Dark Souls. It’s the franchise every game journalist and their mother talks about and compares every new game to. It’s a name that game developers have held in reverence and strived to make their own titles to the same high standard. It’s a game series that defined its own genre one could say, and a series that I personally have invested thousands of hours of my life to through repeat character builds for PvE and PvP, level 5 endurance runs, and speedruns. There are few games that I have connected with as deeply as I have as the Souls games by developer FromSoftware, and I am not alone in this regard.
The original Dark Souls (2011), which would set a standard for all games to follow.
The “Soulslike” genre is thriving now in 2022 more than ever, yet the mainline games are done, their style remains tweaked and recycled in a beautiful new way every so often by its development team helmed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. One of the greatest games ever made happened to be one of these same experiments, a slight tweak on the Souls formula: Bloodborne. But, hypothetically, what if Miyazaki and the team at FromSoftware took every single lesson about quality of life, player enjoyment, versatility, and sheer overwhelming fun factor they have learned since their King’s Field games, and then with Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3, and finally Seikiro: Shadows Die Twice. What if every best quality of these games was stripped down to its bare essentials, rebuilt upon, weaved together in a fabric of agonizing attention to detail, and stitched together into one video game that gives you a teaming open world playground to explore? This would become none other than FromSoft’s latest masterpiece, Elden Ring.
Ye Tarnished of no renown, emboldened by the flames of ambition. What will your fate be? Upon starting Elden Ring you are given a set of flooring still images, explaining how the demigods’ war over the shards of the Elden Ring post shattering and the disappearance of Queen Marika the Eternal, the former ruler of the Lands Between, has all but brought ruin onto the domain, and the Tarnished (a name given to beings that live yet are dead, guided by the grace of of the Erdtree that draws them to it) are all in search of the Elden Ring. One day, a tarnished will claim it and make the Lands Between whole once more and take the throne, becoming Elden Lord. This is the set up presented to the player before you are dropped straight into a room after your character creation and given merely a general direction to go.
The legendary Elden Ring, shattered by someone or something.
The character creation itself is standard fare for most games FromSoft have produced. Several different classes can be chosen from that specialize in either strength or dexterity weapons, some specialize in faith based incantations and some in glintstone sorcery. All have different starting weapons, armor, and spells. You can also custom choose a starting gift for your character from an assortment of trinkets you can find throughout your journey in the game normally. One of these is much better than the rest, but I am not telling you which one. In addition to that, you can also choose male or female as “Type A and Type B” bodies and customize everything about your face, body, skin color, eyes and hair. Make yourself or some hideous monstrosity, both are fun either way. Unless you are yourself a hideous monstrosity. But I doubt that since if you are reading my review, you are probably gorgeous beyond comprehension. Just like Limgrave when you step foot into it for the first time with your newly created character.
A selection of the game’s classes, each with varying strengths, starting weapons, and stats.
The entire map of the Lands Between is sprawling and teeming with life. You are given wild and exotic animals to hunt; you are presented with caves, camps, swamps, mines, plains, forests, and ruins to explore. This is the first game that FromSoft have ever made with an open world environment, and it feels filled with life and new discoveries. I was very nervous when FromSoft announced they were making an open world game, knowing how easy it is for most of their type to be swallowed by their own monotony. But I am pleased to say I couldn’t have been more wrong in that regard.
The vast world of the Lands Between is packed with intricate details to explore.
Of course during this journey you are introduced to the enemies and NPCs of Limgrave as soon as your foot touches the grass and your ass sits at the first Site of Grace (which are Elden Ring’s bonfire equivalents). I don’t dare to spoil the experience you’ll have with those people you’ll meet and the enemies you will encounter. Suffice to say, you’ll face enemies and bosses that give you pause and make you want to bite your lip and tear your hair out in the previously released Souls games in the best of ways. Maybe to the point of where you will think that a certain area with poison tentacle quids or big golden dickhead knights on horses or giant crabs are too strong for you, so you’ll hop on your spectral horse and go explore a different chunk of the map just to find a broken down dragon worshiping cult sitting on top of an ancient ruin housing a very interesting treasure chest. Possibly 30 yards from that ruin if you ride your steed in that direction North of the ruins, a massive white dragon will swoop down on top of your head and cave your shit in harder than Mike Hagar from Final Fight with a lead pipe. This lush, golden, broken land is your oyster, and its begging you to crack it open and explore every corner it has.
Navigate the lands with haste and ease atop your spectral steed.
While we’re on the subject of all the other qualities this game has taken from its predecessors and improved upon in every single way, let’s talk about the best part of Elden Ring: the combat. Souls games, Bloodborne, and now Elden Ring, have always had a way of being so poignantly fair in presenting their challenge and difficulty spikes to you, that if you die over and over, you know that the only individual you can be frustrated with is yourself. However, harness your frustration to learn and tweak how you handle each boss every time, internally telegraphing their movesets and working with new tactics until you finally overcome your struggles and destroy them with a wave of euphoria washing over you after when you see that screen that says ‘GREAT ENEMY FELLED’.
The three most satisfying words you’ll see all game.
Combat itself, for those of you unfamiliar with FromSoft’s previous titles and are thinking of dipping your toes into the waters with Elden Ring, is laid out via various weapons you can throw on right and left arm equip slots. You have a light attack that you can now chain combos with, a heavy attack that can be held down and charged, or pressed mid air or post block to perform an air attack or counter for an enemy stance break. Breaking an enemy’s stance or sneaking up behind or in front of them will offer the opportunity for a critical attack for massive damage. You can single or two hand any weapon, staff, shield, etc. in the game either on foot or horseback, and on foot you gain access to the weapon’s two handed weapon skill that can be utilized for a cost of your FP gauge (mana bar for those who haven’t played Dark Souls 3) which you can now swap out with Ashes of War, items that slot into weapons and change the skills they use while two handed or a shield without a parry skill.
The weapons, armor and various sorcery and faith based incantation channelling devices you get through the game are wide and varied, overwhelmingly so. There is everything you could think of in this game in terms of fantasy weaponry, including straight swords or greatswords, spears, twinblades, dual swords and daggers, massive hammers and axes, whips, katanas, bucklers, small shields, medium shields, greatshields, chakrams, and I could go on. All of these weapons have different abilities and attributes that scale with your four damage scaling stats, that being: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Faith. These are your bread and butter stats and after finding a weapon or playstyle you like, you will have to choose which of these stats and others to focus on pumping higher and the build you want to create by endgame to be viable.
With its vast array of weaponry, Elden Ring allows you to play however you see fit.
But the best thing about Elden Ring, is that more so than any game From has ever made before, everything is viable. Gone is the durability meter for weapons and stat damage scaling has been toned down in favor of generalized weapon upgrade damage and balance. You feel strong as you invest your runes and upgrade materials on weapons, and grow as a player when you fight more and more enemies. There is a spectacular sense of accomplishment you feel as you know you are getting better with every step you take and every enemy you kill that is like pure dopamine that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. It makes you want to fight more foes that are stronger, get even more and better weapons and armor, see what else the game has to throw at you.
Let’s talk about the biggest new additions besides the open world to this game that Miyazaki and the team have decided to add, now. The mounted combat and the new stealth mechanics. Shortly into the game you come across a ‘camp’ you have the option of clearing. You are not given a hand holding tutorial about how to go about clearing this camp, it just implies for you to go and clear it. This is where the stealth mechanics of the game shine very bright for the first time, as if you approach this camp rushing in, you’re likely to get destroyed the first time. Then as you gradually realize sneaking up behind Godrick soldiers and waiting for the right opportunity to backstab them before the rest of them are immediately drawn to your location is much more ideal, you realize how strong and useful these new stealth mechanics are and how vital a role they will be playing in the different ways you approach encounters. Once you clear the camp you are given a map for central Limgrave, which is a small chunk of the actual full map, and some weapons plus a very important item via chests.
Making clever use of stealth and your surroundings is vital to survive in Elden Ring.
You find your next Site of Grace to rest at, and then you are introduced to a very important character in this game, which if you have shown any interest or seen anything about Elden Ring, you probably recognize her. She gives you the option of levelling up and plays the role of “Finger Maiden” for you so you do not find yourself maidenless. She then gives you the ring to summon the spectral steed, Torrent, your best friend that you will be riding everywhere for the entirety of this game. All those locations I mentioned earlier, Torrent will be able to get you there, and he can double jump. What other steed in any video game is good for jump based platforming? Your new friend playing the role of finger maiden will in time lead you to a central hub the likes of Firelink Shrine as well, but it will come in due time once you have gone face to face with the first “truly difficult” boss in the game before going into the first legacy dungeon.
Your spectral steed, Torrent, is useful in both platforming and combat throughout the game.
Suffice to say, the massive adventure that Elden Ring presents you with will be arduous, and you’ll meet many, many different tarnished and fallen demigods along your way. Each of them have their own story threads to follow and your decisions during these will lead to their fruition or imminent demise. It’s your call to make, since this is your story and you are the one faced with seeking the Elden Ring. Ultimately, I’m at an utter loss. As I knew this game was going to be excellent, but what I did not expect was that it would be a masterclass video game that defines its genre. That it would be so truly brilliant that I would enjoy it more than my favorite series of all time, Souls, because it takes every great aspect from them and makes it even better and bigger.
The sheer amount of polish and attention to detail that went into this titan of an action RPG has cemented it in my mind as the best game FromSoftware have ever developed. Story, lore, combat, mechanics, world-building, character interactions; everything is the pinnacle of what you would imagine a truly masterpiece video game would have. This is why I recommend every person who is able to play this game. Play Elden Ring, even if you hate the Dark Souls games, you’ll find something you love here. Embrace your path as a Tarnished, seek grace, and steel yourself for one of the best journeys you will ever experience in gaming.
So, why should you play it?
- You love action RPGs
- You enjoy rising to challenges
- You want an unforgettable experience from a game
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- You can’t afford it at the moment, in which case, wait for a sale