Elden Ring is the latest hardcore RPG by From Software, taking the publisher’s famous Dark Souls games’ combat and lore, and merging it with a more developed narrative and open-world map to explore. The mixture works surprisingly well, making Elden Ring one of From Software’s most accessible games to date. However, the high difficulty means more casual gamers will still be better off looking elsewhere.
- Giant open world to explore, full of things to discover
- Rewarding and punishing combat
- More content than most players will ever need
- Open-class development tree that’s ripe for tweaking
- Some fights are very difficult
- Genre: Action RPG:Elden Ring feels very similar to previous Dark Souls game, but with an open-world format like Skyrim.
- Release date:Available from 25 February 2022
- Platforms:PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S
Elden Ring is a new RPG that aims to merge the iconic and brutally difficult combat that From Software’s Souls games are famous for, with open-world exploration and crafting mechanics that have clearly been inspired by Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild.
After spending 50-plus hours playing it, I can confirm Elden Ring is the most developed and welcoming Souls-series game ever made, with the added narrative and open world making Elden Ring feel far more accessible to From Software newcomers. But, I’d still not suggest any but the bravest, and masochistic, player take up its challenge. Here’s why.
- Elden Ring has a dark fantasy setting that takes place in the “Lands Between”.
- Features many characters and lore hinted at in past Dark Souls games.
- But it’s still primarily about combat, not talking to NPCs.
Elden Ring starts off pretty much the same way as every Souls game. After clicking the new game icon you’ll be treated to a suitably dark fantasy intro, detailing the downfall of the world you’re about to explore.
Specifically, it chronicles the downfall of the Lands Between, which went to hell after the titular Elden Ring was destroyed.
The game’s intro offers no further narrative outside of the fact that you, a newly resurrected ‘Tarnished’, need to fix it by collecting and putting the broken shards of the ring back together.
From there, it’s all very familiar. You’re thrown into a character creator that lets you tweak your character’s appearance, name them and pick their opening class. The creator’s pretty much identical to the one seen on Dark Souls 3, which means you’ll get plenty of freedom changing your character’s appearance. It only took me a few minutes to accurately create an avatar that looked like a vagabond version of Pennywise from IT.
Even the classes are fairly similar, albeit with different names. For example, Sorcerers are now called Astronomers, while Clerics are now called Prophets. Like all Souls games, the classes aren’t terribly important. All they do is set your starting stats and loadout. There are no class-specific skills, spells or items. The only locks relate to certain items stat requirements, which can be easily tweaked as you level up.
Leveling up works pretty much the same way, tasking you to battle your way from checkpoint to checkpoint and spend your hard earned experience points to level up as you do. The only difference is that experience points are now called Runes, rather than Souls, and the checkpoints are now called sites of grace, instead of bonfires.
- Exploration is now much more important and is rewarded
- You can ride a horse to traverse the world
- Combat shares the same core DNA as past Souls games
While past Souls games have had a linear structure, albeit with a labyrinth of weaving pathways, FromSoftware has decided to abandon this formula for Elden Ring and take on an open-world format instead.
The world is gigantic, and epic in scale. On the top of the mountain you start off on, I could see everything from gargantuan decaying castles, to shining towers penetrating the skyline and roaming stone giants wandering in the distance.
With no missions or guidance popping up on screen, the only incentive I had was my sheer sense of wonderment. I sprinted towards the first structure I saw and was introduced to a variety of new gaming mechanics. For starters, Elden Ring has a proper jump button. Unlike Souls games which only let you awkwardly leap from a full on sprint, Elden Ring gives you a controlled jump button, making it far easier to platform your way across the map and take advantage of many of its multi-level designs.
This made it easy for me to navigate down from a cliff slide at the first ruin I found after spotting a stairwell at the bottom of the chasm. Descending down, I was treated to a Skyrim-like tomb, full of nasty monsters and traps for me to navigate. The gameplay here was pure Souls, packed with enemies capable of inflicting huge amounts of damage if I mistimed my spear thrust, or let my shield down too early.
At the end, like all classic Souls dungeons, I was treated to an end-level boss. The giant beast literally breathed fire and made a Game of Thrones dragon look like a cute kitten. From there, after more deaths than I care to admit, I finally bested the boss and received my first reward: a spirit.
These are one of many new items and tweaks From Software has made to Elden Ring’s gameplay. The spirits allow you to summon NPCs to aid you in battle, taking up an inventory slot and coming in all shapes and sizes. In my arsenal I’ve collected everything from a horde of undead nobles to a gang of demi-humans and zombie wolves. They’re not as smart as a human ally in my experience, but they offer a key way to get aid and a welcome distraction for difficult enemies, particularly if you’re playing with a glass cannon mage build.
On more than one occasion, I used a gaggle of demi-humans as cannon fodder to distract a boss, while I ran into the distance to charge and unleash a high-power spell/incantation.
Elden Ring also allows you to summon other players if you’d prefer some help from a friend or stranger. And like with previous Souls games, hostile players can also invade your game if you use the relevant summoning sign. I’ve found the ability to summon human aid a key way to help overcome challenging bosses. So it’s good to see it return, though I was unable to use it in my pre-release review build, as there weren’t enough people playing for my summons to be answered.
After you’ve encountered a few sites of grace, the game offers its one and only real bit of guidance. After a cut scene, you’ll be offered a steed called Torrent. It can be summoned using a special item and used both to traverse the game’s massive map.
The horse is a key means to quickly explore Elden Ring’s world and deal with its hostile environment. Riding through the main map, you’ll regularly find ridiculously powerful enemies or hordes that are simply too large to fight head one.
After this point, sites of grace will also start to include directional markers, pointing you in the direction of one of the games’ main dungeons. These dungeons feature the main bosses of Elden Ring, which must be defeated in order for you to gain a ‘Great Rune’ and restore the Elden Ring.
The first main dungeon is guarded by multiple fortified positions running up a mountain. These included one gate guarded by crossbow wielding knights and a giant. With my character still at a low level, I died in less than 10 seconds after walking in. The only way forward was to mount my loyal steed and quite simply gallop past.
This is part of a wider move by From Software to present players with multiple ways to solve a problem. Elden Ring also features more advanced stealth mechanics. This lets you sneak up on foes by crouching in grass, or out of their field of vision to deal high damage-dealing backstabs – or you can simply avoid them all together. This, plus the game’s new jump functionality, makes combat and the main dungeons in particular feel a lot more varied than past Souls titles.
Crafting is another key feature that helps with this. In past Souls games I’ve always found that ranged combat, with bows and crossbows, is only useful in very isolated scenarios. This isn’t because the weapons are bad, but because the ammo costs more than the reward, as using ranged weapons would drain your saved souls and delay how quickly you could level up your character.
Elden Ring’s craft mechanics help get round this, letting you create arrows and bolts on the fly, plus various healing and buffer items, using materials you collect around the map. The ability to stock up on arrows for a crossbow, without spending all my souls, made me take better advantage of ranged combat.
Weapon customisation has also been enhanced, making it easier for you to tailor weapons to your desired build, as well as level up their core stats. This is done using Ashes of War items, which are collected throughout the map in hidden chests and as rewards for slaying powerful enemies.
When added to a weapon, they not only add a custom special attack but also shift the stats they scale with. Early on, while focussing on a faith-heavy build, my character’s stats didn’t didn’t mesh with the straight sword I was using. After finding the first smith, this was quickly fixed using an Ash of War, which made the weapon primarily scale with the faith stat as opposed to strength and dexterity.
But while FromSoftware has introduced many different features to complement the open-world design, the combat’s DNA remains the same as past Souls games, which will be a blessing or a curse depending on your temperament. Combat is wonderfully heavy, with a big focus on timing. Even with high-dexterity, rapid-fire weapons, attacks have weight and you’ll need to pick the perfect moments to strike, as even basic enemies are capable of causing large amounts of damage.
Souls games are always difficult, and Elden Ring is no different. Frequently you’ll wander into an area and get one-shotted by an enemy with zero warning. There are also still numerous moments where I’ve had to put the controller down and walk away from the game for a cool down period after a surprise attack or trap undid hours of Rune collecting. But the open-world format improved combat flexibility and the ability to explore new areas partially removed the frustration felt during most of these encounters.
In past Souls titles when I hit a roadblock or area I simply couldn’t progress, I’d usually have two options: grind and level up my character, or backtrack across the map for several hours. This made some segments feel like an outright slog and exercise in frustration. In Elden Ring, I was still forced to go and level my character after hitting a roadblock, but the process is a lot more fun.
Rather than revisiting a previous section in the game to slay weaker enemies on repeat until I had enough experience to level up, Elden Ring’s open-world design allowed me to investigate a new part of the map instead. This small change makes the game a lot more enjoyable and adds a lot more variety to the gameplay. It also adds another incentive to replay the game with a new build, as there’s bound to be some dungeons or fascinating locations that you missed during your first playthrough.
- The game looks amazing, especially in 4K
- Ray tracing isn’t available at launch
All of this is aided by beautiful chunky animations and outright gorgeous graphics. Testing the game on PC in 4K, the game is by far the best looking From Software game I’ve seen in quite some time.
The game’s character models don’t look as developed, particularly up close the way models in RPGs like The Outer Worlds and Cyberpunk 2077 do. But the monsters and animals you encounter look gorgeous, with each model featuring wonderfully detailed textures and brilliant animations. Dragons sway with weight and you can feel the map shake when they let loose a breath of fire. Even basic enemies, like demi-humans act and move like you’d expect them to, throwing erratic animalistic strikes at you whenever you’re unlucky enough to get cornered by a pack of them.
The map and level design are also top notch, with each part taking advantage of From Software’s expert multi-level design philosophy. Even the mini-dungeons ooze character. Wandering around the map within the first 20 hours, I’d already stumbled across everything from diamond-encrusted magic mines, to the ancient ruins of an underground city, each with unique traps and dangers to overcome and NPCs to quiz about the location’s history and law.
The latter is particularly pleasing, as it helps set the tone of the world and offers insights into what’s going on around you, in a way past Souls games simply didn’t.
I unfortunately haven’t been able to test Elden Ring with ray tracing, as the next-gen feature is currently unavailable, and will be added via a post-launch update. But to think that the world of Elden Ring could look even better in the future is exciting, as it’s already breath-taking in its current state.
Should you buy it?
You’re after a challenging, but rewarding RPG:
Featuring the Souls’ series iconic, weighty combat, with the added bonus of new open-world exploration and a more developed narrative Elden Ring is a brilliant adventure for any hardcore RPG fan looking for a challenge.
You don’t like difficult games:
Elden Ring is the most accessible Souls game to date, but it’s still incredibly difficult. You will likely die repeatedly, sometimes in ways that don’t feel entirely fair. If you’re prone to rage throws, this is definitely one to avoid.
Elden Ring is a fantastic RPG for any hardcore gamer looking for a new world to explore. Combat is weighty and takes place in a wonderfully intriguing world full of dungeons to explore and monsters to battle. The only downside is that its high difficulty will be a stumbling block that will continue to put some players off, despite the improved accessibility that comes with the open-world format.
How we test
We play every game we review through to the end, outside of certain exceptions where getting 100% completion, like Skyrim, is close to impossible to do. When we don’t fully finish a game before reviewing it we will always alert the reader.
Played for 50 hours
Tested on PC
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I can certainly see similarities with the open-world format and the optional dungeons, but Elden Ring still differs greatly elsewhere, with a far more punishing and nuanced combat system.
Elden Ring clearly borrows stealth and the jump mechanic from Sekiro, but the combat and RGB mechanics are closer to Dark Souls and Demons Souls than Sekiro.
Elden Ring is currently scheduled to launch on 25th February 2022.