by April 4, 2022 @ 9:00 am
It’s a special game that can burrow itself deep into your brain and become ingrained in your mind to the point that it’s all you think about. Elden Ring is easily From Software’s most ambitious project yet, which is no small accomplishment considering just how driven the studio is when developing extremely challenging RPGs. The game blends that patented difficulty the Soulsborne series is known for with a rich open world filled with secrets, questlines, and optional dungeons to discover. Oh, and dragons.
Discovery, Frustration, Madness, Beauty
You’re introduced to the world of Elden Ring with a brief cutscene and tutorial area. From there, you’re let loose in the Lands Between, the game’s sprawling setting. The moment you step out into the open world, you just get this feeling that this is truly something special. During the early parts, I couldn’t help but feel like this whole thing was equal parts breathtaking and overwhelming. There’s a sense of discovery here that I hadn’t felt with a game since I played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Speaking of Breath of the Wild, like that game — and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim before it — Elden Ring encourages you to run free and explore. Where so many Soulslikes are all about dropping you on a linear path filled with challenging enemies, obstacles, and bosses, it feels like the primary objective of Elden Ring from a gameplay standpoint is to let you let go. Oh, there’s still plenty of the tried-and-true brutal stuff out there, but initially, it’s like the game wants you to breathe its world in.
And what a world it is. Elden Ring is filled with so much to discover, both on the main road and off the beaten path. Whether it’s at the start of the game or later in your playthrough, you’ll encounter massive trolls, intimidating knights on horseback, gangs of enemies, hidden caves (usually with tough bosses awaiting at the end), castles, dungeons, dragons, ruins, treasure chests… There’s a lot here. Some of it is great. Some of it is just okay. But discovering all that stuff? It’s impossible not to geek out over finding new enemies and weapons just from exploration.
Okay, What Are We Doing Here?
It’s easy to get lost in the rich beauty and all of the surprises the world of Elden Ring has to offer. So much so that it can be easy to get distracted from the main quest line. Yes, there is an end goal here, and reaching it can be quite the daunting task, but it’s incredibly rewarding chipping away at it and getting closer and closer to the endgame.
While there is technically an order in which you can do things in Elden Ring, some of the most fun I had came from stumbling onto a main castle or dungeon and running through it. Of course, an online road map may come in handy at some point if you want to ensure you’re actually progressing through the game’s story — it did for me after a while.
I actually completed a few main tasks out of order, which became evident when I was fighting major bosses and getting absolutely destroyed. Oh, I don’t mean destroyed in that typical Soulslike way. I mean I was severely under-leveled for a few encounters that I maybe should’ve waited to do. In any case, it was a blast — incredibly upsetting and sometimes frustrating, but a blast nonetheless.
Just like the open world of Elden Ring invites you to let go and run wild, the challenge here warrants that you let you go, as well, albeit in a different manner. You definitely don’t want to be careless and just run up on a boss you’re not prepared for at, say, level five. But the degree of challenge here is such that you’ll have the best time playing if you just understand that you’re going to get demolished more often than not.
Despite the high difficulty, Elden Ring never feels impossible. Maybe you’ll have to try out a new weapon. Maybe you can go out into the world and grind a little or farm high level enemies. Or perhaps you’ll just have to rethink your entire strategy around a high-level boss. In any case, the game presents you with plenty of tools to up your skillset and take on every challenge that’s put in front of you.
Breathtaking and Imposing
From Software isn’t known for creating games with deep, riveting storylines that are easy to digest. Instead, the studio likes to tuck away their games’ lore in NPC dialogue, item descriptions, and the rare cutscene. This is fine, but if you’re looking for a plot that’s easy to grasp, you’re better off checking out the game’s wiki for more details. Sure, a lot of the story and characters may have been penned by George R. R. Martin, but it’s very minimalistic. That’s fine, but it’s best to understand that plot takes an immediate backseat to gameplay.
While the story is just okay, the presentation is absolutely awe-inspiring. Even on the older PS4 hardware, the game looks pretty stunning. Enemies are designed in an intricate manner, and everything from lowly goblins to massive, towering demi-gods were clearly created with the utmost care. Then there are the interiors of buildings, which look like something out of a high fantasy movie. And the open world is just filled with beautiful landscapes and devastating wastelands. Both in terms of technical graphics and aesthetics, Elden Ring is just a really gorgeous and visually interesting game to behold.
The sound design also succeeds here. You’ll hear somber overworld themes and riveting boss battle crescendos, haunting melodies and inspiring jingles. The music of Elden Ring is often moody as heck, and it helps to envelop you in the game world and its challenges further.
For all its successes, there are a few misses in Elden Ring, but these don’t detract from the overall impressive nature of the game. For starters, if you want to play with friends, it can be a little convoluted as you all have to use specific items just to join a game. You’ll get the hang of it, but it’s a little obnoxious all the same. In addition, if you’re truly looking for a tale of epic proportions, you won’t find that here, which is kind of a bummer as the game almost feels a little naked without proper storytelling.
Still, those minor flaws notwithstanding, Elden Ring is an incredible treasure of a game. One hundred hours in, I’m still having a blast exploring, discovering, and taking in everything it has to offer.
Elden Ring is a special game. It’s a once-in-a-generation experience that will captivate you. It’ll also chew you up and spit you out. But hey, that’s why we play Soulslikes, right?
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