It’s finally here. On February 25th, 2022 Elden Ring released, and at over 110+ hours I’ve finally completed my journey and ascended to Elden Lord. As a fellow editor oh, so eloquently stated: reviewing this title is a “mammoth task”, and one I gleefully undertake at that. But how was it? Bloody glorious. Elden Ring is the best SoulsBorne I have ever played and I can’t wait to share more in the following review. If you’re into souls-likes, you probably already know the deal and are likely already playing. If you’re unfamiliar; welcome fellow tarnished, let’s proceed. Elden Ring is an action RPG developed by FromSoftware, from the minds of Hidetaka Miyazaki, and George R. R. Martin. The following review will be spoiler-free.
How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s review Elden Ring through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters/story, content/length, controls & gameplay, then finally, sound design & cinematics. This product was reviewed on an Xbox Series X. For full transparency: this content was reviewed using a purchased copy of the game.
With a title this massive, where do we even begin? Well, from the start I suppose. From the moment ye tarnished of no renown awakens to The Lands Between, you know you’re in for a sight to behold. While this may not necessarily be Death Stranding photo-realism, the setting is absolutely gorgeous. Contained beyond the door revealing the heights of Limgrave to the deep depths of the wells within Elden Ring, are some of the most beautiful spectacles of a world visualized in gaming that I have ever had the privilege to review. The game repeatedly manages to unveil some of the most breathtaking visual imagery in recent memory with a sense of grandeur. God of War 2018 was the last game that truly blew me away to this magnitude, both visually and with regard to its gameplay. But more on that later.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the use of environmental storytelling and of visual language to convey information. It’s effective, mysterious, and satisfying all bundled into one.
If you’ve played recent FromSoft titles such as Sekiro or Dark Souls 3 it’s similar in visual style with modern… oomph. Spells and volumetric effects are incredible. There’s a truly raw sense of awe that Elden Ring manages to inspire again and again. I understand in all likelihood that it may just be for lighting reasons and not much more, but I want to know who is running around igniting all these candles everywhere all the time before I get there… extra convenient. The lore must have an answer somewhere, let us know your theories.
Performance-wise, how does it function? Pretty well, I can’t honestly complain. While I did experience some occasionally minor frame drops/stutters during some chaotic moments, It did not affect my gameplay experience. That being said I did have a crash while peeking around a castle, and the online functionality didn’t work for the first two days proceeding launch. I experienced a glitch where the X and Y buttons weren’t working, though It’s likely been resolved in a patch as I have yet to experience it since. Where some players may take issue, however, are with some noticeable shading issues, alongside some texture and model pop-ins. I want to chalk this up to technological holdbacks, (and while it is better than I noticed in our Halo: Infinite review) It does merit mention – jagged shadows especially. All is well generally speaking though, nothing game-breaking or non-functional so moving on.
Characters & Story
To be clear: this will not go into spoiler territory, though will address characters and story in broad strokes. First off Blaidd is my spirit animal and I love him dearly and he’s the best – he even gets his own loading screen. Without going off on a long-winded ramble, the characters of this iteration feel fresh and unique. Each personality feels truly standout from the last with intricate backstories and journeys ahead. Melina is the new Elden/Souls waifu, a near tradition for these games at this point. I personally wish she was involved more frequently, but that void was easily filled with the widely ranging cast I was yet to meet.
Elden Ring seemingly has a bit of everything, callbacks, familiar faces and new ones too. Wholesome friends you want to protect with your life and runes, contrasting the reviled and repulsive you’ll soon acquaint. Friend or foe? As has always been, it’s up to you.
How’s the story you might ask? Spectacular I’d reply. While I don’t think I’ve experienced a FromSoft story or setting I haven’t so far enjoyed – I really, really like this. While this might sound bad, I honestly did not notice much of George R. R’s influence. Not to discredit the man, but this entire plot feels like something Miyazaki would pitch anyways. It makes sense that pre-launch chatter indicated changes to R. R’s characters may have been significant.
When Martin wrote these characters, and when he provided that origin story that mythos for the world of Elden Ring, these demigods were much closer to their original form, and maybe closer to human form back then, before the Shattering, before it all started. So it was more up to us to interpret this and say, ‘how did they become such inhuman monsters? And how did the mad taint of the shattered shards of the Elden Ring and its power affect them?’ So that was our job to take these grand heroes and sort of misshape them and distort them into something they were not,” “And I think if we get a chance to show Martin and if he gets a chance to see the game and see these characters, I think he might be a bit shocked. When he wrote them, he was really envisioning something a little bit more human, a little bit more traditional human drama and fantasy characters. So I hope he gets a kick out of that.”Gameinformer interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki
It shows. Everything has been Miyazaki-fied and its beautifully-grotesquely glorious. Elden Ring’s foundational lore is brilliant, however, so well done George R. R., Miyazaki, and the entire creative/writing staff. Impressive worldbuilding, characters, setting and plot. It’s all truly distinctive design deserving of the title “Masterpiece”. The Lands Between feel like an inhabited realm, teeming with natural wildlife and uncovered stories waiting to be told and unfold. I couldn’t help but feel the allure of this world, and a craving to learn more.
Content & Length
So, this behemoth of a game took me 114 hours to beat on a relatively (though not entirely) completionist run. What I mean is there might be a few minor optional bosses that I may have missed and some very well hidden secret areas (illusory walls are back), but that aside I have been to the far reaches of The Lands Between. And holy shit, what an experience it has been. There are entire optional sub-areas that feel like entire expansions. It was like Miyazaki thought, “You guys want more SoulsBorne? Fine, have ALL of the SoulsBorne”. Though, If a players’ intention is merely to finish the game, (assuming they know the way and have the skills) that can likely be accomplished in a far-far lesser double-digit number of hours.
Point blank, this is one of the largest and most expansive/content-filled worlds I’ve had the privilege of exploring. The Lands Between will go down in history as a gem of world design, and a shining example of industry standard. Some open-world experiences manage to feel as wide as an ocean, yet only manage to have as much depth as a puddle. This is not the case with Elden Ring – far from it in actuality.
As far as replayability is concerned, don’t be. Bad jokes aside, the moment I “finished” this game I dove straight back in for more to complete new areas and find more loot, and then NG+, and then a new character for a different build. See, the inherent build diversity offers a metric f*cktonne of replay potential alongside the scaling and repeatable NG+. Not only that but I must give props to the masterclass re-use of assets in a non-sarcastic way. Every game re-uses enemies, models, textures etc. to some degree, it’s pretty much unavoidable. Yet the way Elden Ring rides the right side of the line by contextualizing re-occurrences and not overstaying their welcome. In most cases, reused enemies will often have a differing elemental gimmick or some variation of a situation as to never give you immediate deja vu. I understand some players may not like seeing any boss reused, but with over 100+ hours possible on a single playthrough, I think it’s inevitable. If you’re going to do it, might as well do it right. And FromSoft certainly has.
Oh and before I forget, there are some fantastic and expansive easter eggs and references. I won’t spoil them, but they range from Lord of The Rings, to Game of Throne (obviously), Berserk and many, many more. And obviously Multiplayer is back in its usual form with co-op and enemy invasions both possible – with altered frequency and possibility. Most things are the same aside from a lowered player count from 6 to 4, and solo players being unable to be invaded now. That aside, Multiplayer is pretty straightforward. It just works.
Speaking of what there’s a lot of: Equipment and spells. To an impressive extent, the arsenals of Elden Ring are quite vast. This includes everything from every size of sword, daggers, to maces, flails, hammers, clubs, staffs, twinblades, scythes, halberds, axes, fist weapons, spears bows… you get the idea. Armour varieties are similarly expansive, alongside the insane amount of incantations and sorceries, ashes of war, and spirit ashes (which we’ll get to in the next section). I know there’s a lot to get through, it’s honestly just because this game is enormous.
Lastly, to top this section off, we’ll discuss difficulty. Elden Ring is a SoulsBorne, so it’s pretty tough, though never insurmountably or unfairly so. As frustrating as many scenarios may have seemed it always came down to me, more often than not, making a mistake. So I learned, improved, adapted and overcame. It’s tough, but incredibly rewarding. This game can be equally as punishing as its predecessors, Elden Ring merely gives players further versatility in their highly personalized approach.
To elaborate, players’ ability to farm is greatly increased, expanding on previous capabilities to grind and level up for bosses. Furthermore, the non-linear and open-world design allows players to leave, complete other objectives and come back more powerful than previous titles would allow. Additionally, a mechanic reminiscent of Ghost of Tsushima’s (which we have a review for here) wind guides players with golden wisps of “grace”. This directs players to the next “Site of Grace” (new bonfires) in the general direction of their next major goal in completing the game.
Before moving on from difficulty, I hesitate to say Elden Ring is easier than previous FromSoft titles because there is an inherent counter-play design many enemies utilize against players. As developers more than likely anticipated many Souls-veterans playing these, I feel like they knew ordinary tactics would no longer work. Enemies will bait, feint, pause or swipe in the blink of an eye to subvert our expectations of predictable attack patterns. Sometimes even simple enemies are heinously dangerous. Such is the case of the Stormveil Warhawk. Long story short, this forces calculated play. No roll spamming here or you will get stamina locked, or hit on the offbeat. There’s a rhythm to certain enemies that, if one refuses to learn, will break them.
Controls & Gameplay
For the most part, if you’ve played a FromSoft SoulsBorne, you know the deal here (with some minor changes). First off, we now have a dedicated jump button and a glorious horse mount buddy-friend. They call him Torrent, he can double jump, avoid both poison & rot – while being an all ’round good friend-buddy. This addition was necessitated by the new open-world design, otherwise traversing The Lands Between would be rather tedious. Players may also partake in horseback combat, attacking either side with either bumpers or triggers. Just don’t tell anyone that it took me almost 15 hours to figure that out. We can also crouch for the sneaky-sneaks and easy backstabs.
Before veering too off-topic, Elden Ring felt instantly familiar yet new and exciting. The moment I received control of my Tarnished, I knew precisely what I was in for. O to sprint and roll, bumpers and triggers for each hand, left analogue moves, right looks. There are further complexities such as quick menus on Y, alongside two-handing but it’s nothing too wild. Controller in hand, Elden Ring fits like a glove and handles like your first car brand new. FromSoftware has been refining this gameplay formula to near perfection by finely tuning every aspect of it. From (pun intended) its controls, responsiveness, hitboxes and stats to its widely diverse array of approaches, Elden Ring feels like a love letter to the fans. Let’s talk about how that is, with regards to its gameplay further. Quick note before moving on: If you enjoy the SoulsBorne formula, you’re likely to adore this (jank and all), otherwise I doubt it’s going to be winning many more over. However, this is the most accessible variation yet for newcomers of all forms.
First I want to address a near expectation from these types of games: the intricately woven webs of creative map/level design. Wow, does Elden Ring deliver this in droves. Those out of reach, yet acquirable goodies & secrets? Check. Inception tier dungeons? Check. Clever world structure? Check. Plenty have already seen it, but the opening sight of Limgrave is a perfect example. Not only is it Holy Shit pretty, but it also shows players where they’re going, where they’ve been, goals, obstacles etc. etc. This is all done expertly through visual medium, without a single marker or notification. To help players navigate this goliath of a setting we are supplied a map.
Well, fragments of it anyways. Players get a fog of war overview of The Lands Between revealed by maps picked up throughout their adventures. I feel this new mechanic doesn’t overstay its welcome by disrupting the joy of exploration through its minimalism. Sure it can give players general clues as to locations and events, but the adventure is yours to have. You can place map markers visible in the real world for a pointer, and you have a compass to guide you – but that’s it. Shortly after launch, NPC and merchant markers were patched onto the map, and considering the plentiful number to keep track of I think it a wise choice. Especially when also taking into consideration how world-spanning some quests can be. Adding this helps alleviate the occasionally frustrating quest design that more handily lends itself to the linear experience. That’s not to say it doesn’t work here, you just might be racking your brain, taking notes or realizing you missed things for the next playthrough. But I can near surely assure you, there will be a next playthrough.
Speaking of adventures and exploration, it is truly one of my favorite aspects of this game. Verticality is utilized to a wondrous degree, and there are things to find littered everywhere. I mean literally all over, inside and under. Sometimes, behind dragons or other such obstacles. Pick a direction and go.
You know when you select a goal and start off in that direction, but keep getting sidetracked by other attracting enticements? Prepare for plenty of these feels, in the best of ways. To accompany the new open-world design’s longevity, there are new mechanics like Flask returns after killing X number of enemies.
Then there are new mechanical additions like the ‘ashes of war’ and ‘spirit ashes’. the former of which is essentially changeable weapon abilities, and the latter being essentially another term for summons. Both are much welcome additions that allow players to further customize their experience and playstyle. Especially when considering the previously noted vast number of types.
Finally for this section, I want to touch on the insanely precise aforementioned hitboxes and new stats. While it’s surely not perfect, it is incredibly accurate. Although I have definitely missed some attacks that should have connected, and I have seen weapons through walls. I frames, or Invincibility frames, are back of course and tastefully refined. Enemies and bosses appear to have more, or at least longer windows themselves, however, especially after critical hits/backstabs. I understand the balancing side of this – disallowing players from majorly dogpiling in the same way foe can’t either.
There also seems to be an ever so slightly extended window for action queuing. This means in practice that you can perfectly line up heal chugs, combos and items easier, however it also makes it easier to get locked into a misclick or mistake. This forces a calculated playstyle that doesn’t spam buttons lest one finds themselves in a sticky situation.
Statistics have been swapped up from the Darksouls days, with Vigor, Mind, Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Faith and Arcane. One thing I did notice was a leniency towards intelligence. I get it: FromSoft might not want a bunch of windowlickers running around, but I really just wanted to go all in on a big tough dummy who bonks.
Miscellaneous Gameplay Notes
- Runes don’t bind to enemies/ killer on death anymore
- No stamina usage when running out of combat
- 4 Person maximum for multiplayer instances, down from 6
- Holy and Lightning split into 2 damage types
- Powerstance is back (sort of)
- Horseback inactive for co-op and after beating local boss, prevents multiplayer
Sound Design & Cinematics
All one needs to do is watch the opening cinematic to see the sheer quality of the audio and cutscenes. It’s truly the highest tier, few as they may be. Though this is in true FromSoft form as minimalism tends to be utilized to emphasize the gameplay experience. In a nutshell, it’s all… great. Unsurprisingly from a studio of this caliber. The weapons sound crisp and refined. Each swing, clink and crunch is clear, sometimes echoing in confined spaces. Many of these cues may sound familiar, which honestly made me feel right at home.
I’m just gonna say it. The OST for Elden Ring fuckin’ slaps. I want to throw down every time that start menu orchestra kicks off, In its own way this is DOOM tier composition. Dark Souls 3 has an OST worth of the gods, as does this massive congratulations to everyone involved. Mighty impressive work. It’s dramatic, hits with intensity and drives you in a way that makes you feel worthy of slaying a god. When roaming the open world it shifts from calm and serene to suspenseful and teetering on the cusp of escalation. Each melody strikes the right tone I feel was intended, so that’s pretty ace.
To cut my ramblings short: if you like the aforementioned formula, then you’re likely to love Elden Ring. Otherwise, it does little to change the minds of holdouts – and that’s perfectly fine. This genre has always been polarizing; you’ll either love it or hate it. Knowing some of the technical issues I couldn’t in good conscience give it a perfect score. But I do give it a wholeheartedly dedicated recommendation 9.8/10. A truly incredible package that’s well worth the asking price. Tonnes of content of the highest quality. A handcrafted world fabricated by a team of visionaries and professionals brought to life in glorious 4K complimenting a tightly refined gameplay experience. What’s not to like?
Though I do hesitate to give ‘perfect’ scores, as rarely, is anything perfect. However, Elden Ring is an irrefutable masterpiece.
Well, that’s a wrap for our Elden Ring review, what did you think of the latest iteration of the SoulsBorneSekRing legacy? Let us know in the comments, we’d be glad to hear from you! And if you enjoyed this content, check out our Halo: Infinite PC review! Thanks for reading.
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Unequivocally The Best Soulsborne So Far
- Score - 9.8/109.8/10
+ Absolutely Gorgeous Visuals
+ Tight Combat
+ Elaborate Density of World-building
– Some Noticeable Visual Issues
Just a Canadian dude who’s passionate about gaming, and the industry as a whole.