it, however, just a cash-in on a big-name, or is it the real deal? Is George R. R. Martin a help or a hindrance to Miyazaki? And, more importantly, does Elden Ring live up to the hype?
ELDEN RING: PRICE AND RELEASE DATE
What exactly is it? FromSoftware's first open-world action RPG, directed by Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki in collaboration with George R. R. Martin.
The release date is February 25, 2022.
What platforms can I use to play it? PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Windows
Price? £49.99 / $59.99 / $99.95 AU$
ELDEN RING REVIEW: What exactly is it?
Elden Ring is an action role-playing game set in The Lands Between, a vast open-world divided into six major areas with linear dungeons to complete. Each one can be tried in any order, sort of. There is a clear path laid out for the player to follow, and while you can veer off the beaten path almost immediately, the sharp increase in difficulty makes progress extremely difficult.
So, with George R. R. Martin in charge of the Elden Ring story and lore, what has the man behind Game of Thrones cooked up? Something deep, something complicated, and something I'm dying to learn more about.
The story picks up after the Elden Ring is shattered into six shards, only to be possessed by the demigod offspring of Queen Marika the Eternal, the world's reigning sovereign. As a Tarnished exiled from The Lands Between, you are summoned to the world after the ring's destruction to defeat the demigods, reassemble the Elden Ring, and become the Elden Lord.
Players can use an extensive (and I mean extensive) character creator to create their own unique Tarnished. Aside from selecting your Body Type (male or female), Elden Ring offers ten different classes to help you build your character: Warrior, Hero, Bandit, Astrologer, Prophet, Samurai, Prisoner, Confessor, and Wretch
I chose a Confessor, which is designed for magic, but in reality, I just liked the way he looked and started building his stats to play more like a Vagabond (more hand-to-hand combat). This was arguably a mistake. Leveling up in Elden Ring takes time, and you can't reallocate stats until the second demigod is destroyed. As a result, the first half-dozen hours or so were rough, which impacted my enjoyment along with the abundance of jargon presented at the same time.
The amount of detail that can be put into a character's design is extensive, if not ridiculous. Is it really necessary to have bone structure? I couldn't help but laugh. I'd prefer that more time be devoted to my Tarnished's voice, with only a few noises available for the occasional grunt or death cry. Or to a wider range of hairstyles. Still, Sir Stark stood there in all his majesty, poised to embark on a perilous journey unlike any other.
ELDEN RING REVIEW: HOW DOES THE ELDEN RING PLAY?
Elden Ring continues to prune and perfect the same methodical combat and gameplay loop that has been used in all Souls games for over a decade, beginning with the original Demon's Souls in 2009.
This involves the player purposefully challenging enemies until they are defeated, earning a currency (Runes) to level up and face new challenges. If the player dies, they will lose all of the Runes they were holding at the time and will have to retrieve them before dying again. If they don't, the Runes will vanish forever. That is a terrifying prospect, but it has rarely happened to me, and if it has, it was due to stupidity. Elden Ring, like its forefathers, is both punishing and equitable.
Depending on your class and build, combat can be addressed using weapons or magic. Swordplay was the best fit for my personality. I've been using a bow and arrow for ranged play, but it's extremely underdeveloped in comparison, which is a common issue in the Souls series. A large part of combat is entirely dependent on timing. The fight has a rhythm to it: attack, dodge, attack, dodge, and so on. It may be tempting to deliver those final few blows as quickly as possible, but you could just as easily be crucified for your haste.
In addition, players are given a spectral steed named Torrent to aid them in traversing the Lands Between and performing gravity-defying jumps if a swirling gust of wind is present. Torrent is unlocked in the first few hours (if you follow the story) and can be summoned at any time, making traversing the desolate world a breeze. It's just a shame that Elden Ring's open-world sections are its weakest link.
Limgrave, the first region, is desolate and devoid of life, save for the occasional wandering skeleton crew and giant bears in a nearby forest. These encounters appear to be fleeting. Things pick up speed once you discover hidden catacombs, a secret boss fight, or an optional castle to invade. The open-world can feel unnecessary at times as if it is only there to get you to the next point of interest. As the Westeros-style world map expands, it becomes clear that each section is nearly identical to the previous one, albeit with a different element in its place – grass, water, fire, you've seen it all before. Perhaps the linear structure should have remained because the real action begins – and it is fantastic – once you enter these dungeons.
These are Elden Ring's Legacy Dungeons. Each one is a work of art designed to be explored from top to bottom, complete with enemies, monstrous bosses, and a demigod to defeat. Consider Zelda dungeons with more combat and fewer puzzles. It's exciting enough just figuring out how to get into these buildings. Surprisingly, this is exactly what I desired from Breath of the Wild's Divine Beats.
One side quest I discovered was with a man named the Great Kenneth Haight, heir to the throne of Limgrave, who asked me to clear out Fort Haight on his behalf. It was simple, but the quirkiness of the Great Kenneth Haight (as he is frequently referred to) made the interaction worthwhile, while also assisting me in discovering an optional area that yielded a decent reward at the end of it. The player is solely responsible for the discovery.
The map is very important in this. Slowly, you'll learn what goes where and where it's best to chart a course. While NPCs are scarce, the simple premise of exploring The Lands Between serves as side content.
Multiplayer is available in the form of summons and messages left by other players on the same server as you, as in previous Souls games. Summoning Signs allows up to four players to join the fight, but it also allows opposing players out for blood into the world, who you must take down or flee from.
Frequently useful, occasionally misleading, and occasionally amusing. These notes are entirely dependent on how much you trust your fellow player, and there is a system in place to either upvote or downvote their usefulness. Multiplayer can be as important as you make it. I spent nearly three hours on one of the Legacy Dungeon bosses, only to kill Renalla, Queen of the Full Moon as soon as another online player responded to my plea for assistance. Peter, I'll never forget you.
ELDEN RING REVIEW: HOW DOES IT LOOK AND SOUND?
Following on from my Horizon Forbidden West review, I'd be lying if I said Elden Ring on PS5 didn't feel like a step back in terms of graphical fidelity. It's not a bad game by any means, but it also doesn't wow you. The ideas are all there – the green open plains of Limgrave tinted by yellow light from Eritrea, and the barren ocean of ruined buildings in Lirunia of the Lakes – they're just a little stifled by today's expectations. It's not surprising, then, that a photo mode was included. There is also no pause menu. I understand it's an online game, but seriously?
Having said that, I adored Stormveil Castle. A fantastically designed structure that culminates with Godrick the Grafted, a massive man/abomination with numerous arms attached to his body and wielding a golden axe. A third of the way into the fight, Godrick claims the power of a dead dragon, replacing one of his now decapitated arms for the creature's head. These monster designs are downright terrifying, but it's nearly impossible to ignore them.
At launch, two graphical modes are available: a Performance mode that supports up to 60 frames per second and a Resolution mode that supports 4K resolution. Ray tracing will be included in a future update for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC.
Elden Ring has performed admirably on PlayStation 5, with only a few hiccups aside from the occasional frame rate drop. There are a few oddities, such as enemy attacks passing through walls, which resulted in one or two unexpected deaths, but nothing game-changing. The same cannot be said for PC, as many disgruntled Steam users voiced their concerns during the launch weekend.
One thing I've been dying to mention is the opening cinematic, what a rush. This glorious four-minute introduction is the pinnacle of hype, introducing the lore, the Lands Between, Queen Marika, and each of the six demigods, each with gorgeous artwork depicting them. I give the narrator five stars just for how hard he works on the dialogue. This style was most recently used in the opening of the Demon's Souls remake on PS5, and I hope it continues to be used instead of 3D cinematics in the future.
Similarly, composer Yuka Kitamura's orchestral score is euphoric. It knows its place, infiltrating when the threat becomes real and exiting for quieter moments of solitude. The main Elden Ring theme, for example, is incredibly unique, reminding me of Hans Zimmer's Man of Steel score when it reaches its peak. After listening, I was ready to charge into battle.
ELDEN RING REVIEW: HOW LONG TO BEAT?
While I have yet to roll credits on Elden Ring as of this writing, FromSoftware producer Yasuhiro Kitao confirmed during a Livestream that the game will take players about 30 hours to complete. Given that I'm now more than 40 hours into Elden Ring, this seems a little low.
At this rate, I'm expecting to be closer to 70 to 80 hours once credits roll (this review will be updated), so you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. Kitao's statement is only true if you proceed directly to the final boss after defeating the first two demigods. If you do, be prepared for a real challenge. However, unlike most other genres, this is entirely dependent on player skill.
Elden Ring combines the addictive combat of FromSoftware's Souls genre with the deep lore reaped by George R. R. Martin with Game of Thrones to create an experience that fans of both will enjoy. While the amount of jargon and the steep difficulty curve may turn off newcomers, those who commit to Elden Ring will find a more than satisfying experience.