*THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS.*
FromSoftware has had players eagerly awaiting their next IP for nearly two years since its announcement at E3 2019. Elden Ring, a colossal title hailed as a masterpiece by critics and fans, was finally released on the 25th of February 2022. After 50 hours spent in the game, this might be my favourite project from the developers, and I wouldn’t be ashamed to call it a modern classic.
Jumping Straight In
Just like in previous games, Elden Ring has brought in a character creator that grants players the freedom to truly manifest fantastic works of art or evil-looking monstrosities. Pre-sets can be selected for those who want to waste no time and jump straight in, but if you have more than enough free time, don’t be hesitant to try out everything the creator has to offer. If you want the Tarnished to look like Shrek, it’s most certainly doable. Starting gifts make a return, and players can choose from a range of items to help kickstart their adventure, or the hardened Tarnished may choose none at all. Personally, I chose the Golden Seed to increase how much Estus…I mean, Flasks of Crimson Tears, I can carry. Classes make a return, and the aptly named Wretch was my go-to for my first run, a variant of the Deprived class from previous games.
Step into the gameplay and get ready to soak in the atmosphere once you exit the starting area known as the Chapel of Anticipation. See that big glowing tree in the distance? That’s the Erdtree, your primary destination to travel to. Make your way through the area and get ready to die as you encounter the tutorial boss, the Grafted Scion, a large amalgamation of arms and legs wielding swords that nearly one-shot the player once hit. This first taste of combat is short-lived, but with extreme patience and a bit of cheese, this boss can be overcome on the first try for some nice goodies to start off your adventure. How do I know this? By looking online after getting absolutely demolished. Feels good to be back, Miyazaki.
It’s Big Dark Souls
Elden Ring takes everything from all of From’s previous games and merges these features into a huge, open-world of mystery, fantasy and death. The Lands Between boasts several gorgeous environments, complete with a beautiful overworld of snowy mountaintops, medieval castles and deserted ruins just waiting to be explored. Dungeons filled with all sorts of living terrors populate the land, and great beasts roam the world waiting to be defeated. It feels fantastic to set foot into a carefully crafted world that represents From’s love for the series in the most expansive setting yet. Traversing the land on horseback with my trusty steed, named Torrent, allows for heightened mobility not usually found in a traditional janky Souls title. Finally, players can make use of a jump button to reach higher altitudes, especially on horseback, as Torrent can gracefully double jump to reach greater heights and avoid sweeping enemy attacks whilst in combat.
Losing Their Balance
Elden Ring has an exceptionally large variety of enemies to defeat in the Lands Between. From giant trolls and stone imps to colossal dragons and killer bats, FromSoftware has used its two-year silence to focus deeply on some of the best creature designs to feature in a Souls-Like. Each dungeon found throughout the map will most likely feature a mini-boss that must be defeated, from which the player will be rewarded for their triumph. A few hours into the game, I noticed that FromSoftware became accustomed to re-skinning mini-bosses and giving them different names or even taking regular enemies and multiplying their health bar, then placing them within a dungeon for the player to fight. Sadly, this was a little exhausting after a while as it felt like FromSoftware was so focused on making such a large world that they decided to recycle regular enemies and mini-bosses for the sake of filling up the game and expanding playtime. However, proper, non-optional bosses are exceptionally well-made and prove that FromSoftware hasn’t lost their passion for creativity just because they decided to fill the world with a small number of re-used assets.
Most enemies can take posture damage on top of their base health points, meaning critical hits can be achieved in a new way besides the usual backstab and parries. Guard counters are a new mechanic that allows the player to deal high damage in response to defending against an attack with a shield. If combined with jump attacks, a strong descending strike from above, posture damage can be accumulated much quicker and grants a higher likelihood for players to really hit the sweet spot. Weapon skills are now customisable, meaning select weapons like swords and spears are not limited to just one single skill. Ashes of War can be attached to weapons, shields and even bows, providing multiple opportunities in which to tackle combat. For example, melee builds may wish for swords to use a skill that grants a single, high damaging blow, whereas mage builds may opt for the same sword to summon floating, blue daggers that lock onto enemies for extra magic damage. Combat within a Souls game has never felt so fresh and really differentiates from the repetitive mashing of the RB or R1 triggers in previous titles.
It’s Been a Long Day
Sites of Grace are checkpoints that act as well-deserved resting points for the player, allowing them to level up, increase their flask uses, pass time from day to night and vice versa, etc. Graces can be found throughout the Lands Between by a guiding grace light that leads the player to a bonfire-like, floating wisp of calming light that, when rested at, will spawn in previously defeated enemies and refill the player’s flasks. Some enemies in the game emerge at different times of day, including bosses. Players can pass time at Sites of Grace easily in order to access certain parts of the game that would otherwise be unreachable. Players will certainly notice smaller Erdtrees scattered around the world, offering items known as Tears that can be mixed into a special flask found early in the game. These tears can be allocated into two slots at Sites of Grace, offering different benefits that enhance combat situations or simply to help give the player a small boost in times of need.
Tree Growing Underground?
Elden Ring includes a map, something FromSoftware forgot to include in their several previous entries, allowing players to actually see where their character is placed in the world. The map is not complete and must be pieced together with fragments found beside special obelisks in the game. Once expanded, players can really visualise how big the game really is, and it isn’t just restricted to surface levels. Elden Ring also has a whole underground section that players can explore, including its own map, probably drawn on the opposite side like a two-sided A3 sheet of paper. It’s mesmerising to see such gorgeous environments come to life in a video game filled with terror around every corner. In design, the map has very few UI elements, and players are encouraged to place their own markers on points of interest, like treasures, bosses, etc. Blue beacons can also be placed, which are then visible in the game as vertical beams of light, directing the player to the spot they have marked within actual gameplay. The map itself can be examined closely to discover caves, forts, castles and other areas of interest in the form of hand-drawn diagrams. I love how the map is so clear to view in the sense of not being swallowed by 200 different icons placed by the game itself, demonstrating how FromSoftware really want players to invest their time into navigating the world and making their experience truly their own.
Throughout the Lands Between, the Tarnished will encounter several friendly faces, the latter of which is lacking on a minority of NPCs. Witches, merchants, pot boys and a very familiar recurring character are all interactable and offer quests or items to purchase, making these chats particularly useful to make time for. Certain quests may lead the player into unfamiliar territory, provide early access to inaccessible areas or grant opportunities to fight secret bosses, meaning that taking the time to pursue these side missions is greatly encouraged. Specific NPCs found in the world will traverse to the Roundtable Hold, the hub area of the game, where the Tarnished can strengthen their armaments, learn new spells or upgrade their spirit summons. Speaking of spirit summons, this is a new mechanic for combat, allowing the player to call upon defeated enemies to help fight in dangerous situations, besides the usual NPC or cooperative summons.
Don’t Tell PETA…
Players can forage the Lands Between for berries, flowers and other items for crafting. Animals, including eagles, jackrabbits and bighorn sheep, can be hunted in order to create many types of items that will help to give the player a small boost. This means that players aren’t limited to merchants or items lying on the ground like in previous games, providing a whole new way to expand one’s inventory. For example, enemies weak to fire can be set ablaze much easier if players have firebombs in their possession. If none are available in the player’s location, you can simply enter the crafting menu and create some, if you have the cracked pots needed for such crafting, that is. I always liked to make sure I had poison knives at hand for boss battles for that extra gradual health damage, and I’m grateful that FromSoftware decided to add an option for crafting because it really helps to expand upon the experience in a unique way. Crafting kits can be purchased directly from the first merchant in Limgrave, and from there the player must find books to expand on their recipes. I do wish that missing books could be purchased after some time, however, due to the fact that there are certain items that I’m sure I could craft, but I’m still unable to find the books for them, no matter how thoroughly I decide to search.
FromSoftware has crafted something magical that will be remembered for years to come. Each layer of Elden Ring‘s skin holds truly breathtaking environments, atmospheres and monsters to vanquish. Although the game’s mini-bosses like to come back from the grave numerous times, and regular enemies on steroids invade the cosiest of dungeons, it doesn’t deviate from what Elden Ring truly portrays: a near-masterpiece.
Publisher: Bandai Namco, FromSoftware
Release Date: 25th February 2022
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC