Elden Ring Review: A Fistful of Frenzy
Written by 9 To 5 Gamers
I’d like to get this out of the way up top—Elden Ring is easily one of the greatest video games ever made. From the game’s rich and dense open world, cryptic narrative, and (mostly) tight combat, to its better-than-ever multiplayer functionality and largely optional difficulty, Elden Ring is satisfyingly complete and one hell of a bang for your hard-earned buck. The action RPG is a thrilling next step for long-time fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s and FromSoftware’s work, while simultaneously providing a jump-in point for series newcomers. That’s not to say the game is without its flaws and inconsistencies, but I’ll get into the details below. Although it may sound hyperbolic, Elden Ring, is the culmination of everything From has done to date, and is truly one of the most outstanding examples of the art of gaming I have ever experienced.
As typically mysterious as the game’s narrative may be, it’s still more fleshed out than any other entry in the “Soulsborne” series of titles, thanks in much part to the contributions of George R.R. Martin, the writer of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels on which the Game of Thrones HBO series is based. The player takes the role of a Tarnished, individuals formerly banished from the Lands Between who are once again actively guided by the grace of the Erdtree (think of the mythological world tree motif). At the top of it, is Queen Marika the Eternal, who was given the titular Elden Ring by an entity called the Greater Will, with the goal that it would maintain peace in the Lands Between. After her firstborn son was murdered by assassins on the Night of the Black Knives, she had the Ring shattered in an attempt to disrupt the order of life and death, so that her fallen progeny may be brought back to life. Queen Marika then disappeared, however, and the rest of her offspring claimed shards of the Ring. Their newfound power triggered a great war known as the Shattering, which caused the Greater Will to abandon the Lands Between entirely. Now, as one of many Tarnished seeking to reclaim the shards of the Ring and become Elden Lord, you must slay the Shardbearers one and all. Or something. Are you still with me?
Elden Ring Scenery
“Behold, gorgeous view! And then time for bravery…”
Elden Ring and the world between
Outside of that overall plot, much of the story is presented to the player through NPC interactions and the series’ long-standard environmental storytelling and item descriptions. Concerning the NPC interactions, series veterans know how obtuse seeing some of the questlines to their end can be, and that remains true in some cases here. During my playthrough, however, I completed several questlines without using a guide, as the game often does a great job of guiding you along naturally through the Lands Between. Stay aware and keep your eyes peeled, and you shouldn’t have too hard a time completing many of the NPC questlines herein, though you’d be lucky to get them all. (Personally, I like to experience series entries naturally, guide-free, and then look up things I missed in subsequent playthroughs. But you do you! If you feel like you’re missing out, or don’t plan to play the game several times through like the maniac I am, go ahead and look up quest guides!) Additionally, a post-launch patch added NPC locations to the world map to make keeping track of quests a bit easier.
Elden Ring’s gameplay is primarily its third-person combat with a healthy little mix of world exploration and discovery. Players choose a class when they create their character, but this only really determines starting stats and gear, and any class can be built to the player’s liking as they level up. Like past titles, unspent experience points (called “runes” this time around, but go ahead and call them “souls” if you’re used to it) are dropped upon death but can be retrieved if you don’t die again before re-procuring them. Combat options are as diverse as ever, with a myriad of melee weapon types to choose from (many of which have unique moves called Ashes of War), as well as many bows and crossbows, and a variety of magic subtypes that fall primarily under Sorcery or Incantations, such as Gravity or Frenzy spells, respectively.
How does Elden Ring’s Combat stack up?
Elden Ring’s combat feels like a healthy iteration on the Soulsborne titles that came before, and benefits from the verticality of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While there’s no grappling hook, like in that title, there is a dedicated jump button that fundamentally changes the core combat experience compared to earlier entries, as many attacks can be jumped over rather than dodge rolled through, though dodge rolls are still an important aspect of gameplay. A first in the series is a dedicated mount, which in addition to being crucial to getting around the massive game world, offers its own unique combat options as long as you’re in the open world where it can be summoned. Interior zones and dungeons, many of which are optional, do not let you mount up and thus require a more traditional take on combat to hack, bludgeon, or magic blast your way through.
Here we get to one of my biggest pet peeves with the title, the responsiveness of certain controls. Overall, the game controls very well, especially with the aforementioned dedicated jump button taking over the bottom face button, making the top button now the traditional action button used to interact with the environment, items, and NPCs. But what has and continues to trip me up are little inconsistencies in combat. To drink a health or mana potion, you press the left face button, but sometimes, maybe depending on how you’re moving at the time, or recovering from a roll or from being attacked, it won’t respond. You’ll have to press it a couple of times. Also, you can hold weapons in either hand, and playing as a sorcerer, I have my melee weapon in my right hand, and my staff/magic catalyst in my left. Sometimes I want to use my melee weapon in two hands, as using Twinblade benefits greatly from this. To hold a weapon in two hands, you hold the top face button and press the front trigger button corresponding with the hand in which it’s held, left or right. As with drinking potions, sometimes this just doesn’t work and needs to be pressed a couple of times as well to activate it. These scenarios can be devastating in difficult combat situations, especially boss fights in which the tiniest mistake spells certain doom.
Another issue I have with battling certain bosses is their propensity to spam the same one or two moves over and over, sometimes as often as four or five times in a row, locking you in a state where you cannot recover and in which you will inevitably die. As amazing as the majority of the boss designs are, there are just way too many in the game to flesh out all of their move sets in ways the major required bosses are. This can be quite frustrating, and usually, when you beat the boss, it’s because they weren’t behaving in this incessant manner. Boss behaviors can vary wildly from attempt, to attempt. All that said, the inevitable victory may still leave you feeling exhilarated, though sometimes you feel less personally accomplished and more flat-out lucky. In this reviewer’s opinion, there’s no real “getting gud” enough to deal with occasionally erratic enemy behavior.
Behold, the view.
These relatively small inconsistencies aside, much of the game remains quite fair and is constantly stunning to behold. I’ve long marveled at how the Soulsborne titles feel like classic side-scrolling Castlevania games realized fully in beautiful 3D, and Elden Ring takes that approach and applies it to the vast, awe-inspiring, open-world landscapes of the Lands Between. So often I stop to admire the striking environments, be it a sinister gothic castle or the Erdtree itself towering above just about any place you visit. However, playing on PS5, I have noticed foliage popping in, and occasionally the game will mask distances with fog in an attempt to maintain frame rate, but these things never really bothered me. Graphics and sound design remain as stellar as ever, even on my lower-middle range 4K TV and soundbar.
Multiplayer, likewise, is as functional and robust as it has ever been in a From game. The password system from Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 returns, and in my experiences playing with a friend, we very rarely had any issues seeing each other’s summon signs pop up instantly. In case you’re not familiar, with the right item activated (and with online mode enabled) you can summon other players to help in your world by interacting with their glowing sigil on the ground, or you can lay your own sign down to be summoned to aid someone else. Without a password set, any number of player summon signs may appear, especially around little hubs marked by “Stakes of Marika,” designed to serve as designated meeting places for players.
Cooperation isn’t the only function of multiplayer. As always, player-versus-player battles play a huge role in much of the Elden Ring experience. PvP comes in the form of optional hostile summons, which are activated by interacting with players’ sigils on the ground much like in jolly cooperation but are distinguished by their red glow as opposed to friendly gold. However, players engaged in online cooperation are always subject to invasions by unwelcome guests, whose sole purpose is to kill you and ruin your good time. I don’t say that bitterly, it’s an important part of the game and can often be really fun. What ruins that fun, however, is when invaders are precisely min-maxed with high-end gear, and are essentially harder than bosses, and cannot be stopped, even when outnumbered. Players can volunteer to automatically join others’ worlds as helpers when there’s an invader present, and that can help offset this, but sometimes twinked out players just want to troll, and troll they will!
Lastly, we can address difficulty. The game isn’t easy. It can be, there are plenty of relatively weak enemies, and sometimes you’ll run into a boss that you can kill in a handful of smacks or spells, but all in all, it’s kind of as easy or hard as you want it to be. The world, again, is incredibly vast, so if you find you’re having difficulty with enemies in a certain area, then, like other open-world RPGs, you can simply go elsewhere. That other corner of the map you haven’t explored? Maybe you’ll have better luck there. There’s no shortage of places to go, and while you may find yourself determined to tough it out in a trying setting, sometimes the better decision is to come back later. There’s no shame in playing smarter, not harder.
Elden Ring Review: Final Thoughts
I don’t believe any one game is truly flawless, and Elden Ring certainly isn’t, either. But gosh darn, if you care at all about video games, or appreciate how games can be true art, elevating the medium to levels that rival film or music or any other “real” artistic medium, then you must play this game. It’s a revolution in its size, the unbound freedom it offers, its enemy design, its breadth of character build and weapon approach options, and its ability to offer choice in how you want to experience it. Don’t worry if you don’t have the latest generation of hardware, a 4K HDR TV, or any of that. While that will enhance your experience surely, your main priority must be to experience this masterpiece any way you can. It may take you well over a hundred hours to finish it, but trust me, each one spent will be well worth it.
9.75 / 10
What are your thoughts on Elden Ring? Do you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments below!
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