I can probably count on one hand the amount of games that surpass all expectations and help pull the gaming industry forward. In fact, there are only three that spring to mind. Half-Life 2, Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3. Well I’m very happy to add Elden Ring to that list. My 60 hour experience left me awe struck and wanting more. Let’s get into it!
My Souls like Experience
I don’t have a huge about of love for FromSoftware, the developer of Elden Ring along with the Dark souls franchise, Demon Souls, Bloodborne & Sekiro. Until Elden Ring I would just have to say that their games just aren’t my cup of tea! I picked up Dark Souls 2 without any prior knowledge and lasted maybe an hour or two before never going back. I just didn’t get it at the time. Getting my rear end handed to me over and over again and seemingly getting weaker on every try was heart breaking. The lack of directions was also very off putting for me so I bounced off it without fully understanding what it was all about.
Flash forward a few years and after watching several YouTube videos of gameplay for Bloodborne, I decided to give it a go. Success! This clicked for me! The multiple deaths at the hands of the bosses made the reward for eventual success feel exhilarating. I also learned that FromSoftware don’t like to hold your hand or even give you story or plot points to follow. You very much are left to figure it out and if you want a story, you’ll have to search for it. There is one there but it takes work to find it! Watching playthroughs, reading tips and guides and sharing support from the gaming community is what FromSoftware games are all about. Like I said, Bloodborne just clicked with me and for quite a decent length, I had a good time with it. I finally hit a wall with the constant grinding and replenishing resources that’s required after a boss defeat. This isn’t an open world game so you end up mindlessly killing the same grunts and running the same paths you’ve done before just to collect resources which eventually turned me away. I can understand why many love it but it’s just not for me.
Seven Years Later
Elden Ring for me is FromSoftware’s magnum opus! They’ve refined and reworked and honed their craft over the years and the results are spectacular. The pet peeves I had are now gone. Your health etc is restored after each death or when resting at any site of grace. Now the only reason to grind is to level up which is a rewarding experience rather than a grind. This is a massive open world so you don’t have to keep slaying the same grunts and feel like you’re going nowhere. You can just jump on your horse, ride in any direction and find endless content to surprise, scare, challenge and overcome! Don’t get me wrong, you will know defeat many many times during your play through. But in those moments, when you’re really hitting a wall…..you can just go somewhere else for a while and tackle newer challenges. Don’t worry, the Tree Sentinel will still be there when you get back!
This open world map is the most intricate and layered map I’ve ever seen. It is far beyond every other game including BotW and it’s a joy to navigate. Nothing comes close. Usually when you have an open world game with a huge map, there is always plenty of wide open spaces with little to no content. Elden Ring doesn’t waste an inch and just when you think you’re grasping it’s size, you’ll spy a small opening in a rock face and discover a gargantuan underground world beneath your feet. I was constantly blown away time and time again with the creativity and stunning level design on display. Nothing is wasted and nothing is dull. You’ll be dodging boulders flung by fire giants in the snowy mountains one minute and fighting shadow imps in a underground hidden city the next! To put simply, there is a new bench mark to hit with level design now after Elden Ring that I think few developers will be able to meet.
The gameplay in Elden Ring is definitely challenging. You will die many many times. Learning to block, parry, dodge, jump and time your attacks are all necessary to even stand a chance. Add to that, one handing weapons, two handing weapons, stances and stealth and it can be a little overwhelming in the early hours. The beauty of it though is once you’ve mastered your moves and your timing, the sense of reward during victory is incredibly satisfying. FromSoftware titles are famous for their boos fights and Elden Ring is no exception. You will take on some colossal beasts that at first seem impossible to overcome. Death leads to experience though in Elden Ring. Learning their animations and patterns will give you that edge you need to overcome them in battle. And what a proud moment that is. When a battle has been particularly tough and you’ve failed so many times to get it done…..the sense of achievement in victory is overwhelmingly great. I feel early game and late game FromSoftware really nailed this sense of challenge and satisfying reward. As for mid game…….
This is an open world game where your path choices and challenges you wish to pursue are totally your own to choose. Everyone’s playthrough may differ but for me, at around the 10-15 hour mark, I was way to overpowered. This is my own fault as I hoovered up a lot of side content and sought the best weapons I could for my build. I upgraded at every opportunity and explored as much as possible. So while playing mid game story stuff, I was too strong for most foes. Even bosses I found I was beating on my first try. It also wasn’t me being skillful as much as being a tank that could hit hard enough and quick enough to drop their health quicker than they could drop mine. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t exactly easy mode! It just felt a little bit easier than I had become used to. I also need to point out that I was still haven’t an absolute blast playing through this. And don’t worry, it completely course corrected by the time I reached the snowy mountaintops! FromSoftware brought me straight back to feeling weak and humbled me very quickly over and over again!
The plot here is definitely more accessible and up front and centre than in previous FromSoftware titles. All NPCs will guide you where to go and drop some lore in your lap for good measure. There is more meat for those that want to discover it too. The story has a huge amount of depth and discovering different orders, religions, family wars and the history of the Lands Between is totally optional. If I was to give any advice though, play as many NPC side quests as you can. You could main line all the bosses but you’ll miss out on so many interesting plot points and story enhancements. As mentioned, there’s a big story here but only if you want it. There is so much depth and ambiguity to the lore of Elden Ring that there are hundreds of forums and YouTube videos with people debating back and forth. With George RR Martin as the games lead writer it’s not unsurprising that there is a huge well thought out world here ripe for exploring!
I have barely scratched the surface here and could gush about Elden Ring for hours. I didn’t get to mention the staggering amount of gameplay styles you can adopt. The intelligent levelling up system that forces you to put points into certain stats to support your play style. The amazing flasks that allow for a mixture of buffs to give you an edge. I didn’t cover any of that! What I will leave you with is this. I love gaming and in general I finish a game once I start it. I spent over 60 hours playing Elden Ring. If I’d played any other game for even half that length of time, I’d never want to see it again. With Elden Ring I was already planning my next playthrough before I’d seen the end credits. The last set of bosses completely kicked my ass over and over again to almost breaking point and yet I still love this game. Not in spite of the difficulty but because of it!
So the question is…..will you remain a maidenless tarnished or do you aspire to be the Elden Lord!