Elden Ring is a magnificent amalgamation of all previous Soulsborne games, Miyazaki’s magnum opus. It is without a doubt one of the best open world games of recent years. This is despite it missing the heart and smaller intricacies of their previous titles with that being replaced with a grand fantasy world, which is nevertheless, still mesmerizing to exist in.
“Arise, Tarnished one!”
Waking up to Melina and opening the heavy stone doors to Limgrave is captivating to say the least. Treated by color and vibrancy, the likes of which we’ve hardly seen before in a Souls game. It sets the tone for the whole adventure and this thrill and beauty is kept up the entire time. The world is your domain and it feels like you can go anywhere. With traditional linear levels on the path scattered about, often on the way to important bosses, the FromSoftware identity still seems intact despite the Breath of the Wild-esque open areas that complement these linear levels.
One minor issue with the very beginning is the ability to completely miss the tutorial, with its placement being in a rather obscure hole that many players will — and have — missed. This is at odds with the increased accessibility of the game’s open world and freedom to do seemingly anything. Some may call it a purposeful design choice, but I don’t believe good design would obscure such an important factor from you, especially a game so focused on its mechanics. However, there is an argument that the tutorial is almost a reward for looking around and exploring the area just before Limgrave — that the exploration starts even before the game really begins. Whatever the reason, it is still a very odd design choice akin to most choices and minor details in FromSoftware games.
“Here beginneth the chill night that encompasses all, reaching the great beyond.”
The world is massive. Limgrave (the first main open area) is huge with many smaller hidden areas that may not even be noticed on a number of playthroughs. This continues with Liurnia of the Lakes and the many areas that follow this. They are all packed with secrets and seemingly endless amounts of activities to engage in. Filled with dungeons, boss fights, hidden items, and some of the most detailed optional areas and bosses I’ve ever seen put into a game. Some of the side areas could easily pass for main story vital areas in previous Souls games and games in general, with early game Castle Morne being a good example of that.
With about 170 bosses made up of a variation of around 70 different base designs, the world is filled with stuff to do and each boss is so well designed that many could easily pass for a main boss in previous Souls games. The main bosses in Elden Ring are some of the best the Soulsborne games have ever seen, no, that gaming has ever seen. Complex designs, intricate lore, difficult yet largely fair battles make these bosses incredible to engage with. Both Mergit and Godrick (two early bosses) will shock the player to say the least.
At first it can seem overwhelming and ridiculous when a new, massive area opens up with its many dungeons, characters, and bosses. However, as soon as one realizes its beauty and starts exploring, these doubts and grievances quickly disappear as the player gets absorbed into the world once again. This is especially helped with the HUD and UI disappearing in open exploration so the screen is empty — other than a compass — and the player can become fully immersed into the Land Between.
Each individual area is beautiful in its own way while still keeping an eerie aesthetic with death constantly around the corner, giving the term “looks can kill” real weight. A lot of the areas both linear and open seemingly take inspiration from their old games with the many “Berserk” easter eggs that come with that. Raya Lucaria reeks of Bloodborne’s “old blood.” Castle Morne and StormVeil are reminiscent of Boletarian Palace. The larger, less linear paths with many bosses isn’t too dissimilar to Dark Souls 2 as well as the more traditional fantasy aesthetic resembling the all Dark Souls games. Even Caelid seemingly takes inspiration from the Eclipse in berserk. In the Lands Between, Elden Ring is a fine tuned amalgamation of previous Souls games, and this also the case in the gameplay.
“Lend me thy strength, o kindred. Deliver me unto greater heights”
Combat feels tight and fast, akin to Bloodborne or Sekiro, but still keeps the tradition of a dual focus on rolling and shields similarly to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. It has many weapons and options to approach each fight including spirit summons, which are one of the best parts of the whole game. Not only do they look cool but they are also incredibly helpful, which helps make the game slightly easier for struggling players. Magic is a very plausible option for gameplay similarly to the older Souls games, and with the increased number of spells, it is definitely a fun way to play the game. The traditional summoning system is intact. Sites of Grace are the alternative to bonfires, lanterns, and Sculptor’s idols, and they now come with many more options of things to do there such as pass time to play in the morning, midday or night adding variation to the world and gameplay.
There are even special bosses or events that only appear at certain times of day, again portraying the amount of attention to detail there is in this game. This comes with the addition of Stakes of Marika which are extra checkpoints found usually just before bosses or important sections to make traversal easier in such an expansive world.
Elden Ring in both world and gameplay, feels like previous games from the FromSoftware catalogue dating back to King’s Field, but it is also a clear evolution of the mechanics and games that came before. In similar fashion to previous games, the story has minimal cutscenes, but the cutscenes that exist are short but sweet. Godrick’s cutscene during his fight has incredible acting and is frankly incredible to look at. Again, a lot is left to interpretation, although, it does seem to give a bit more detail than the Dark Souls games but still much less than a more overt story such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The concept of becoming an Elden Lord and the mystery behind the Elden Ring is incredibly intriguing and should be experienced by everyone.
“Someone must extinguish thy flame.”
There are a few issues however, that must be addressed. For one, although Elden Ring takes a lot of inspiration from previous Souls games, it lacks soul. With an amalgamation of previous games, Elden Ring doesn’t seem to understand what made those individual games special. The mechanics working in unison with the world, linear setting, and story are an important foundation to FromSoftware games. Elden Ring departing in those regards changes the meaning of those mechanics. For example, Bloodborne is set in a never-ending nightmare, which makes sense for a constant revival of the player after death as they try to end the nightmare. The Estus Flask in Dark Souls 1 is literally a flame, and that flame can also be perceived as the fire of resolve in the heart of players to keep pushing when times are tough and not “dare go hollow” in the face of struggle. For such reasons, there is an argument that Dark Souls and Bloodborne are perfect metaphors of how it feels to deal with depression or general hardship. The linear levels in those games help create that restrictive atmosphere and further adhere to the depression metaphor. The idea of the fire going out and fighting to keep it alive also further pushes forward this idea. Elden Ring takes away this basis. Although these are extremely abstract ideas that a 50 year old English teacher would probably think of, they also seem plausible, as Miyazaki is quite obscure with his writing and seemingly wants players to interpret his works themselves.
Elden Ring seems to have lost some of the heart and unison between mechanics, story, and the world that the previous games had. Elden Ring’s mix of mechanics and a larger world makes it harder for the game to be complementary. It just feels like a mismatch of ideas that don’t work as well for the open world formula. This isn’t a massive issue and the positives that come with an open world Souls game outweigh such abstract ideas for certain. Most players won’t care or even notice but it is important when mechanics and world-building being in unison is seemingly central to FromSoftware’s identity. However, this isn’t the case for all mechanics. The messages and bloodstains still show the hardships of those that have traversed the Lands Between before you, which works well. It’s just a shame I didn’t feel that connection between the world and mechanics as much as previous Souls games.
A much more traditional issue and a very annoying one are the amount of bugs and stuttering. I’ve been mainly playing on PS4 but also briefly on PS5. I’ve played about 80 hours on PS4 and it’s not great. From getting on my horse and floating in mid air, unable to move and eventually dying to when in intense battles, very bad stuttering begins makes the fight much more difficult. It does, at times, take away from the experience. Those are the main bugs I’ve had. It’s no Cyberpunk 2077 but it is very frustrating. Being scared that the game will slow down or that my horse will disappear and leave me to die floating in the air shouldn’t really be issues and it does harm the experience a little. On PS5, there are seemingly less problems. No horse glitches were noticed and only the occasional stuttering here and there. This is surprising in all honesty considering that the PS4 version is capped at a more or less stable 30fps while the PS5 version has a target of 60fps. However, playing the PS4 version on PS5 consoles in exchange for some graphical fidelity grants you a smooth 60fps, which may be the best way to play the game. Once these bugs are eventually patched out, the experience will be much better especially on PS4, but it will also help prevent frame dips on PS5.
“Brandish the Elden Ring for all of us!”
All things considered, Elden Ring is a crowning achievement for FromSoftware but also for gaming. It takes the overused open world formula and flips it with a focus on exploration and freedom. It eliminates those limiting markers and quest objectives which every game since The Witcher 3 has used and that have really dampened the open world formula. For a game all about tradition, with its fantasy aesthetic and kings or rulers, it is amazing that Elden Ring breaks the mold and tradition by making such a compelling and intriguing experience. Once the bugs have been ironed out, there is no doubt in my mind that Elden Ring will be looked upon as one of the best games ever created despite the difficulty. It will be looked upon as a genre defining classic.