I wake up in a dimly lit cavern and traverse through the dark corridor in front of me, not sure what lurks on the other side of the bend. I find a large iron door as my feet pitter-patter across the rocky floor. I pull it open to reveal a brightly lit and vast horizon filling the screen.
Elden Ring Review | Unshackled Glory
Quickly, I pick a direction and run, unsure what trouble I might get into, but I can face anything with my sword at the ready. Swiftly clambering down jagged rocks I make my way to some ruins to the south. Stealthily crouching around and killing low-level skeletons and wolves to try and explore this newfound land.
In the distance, there’s a large campfire with some armor-clad knights resting and taking a much-needed break. I decide to run full-speed sword drawn, ready to make my mark upon their territory.
As I approach, a massive fire-breathing dragon swoops in, lands on the camp, and decimates everything, including myself. The words “You Died” in a blood-soaked font appear on the screen.
These are my first 15 minutes in Elden Ring.
I’m what many would consider a casual FromSoftware fan, and I realize that somehow invalidates my opinions to some of you reading this already, which sure, do what you want. If you’re still here, though, let’s talk about the latest game developed by FromSoftware, Elden Ring.
The Lands Between, the open-world of Elden Ring, facilitates some of the most heart-pounding moments in any open-world game I’ve played. It’s a world that doesn’t want you in it. It’s going to try and kill you at every corner; you have to be on guard at all times. It demands a lot of the player to be ready for literally any situation while also keeping your eyes peeled for hidden caverns, catacombs, or even abandoned shacks with NPCs to talk to.
The level of exploration here is unparalleled. Elden Ring is densely packed with so many hidden nooks and crannies. Some of them will lead you to hidden treasures, and others will lead you to a powerful boss fight you probably aren’t ready for.
Limgrave, which is home to the first Legacy Dungeon, Stormveil Castle, is filled to the brim with a wide variety of enemies trying murder you. Luckily, your trusty steed Torrent lets you evade a lot of these monsters. You don’t have to fight everything you come across, but you must be aware of their locations. Mastery of these areas comes with time, and even then, I found new alcoves and treasure more than 40 hours in.
It’s best to keep in mind that many Catacombs are filled with the same skeleton enemies and pull from a rotation of different bosses. While exploring many of the Catacombs, I fought the same three or four bosses multiple times. It’s not a major gripe, but many of them can begin to feel similar.
This game’s bonfire equivalent across the Lands Between are Sites of Grace. Scattered all across the map to provide a quick moment of respite and act as fast travel points for later. As the map begins to expand and expand, and expand again, Fast Travel becomes incredibly useful for those moments of “Oh, I never went back to that cave, let me check on that real quick.”
I won’t talk about later areas to avoid spoilers, but Elden Ring’s map is massive. Every time you think it can’t get bigger, it does. This is by no means a short game or one that can be critically pathed without extreme knowledge of the world and its fights.
However, Elden Ring absolutely warrants its length. It’s filled with so much optional content to see along the way, offering players breathtaking scenery and some incredible dungeons that will test even the most seasoned FromSoft players.
The incredible soundtrack only bolsters the world. Huge sweeping and booming orchestras kick in during boss fights, discordant violins piercing when enemies draw near in the Lands Between, and of course, a choir that could pierce the heavens.
Music is used to uplift moments in this game or sets a drab and dreary scene depending on where you are. It even manages to feel at peace when entering the Roundtable Hold.
Early on in Elden Ring, you’ll unlock the Roundtable Hold, your central hub for the game. It houses a lot of the NPCs you’ll meet on your journey. Coming back to the Roundtable Hold is your time to make preparations, buy new spells, upgrade your weapons, and talk to these characters to get more of that sweet, sweet lore.
You’ll be able to level here or at any Site of Grace, and leveling is the same as other FromSoftware titles. Killing enemies nets you Runes, which are both a currency for items as well as your experience points. Dying drops your Runes where you were slain, and it will be up to you to pick them back up before dying again and losing them forever.
Some slight tweaks have been made to stats that might catch players off guard. Stats like Faith and intelligence are much more helpful in wielding many weapons found in this game.
So make sure you’re keeping an eye out on the way you’re building your character at all times.
I adore the Roundtable Hold and its intricacies. It’s filled with an inherent sadness, as one of the last strongholds against the dangerous world. Characters like Master Hewg, the blacksmith, are chained here for life, destined to make a god-killing weapon and see the end of the Demi-god reign.
A dark and brooding interior matched against the fireplace’s dim light, which gives it a sense of hope contrasted against books stacked up to the ceiling, a room with beds to sleep in which look like they haven’t been used in years, and large intimidating doors asking to be unlocked.
The Roundtable Hold will evolve over time, opening new wings and progressing storylines for the characters who reside there. Sometimes a character will leave and tell you to meet them at a specific location in the Lands Between, giving them a sense of space in this world. They aren’t merely vendors or characters to feed your lore from time to time. Depending on who you ask, they all have their agendas and motivations for seeing you succeed or fail.
Coming back to the Roundtable Hold always felt like home, and sometimes home isn’t perfect. Sometimes it’s broken, or empty, or even, lonely.
Of course, even being warmed by the fire, you know you can’t stay here. You have to venture back out into the Lands Between and take down the threats that loom there.
A lot of the story will take place back at the Hold. After defeating a boss the characters will have something to say about it, the Roundtable hold will expand, and you’ll get more information about the Elden Ring.
There is a lot of story and lore to dig into in Elden Ring. In typical FromSoftware fashion, the cutscenes and dialogue only bring so much to the table, and the rest will be up to the player to discover.
Item descriptions and environmental storytelling will fill in the blanks of the world around you. George R.R Martin’s name attached to Elden Ring is clear in its worldbuilding, and you can tell by how much this world loves its factions and the story of reclaiming the throne.
While the story is certainly there, Elden Ring doesn’t live or die by it. The game takes exciting twists and turns that will undoubtedly ask for multiple playthroughs to understand it all. Exploration is key to discovering as much of the lore in this game, and the most bombastic story beats happen in dungeons.
The most extensive dungeons in Elden Ring are the Legacy Dungeons, which are much more of your traditional Souls dungeons. Some of your tools like your mount Torrent and Spirit Summons can’t be used here. Each of the dungeons offers interconnecting level design From Software is known for, they also have a few new tricks up their sleeve.
Stormveil Castle, the first of the significant story dungeons, is a winding castle that towers atop a massive cliff. It can be seen in the distance from almost anywhere in Limgrave. When you finally make it there, it’s even larger and more robust than you could imagine.
The enemies inside are tougher than most of the enemies you’ve run up against at this point and so preparation is always key. Stormveil has multiple routes you can choose to progress through, each offering a viable way to make it to the big boss, Godrick the Grafted.
Boss fights in FromSoftware games are the most difficult and often the most lauded things in these games. Elden Ring does not shy away from over-the-top powerful boss fights. Godrick, for instance, is a hulking man with at least a dozen arms. He wields a giant axe and a smaller one in one of his other hands.
He’s not big and slow; Godrick is fast and agile, often leaping into the air, spinning around like a Beyblade, and even breathing fire at specific points. Elden Ring doesn’t throw you an easy first boss. It cranks it up to eleven and then drops the mic.
This mentality carries across the rest of the game. The Legacy Dungeon bosses are no simple pushovers, in fact, some of them are incredibly brutal, and around the time of the fourth boss is when I learned just how fun grinding in this game is.
The open-world nature of Elden Ring means if you’re stuck in a tough fight, just go somewhere else. In previous games, that meant just finding an earlier area and killing the enemies, resting, rinsing, and repeating.
In Elden Ring, I would find myself picking up on loose threads I had abandoned and discovered new areas that led me on multiple hours of new exploration and discovery. By the time I made it back to that boss I was stuck on, I beat it in only a few tries.
This alleviates the frustration of feeling zero progress when fighting a boss. All without taking away the challenge for those who seek it. It doesn’t simply turn the bosses into pushovers but instead helps promote exploring to your heart’s content.
Some of my greatest discoveries were found during the in-between moments of story beats. Simply riding Torrent in a direction and going until I couldn’t anymore. Even then, I would see areas with no clear path forward. Usually indicating a teleporter or cavern is needed to access these areas, meaning it was time to drop a pin on the map and come back later.
The map itself in Elden Ring is small and blank at first. As you pick up map fragments, the topography of the region will be shown, allowing you to spot potential points of interest throughout your adventure. The first time you open the map you’ll notice it’s small, but as you continue finding new regions and locations it will expand exponentially.
Nothing will be expressly noted on the map until you’ve been to that cave or dungeon. Sites of Grace can be accessed from the map for fast travel any time you aren’t in combat. Eventually, your map will be filled with all of the places you’ve been and explored, making it easy to spot the areas that are far less filled in.
PC performance for Elden Ring will vary amongst users, but I had multiple crashes during boss fights and a number of areas like Liurnia of The Lakes where the framerate would take constant hits, even when playing on Low settings to try and preserve the frames.
It’s not game-breaking or a consistent problem, but it’s certainly something that impeded my progress on multiple occasions and is worth noting as an annoyance when it did happen, taking me out of what is an excellent experience when it runs without problems.
Multiplayer was tough to do during the review period and was not something I was able to get a ton of experience with, however, the way the systems work in this game is far more robust than previous offerings from From Software.
A number of different items in the form of “fingers” will allow players to invade and be summoned for co-op as per usual with these games. However, a host of new items like the blue Ring Cipher and White Ring Cipher allow players to rescue people being invaded.
Stakes around the world known as summoning pools will give players the option to drop a sign in multiple summoning pools around the Lands Between to help folks out in many different areas without having to be in that specific spot.
It opens up all sorts of options for folks to journey around the world together or simply have battles out anywhere in the world.
Of course, you’ll be doing a lot of stabbing and slashing. Elden Ring offers a robust combat system that FromSoftware fans will be very accustomed to. Mounted combat is brand new, and while at times it can feel a bit finicky, overall it’s a welcomed addition to an already excellent suite of tools.
However you build your character, whether it’s a sorcerer whipping spells from afar, or a high-speed dexterity badass wielding Wolverine claws, it all offers a style that feels viable. Your mileage may vary based on the build, but it’s nothing you can’t overcome.
Weapon Arts compliment the base weapons by adding game-changing abilities. These Weapon Arts are found from vendors, exploration, and bosses off the beaten path. Powerful moves like shooting gusts of wind from your sword or a quick dodge to close in on an enemy can be the deciding factor in a fight.
It’s another instrument to further your character or something that might be useful for a particular fight.
Elden Ring is far more than a list of features and mechanics. It’s a full-blown adventure waiting to be had with you and your friends. It’s a world that wants to murder you around every turn, but one I could not stop exploring, one I didn’t want to stop investigating.
Plot threads will pull you all over, mysteries lie just beyond reach, and getting to them is half the battle. Elden Ring promotes exploration and a sense of place. Each enemy, item, and piece of scenery is placed with purpose. It’s a challenging game, there’s no way around that, but if you’re willing to put in the time, Elden Ring offers a lot of adventures I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
- Incredible world design
- Some of the best boss fights in the series
- A true sense of adventure
- Roundtable Hold is a beautiful hub area
- Catacombs feel samey after only doing a few
- Reused bosses in areas, even in late game
- PC options are lacking and had several hard crashes to desktop during boss fights
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