Elden Ring review – Taking Dark Souls into the light
After exploring every inch of The Lands Between, we can finally share our thoughts on Elden Ring. Arise, ye Tarnished, and read our Elden Ring review.
Elden Ring sure kept us waiting, so much so that the game’s Reddit community started inventing their own bosses. After years of anticipation, though, there are still so many questions to be answered.
The good news is Elden Ring is excellent in its quest to deliver a new and transformative experience, but one that may have sacrificed some of its heritage to try something new. Like The Lands Between, Elden Ring is uncharted territory for FromSoftware, so how well does the classic Souls formula work in a vast open world?
Elden Ring – Key details
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99
- Developer: FromSoftware
- Release date: February 25, 2022
- Platforms: PC, Mac, PlayStation, Xbox
Elden Ring Overview Trailer
A Song of Souls and Fire
George R.R. Martin’s influence can be felt in the game’s lore from the off — behind all the talk of gods and monsters, there’s a family melodrama at the center of Elden Ring, and the entire world, including the player character has been caught up in it.
An apocalyptic event known as the Shattering (of the titular ring) has thrown the world off-kilter and limited the power of the world’s goddess, Marika. Her demigod children, the game’s primary bosses for you to hunt, have each snatched a shard of the Elden Ring and are using it to wage war on their siblings for control of the world.
This splits the demigods by region, each creating their own dynastic kingdom for you to explore – and eventually overthrow. This feels all very Game of Thrones, but the Tarnished’s quest is pure Miyazaki, the creator of the Dark Souls games.
Following in the footsteps of the Demon Slayer, the Chosen Undead, the Bearer of the Curse, and the Unkindled Ash, the Tarnished is a similarly cursed protagonist, coming to The Lands Between to right some past wrong.
The player character is not only trying to redeem themselves, but all other Tarnished, as well as fixing the broken world. However, in classic Souls fashion, there are multiple ways of interpreting the quest, with different schools of thought attempting to gaslight the Tarnished to their way of thinking.
What a wonderful world
The game’s visuals were a cause for concern among the Souls community earlier this year, but in truth, there’s absolutely nothing to be worried about, Elden Ring looks fantastic — in no small part down to the appeal of its mystical world that sheds much of its predecessors’ penchant for dark ruins for a much greener, more vibrant palette.
Unlike the Souls games’ undead worlds, Elden Ring’s world is teeming with life. For the most part, civilization has fallen, humanity is nearly extinct, and The Lands Between has been reclaimed by forests and wildlife. Nearly every inch of the world has some sort of crafting material to be gathered, or an animal to be hunted.
Most fauna is non-hostile and will run away if you get too close, but some animals, including rams, crabs, and wild boars will defend themselves if threatened. We also absolutely must point out that the sheep know how to rolly-polly. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll start chasing sheep around to make them do it again because it’s oddly fascinating.
The game’s world feels vibrant and alive, which is sometimes at odds with Elden Ring’s desolate, dark themes. It’s hard to find such a beautiful setting oppressive, and it’s in this oppression where FromSoftware’s games really shine, but that does make it feel like a breath of fresh air from the developer’s prior works.
However, FromSoftware knows exactly what they’re doing and out of all the open worlds we’ve explored in recent memory, not many have engaged us as well as The Lands Between. While a part of what made previous Souls games special has been sacrificed on the altar of freedom, exploration is more rewarding than ever.
Elden Ring’s world is full of secrets to find and doing so is not only enthralling, but it will also help you get to know the game’s various mechanics and equip you for the challenges to come. You’ll create your own narratives through your actions, and one accidental step that doesn’t seem important could pay off in greater terms later on.
In one instance we stumbled into a high-level area by accident and were able to snag a spirit summon that was a huge help for the coming struggles, while other, more active choices can lock out entire pieces of content until New Game Plus.
Like many open-world games, Elden Ring features some repetitive dungeons, but not too many. These designs are also exclusive to a particular region of the map and therefore never outstay their welcome.
Combat is largely similar to the system used in Dark Souls 3, but feels smoother and the DualSense controller makes it feel satisfying and weighty. Of course, different classes will use different methods of fighting, be it swords, heavy weapons, bows, magic, or incantations.
Weapons can be altered with special abilities known as Ashes of War, which allow endless customization options and skills to be added or removed at will. They even let certain characters take advantage of weapons not normally suited to their build.
You’ll get your first summonable Spirit Ash early in the game, 3 summonable wolves who can serve as a distraction when required and even hold their own in combat, but their usefulness is limited as difficulty picks up. Still, one NPC will allow players to upgrade their Spirit Summons, further enhancing builds and playstyles in flexible new ways, often with surprising results.
Stealth returns from Sekiro but isn’t as important as it is in that game. In the early hours of Elden Ring, stealth is supremely helpful, allowing you to happily insta-kill most enemies before they can raise the alarm and gang up on you. Sadly, the mechanic becomes less helpful as the game progresses, depending on your build.
Not that kind of Torrent
Aside from its sprawling world, the biggest change in Elden Ring (when compared to its spiritual predecessors) is the addition of your horse, Torrent. Not only does having a mount make travel and exploration quicker, but the game is even more fun on horseback.
Torrent can double jump which makes traversing the world an absolute thrill, but he can also take advantage of certain spots to leap high into the air to reach new areas. We’ve ridden a lot of horses in open-world games in recent years (shout out to Roach especially) but Elden Ring makes mounted gameplay more than just a way to get from A to B. Torrent also allows you to engage in mounted combat, opening up entirely new ways to challenge bosses roaming the open world.
You can even gear your build around mounted combat somewhat, using a variety of buffs to make your character more deadly on horseback. This is awesome, as some bosses must be taken down on while using Torrent or may bring a horse to the fight themselves. Avoiding dragon fire, for example, is much easier with Torrent’s speed.
As is often the case, though, there’s a balance to be found. Torrent can fall in battle, and requires the same healing items you do. That means you can find yourself in a situation where you have to make a choice between healing Torrent or healing your character.
The bigger they are
As you’d imagine from a FromSoftware game, boss fights are a massive part of Elden Ring and most of the quest is centered around locating and beating them.
The game splits bosses into different types, with field bosses wandering around the world waiting to ruin your day, mini-bosses at the end of each minor dungeon, and finally, the story-centric Legacy Dungeon bosses.
Not every Legacy Dungeon is a traditional Souls experience, one in which you battle your way to the end, beat the big boss, and move on. No, Elden Ring plays with this formula somewhat.
For example, one Legacy Dungeon is simply a place you can walk into, and once you arrive, you’ll be invited to join a Covenant and perform certain tasks for your new allies. Only by completing these assignments did we get closer to what’s really going on, and our inevitable showdown with a demigod boss.
For another, we arrived at the lair of a boss character we’d been hearing about throughout the game only to be met with a big surprise. This fearsome opponent we’ve been dreading coming face to face with for many hours was not at all what we thought he’d be, but we’ll let you discover why.
Elden Ring not only does this to cleverly subvert the expectations of experienced dungeon divers but also manages to use the Legacy Bosses to educate the newer players about classic Souls mechanics. If you’ve never understood the appeal of co-op, duels, or invading in previous Souls games, then Elden Ring may change your thinking.
It’s dangerous to go alone
Playing the game solo made us yearn for multiplayer, as Elden Ring has made this easier than ever before. You can still invade, duel, or play co-op with people like you could in the Souls games, but Elden Ring takes a lot of the chance out of this with its new summoning pool system.
In previous Souls games, multiplayer worked by placing down your summon sign at a location you wanted to enter the game. For example, outside a boss arena. This often led to players waiting around for allies to join them, or for willing partners to place their signs down only for nobody to summon them.
This mechanic still exists, but by using the summoning pool, players can send out the call for help across an entire region, rather than just in one specific location. Players looking for help with a certain boss or area could call in players offering to help in a nearby location. This essentially helps players find partners for co-op – but it also potentially telegraphs your location to opportunistic invaders.
Is Elden Ring accessible for newcomers?
‘Accessible’ has become a forbidden word in the Souls community, conjuring up concerns that the game will be too easy for those of us who enjoy the masochistic delights of Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. So, is Elden Ring more accessible to new players or those that have been intimidated by FromSoftware’s work in the past?
The answer is yes, with some caveats. When we say accessible, we don’t mean easy. Like all Miyazaki’s previous fantasy funhouses, Elden Ring is difficult. It will punish you just like Dark Souls did. In fact, some bosses will test even the most grizzled Souls veteran.
So, when we say accessible, we simply mean the game makes more of an effort to get new players invested. There’s an increased focus on learning the core mechanics early on to make them more likely to “git gud” in their own time, hopefully even sticking around to the end. We all have that friend or colleague who gave up at Capra Demon or refused to go back into Sen’s Fortress despite how much we told them they should, and Elden Ring takes steps to make that a little less common.
Elden Ring finally marries the satisfying heft of the Dark Souls combat system with an open-world environment. It’s impossible not to compare Elden Ring to the Dark Souls games, as they were the canvas that this game was painted onto, but it’s a hell of a starting point.
Make no mistake, Elden Ring is to the Souls subgenre what Breath of the Wild was to the Zelda franchise; it took a classic dungeon-diving formula and opened it up, adding more choice, nuance, and combat flexibility in the process. It feels destined to kickstart a wave of “did you know you could do this?” YouTube videos, and a deeper discussion of build-crafting.
Elden Ring isn’t Dark Souls 4 or just ‘Big Souls’, but it’s damn close, and represents the evolution the series needed and manages to be everything else we wanted it to be.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5