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You play as a Tarnished of no renown, who has been tasked with reforging the legendary Elden Ring — which was shattered sometime prior to the start of the game — and becoming the Elden Lord. Unfortunately for you, the shards of the Elden Ring are all held by petty, vindictive — and often insane — demi-gods.
Now, being a From Software game, there are some things you know you’re going to run into. So, let’s just go through that checklist now:
- Tough-as-nails, high commitment combat
- Obtuse sidequests and storylines
- Enemies that one shot you, no matter your build
- Bonfire equivalents
- Souls equivalents
There. With that out of the way we can move on, and talk about what makes Elden Ring different from its predecessors in a big way. That being…
A Whole New Open World
The open-world is far and away the most outstanding feature of Elden Ring.
In order to convey a lot of information in a succinct way, I’m going to say something that’s a bit reductionist: Elden Ring’s open world is what you would get if Dark Souls and Breath of the Wild had a baby. The combat, movement, and general game elements are ripped almost directly from the Dark Souls franchise, and the design of the world itself is heavily reminiscent of Breath of the Wild.
This combination is powerful for a few reasons.
The first is that the BOTW style of open-world puts you in charge of your adventure. There were very few quest markers, almost no flashing icons, and you didn’t really have to do anything you didn’t want to do in order to beat the game.
This works so well for Elden Ring, because that’s how From Software games have always been. They give you the gameplay up front, but keeping track of the story and quests is up to you.
The second reason the open world works so well is that it makes Elden Ring more accessible to new players. Usually, in a From Software title, you are given a couple of paths, and you can follow those paths until you run into a boss that is actively stopping you from going any further.
In Elden Ring, if you run into a boss that’s kicking your ass, you can just pack it up and move on to something else and tackle the ass-kicking boss when you’re ready. You can literally explore four of the game’s five main regions without beating any of the mandatory bosses. Sure, it takes a little bit of looking around, and finding the right items, but it can be done.
The only real shortcoming to this particular design is that the different regions of The Lands Between (where the game takes place) are clearly made for characters of a certain level. While you can muscle your way through almost any enemy with sheer will and a little pluck, it means you can end up in an area where almost any hit will kill you instantly.
Choose Your Character
Now, as with other From Software titles, the only thing that truly defines your character is the stats.
If you choose the “Warrior” at the beginning of the game, that’s just picking your starting stats and equipment. What really matters is how you choose to build your character after that initial decision — and boy howdy does Elden Ring offer a veritable cornucopia of choices.
There are five basic stats on which to build your character:
Of course, you can mix and match these to make your character whatever you want, but for most character builds, at least one of these is going to be your main stat.
What I found during my playthroughs is that I had no clue what I really wanted to build until a specific weapon fell into my lap. For my first playthrough, it was “Bloodhounds Fang,” a curved greatsword. I liked the way it felt, I liked its move-set, and I’d already sunk a bunch of points into Dexterity, so all I needed were a couple of points of strength to get me started.
The problem is that there are sooooooo many cool weapons and spells in this game, but most have requirements so specific that building your character to wield one in particular will leave you unable to use eighty percent of the other items in the game. I was on my third full playthrough when I realized that the cycle would never end, because there were just too many cool builds I wanted to try.
I mean, you can re-spec your character with a specific item — after beating a specific boss — but I like to build my characters from the ground up, so re-specing wasn’t really an option in my case.
A Sense of Scale
One aspect of Elden Ring that continued to impress me, even into my second playthrough, was its sense of scale.
Everything in this game is huge and beautiful and terrifying. Just walking into the open world for the first time will have you staring at the grand Stormveil castle — one of the game’s amazing legacy dungeons — and the Erdtree — a world tree so large that you can literally see it from almost anywhere in the game. And that’s just within the first few minutes of gameplay.
There are castles mired in poison swamps, magical schools atop towering plateaus, and shining golden cities.
In any game in the Dark Souls series, it would be impressive just to see these things. What makes Elden Ring so much more impressive is that if you see a cool location, you can go there. Hell, not only can you go there, but you get to explore, basically, the entire thing.
This sense of scale pairs perfectly with the open world.
I spent most of my first playthrough trying to figure out exactly how to get into all the cool places I could see. Some of them were harder to get into than others…
…looking at you, Volcano Manor.
Copy and Paste
One of my big gripes with Elden Ring was the alarming amount of assets that were reused.
While playing through this game, you’ll see the same shack ad nauseum. You’ll see the same dungeons, with the same walls, and the same clutter over and over and over again. You’ll see the same enemies and bosses – albeit with slight differences to make them harder. Basically…
I know it’s a big game… Insurmountably huge is probably more accurate… but I really hate when developers reuse assets so heavily.
It didn’t really ruin any part of my playthroughs, but it did start to get a little stale from time to time.
The only upside to this is that it made the legacy dungeons and unique bosses all the more memorable when put up against the relentless sameness of some of the minor crypts and caverns.
The absolute worst part of Elden Ring is its obtuse-ass multiplayer.
It is literally garbage.
I understand that From Software has always had very restrictive multiplayer, but for fuck’s sake, couldn’t they have made it even a little bit easier?
You see, in order to play this game with a friend, first, you both have to have online play activated. Then, the person you want to play with has to put a symbol on the ground in their game (or send the symbol to a summoning pool)…
Oh, you also have to activate the multiplayer statues for the area where you’ll be playing.
Then, once the symbol is on the ground, you have to use a specific item so that you can see your friend’s summoning symbol. Then you can summon them into the game.
If you didn’t set up your multiplayer password in the multiplayer menu, you can see every summoning symbol placed in the area, and anyone else can summon your friend inadvertently. So, make sure you both put on your multiplayer passwords.
Then you can play together… until you beat an area boss. After, your friend will be de-summoned, and you’ll have to summon them again using this whole insane process.
Oh, did I mention that you can’t rest while your friend is summoned? So no restocking your healing items.
You also can’t ride your horse, so you and your buddy will be on foot the whole way.
Also, your friend can only accompany you near where you summoned them. So if you want to explore somewhere else together, you have to de-summon them, and then summon them again in the next area.
To add insult to injury, anyone who is summoned to another player’s game only gets half of their healing items rounded down. So if you have three healing flasks, that means you only get one when you’re helping a friend.
I would like to say, however, that the only reason I’m throwing this much shade at Elden Ring’s multiplayer is that they marketed the game as being “Multiplayer.”
I don’t know how many ads I saw before the game came out, and some that came out after, that implied that I could play co-op with two of my buddies throughout the entire game.
Getting started, and finding out that the multiplayer was this unwieldy mess of items and restrictions, was a huge disappointment.
A Horse of a Different Color
This is just a quick shout-out to my new favorite horse in video games: Torrent.
He is, hands-down, the best horse in video games.
I’ve heard a lot of people hating on this magnificent beast, and I’m not sure why. Especially since he has so many great qualities.
- He can sprint
- He can double jump
- You can summon him damn near anywhere with a single button press
- You can de-summon him just as easily
- He can tank hits for you (it’s best not to rely on this, but when it happens, it’s great.)
Rise Ye Tarnished
Overall, Elden Ring is a truly magnificent game. It combines the endless wonder of Breath of the Wild with the crushingly difficult, yet rewarding, gameplay that From Software is known for. Sure, the multiplayer is the usual mess, the PVP is constantly being rebalanced (at least currently), and the game was so big that most of the assets were reused to the point of frustration, but none of that could take away from how genuinely fun it is to play. I mean, I’ve played through two full times, and could seriously go for a third or fourth if I didn’t have other games to play (and, you know, a job, a wife, and a kid).
The bottom line is that this game is great for the old guard of souls fanatics, and the open-world gives some leeway for anyone who’s looking for a way into the world of From Software’s games, but doesn’t want to be forced to “git gud” by bashing their head against the same boss for several hours at a time.
I’m giving Elden Ring a shattering 9.5/10… I know it has its issues, but it still manages to be worthy of this rating despite those shortcomings.
I’ll tell you what though, almost the entire .5 comes off of the score for the literal hours I wasted trying to figure out how the multiplayer works. In fact, I think my summon symbol is still down somewhere.
[You are being summoned to another world]