It’s basically impossible to talk about Elden Ring in a vacuum. The game is not officially part of the Souls series from the same creator, but it is the same tried and true formula (including some very familiar art and sound direction). If you’ve played any of the following games beforehand:
- Demon’s Souls
- Dark Souls
- Dark Souls 2
- Dark Souls 3
…You’re going to feel very comfortable starting up Elden Ring.
Where Elden Ring surprises and exceeds expectations is in its sprawling open-world design. Not since 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have I felt so immersed and transported into an open world. Like Zelda, Elden Ring doesn’t hold your hand when it tosses you into the Lands Between. You are dropped into the dark fantasy world, given a basic rundown of your moveset, and given the keys to the kingdom to go anywhere you please. There’s an undeniable and rewarding sense of discovery and awe as you traverse the vast landscape on your mystical mount, finding little pockets of story and adventure around every corner.
As I said before, it’s impossible to talk about Elden Ring on its own, because the game borrows so much from so many other games. Obviously, the previous Miyazaki/FromSoftware titles, but also nearly as much from Zelda and Dragon’s Dogma. It’s the blend of genres and ideas, filtered through the good taste and eye of its director, that make Elden Ring an experience of its own that is hard to put down.
Combat in Elden Ring is essentially the same as any Dark Souls game, with the main difference being the new Ashes of War system (weapon arts), that allow you to imbue essentially any weapon with powerful skills featuring distinct animations and effects. It adds another layer to the formula that makes it unique enough to feel fresh.
I will admit that the boss selection in Elden Ring was not my favorite. The highs of Dark Souls and Bloodborne are hard to top, but there are some memorable encounters that will certainly test your skill (and your sanity).
These games have a reputation for their difficulty, but I never felt like being difficult was the point. Like the titles before it, Elden Ring is a game that refuses to help the player. It presents itself to you as it is, gives you the tools you need to succeed, but requires that you rise to the challenge. There’s no difficulty slider here, you either win or you lose and try again.
As far as art direction and lore goes, the game was heavily advertised as a creation of George RR Martin. I wasn’t particularly excited about this aspect, because I felt like Miyazaki didn’t need George RR Martin to make something interesting. As such, I actually found Elden Ring’s world to feel more generic high-fantasy than Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think the open world environment demanded a more sprawling idea. You can go deep if you want into item descriptions and background, but the game doesn’t require you to. (I still barely understand half of it)
As a huge fan of FromSoftware’s selection of games mentioned above, I really enjoyed the 130 hours I put into my first play-through of Elden Ring (pure STR build, Greataxe). After I finished the game, I found that the open world was the game’s greatest strength and also its greatest weakness when compared to the other titles. It’s easy to jump into a second round of the tightly-woven Dark Souls 3, but I have yet to have any desire to do another run of Elden Ring. The sense of discovery and wonderment as the sprawling map opens up to you is part of the experience, and without it, the game loses a lot.
With all that said, I found the game to be an impressive feat of both technology and gameplay. I played the game natively on PS5, where load-times were diminished to fleeting moments (only when fast-traveling). It’s truly a masterpiece in many ways, and one that will keep you hooked from start to finish.