Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Genre(s): Action-Roleplaying, Soulsborne
Platform: Xbox Series X|S (Also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 25/2/22
A code was provided for review purposes
It’s been thirteen years since the gaming world first encountered Demon Souls. This hard-core RPG from Armored Core developer FromSoftware was the unknowing precursor to the whole “Soulsborne” genre. Even with its relentless assault on its player base’s sanity, those who experienced the initial PlayStation 3 release were instantly hooked. Not only was this due to its punishing yet rewarding difficulty, but also the vast amount of lore and deep RPG elements that hid underneath.
Due to this success it’s also no surprise that FromSoftware and Demon Souls creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki, hasn’t strayed far from the formula. While Demon Souls went on to spawn Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro – three vastly different franchises – the basic gameplay elements remained the same. Players would tentatively creep through various labyrinths and dungeons whilst a multitude of often grotesque enemies awaited to punish those foolish enough to mess with them. For the hardy, these encounters were rewarded with yet more punishment, but the foolish were sent back to try again.
When it comes to Elden Ring, this basic Soulsborne style remains the same. However this time around Miyazaki has teamed up with famed novelist, George R.R Martin, to create a world that’s as beautiful as it is deadly.
Welcome to the Lands Between
Elden Ring is best described as a curious mix of Dark Souls and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It offers the tight combat mechanics and RPG depth of Dark Souls, and the vast, expansive world of Breath of the Wild. It’s quite a change from the previous Soulsborne titles and it’s certainly a welcomed one!
The Lands Between are a broad world filled with danger and places that beg to be explored. From first emerging from the rather tame tutorial dungeon, you’re greeted by a boundless open plain that’s littered with derelict buildings, a fearsome Knight on horseback, and a giant golden tree that eclipses the skyline. It’s a truly wonderful sight which not only shows that Elden Ring is different from those that came before, it also leads you into a false sense of security. Which in the Lands Between is a dangerous thing indeed.
As you start to scratch the surface of this world you’ll meet various characters, discover lore and information, as well as traverse labyrinth dungeons, and fight (often) giant bosses. Where Dark Souls would funnel you from area to area, at no point does Elden Ring explicitly tell you where to go. While the world map does give you a slight indication, the Lands Between are a literal gold mine for those who go off the beaten track. Of course with allowing players to wander where they so choose it’s quite possible to venture into places where you shouldn’t really be. While these areas are entirely do-able (see various YouTube videos), with underdeveloped characters – it’s a bit of a chore.
This is what makes Elden Ring such a great game. You’re free to do as you want with the game allowing you to dictate how you proceed. As mentioned above – aside from a brief point in the right direction, the true beauty lies in its weird and wonderful cast. Each NPC you meet will have their own agenda. Whether this being a simple single mission, or a vast spanning quest chain. There’s always someone who wants and needs your services.
Dark Souls Remixed
Free from the funnelled constraints of Dark Souls, the open-world nature of Elden Ring allows for a greater depth of detail. Those sprawling vistas of destroyed and decaying castles, plague filled lands, and distant giants, all make their welcomed return. However with such a big expanse to play with – it’s the smaller details that are just as captivating. Each biome is littered with destroyed settlements, ancient towers, desecrated burial grounds, ancient otherworldly prisons etc. with each having their own tale to tell. It’s superb just to pick a direction and wander off down the path. There’s not an area that doesn’t have a point of interest to be seen. And thanks to the very generous fast-travel mechanic – you’re free to zig-zag as you see fit.
Naturally you don’t create a string of successful games without learning a few tricks of the trade. As such Elden Ring does borrow a lot from its past incarnations. The self contained dungeons of the Souls series make their welcomed return – with each featuring a worthy reward for their completion. In fact the whole “core experience” is just Dark Souls, albeit with a different skin. You level up in the same manner, combat, skills, and even the online play, all behaving in the same way that we’re used to.
Yet, Elden Ring does enough to make itself different from just being a Dark Souls clone. There’s none of the open-world goofiness that you would see in titles such as Far Cry, instead it’s a refined Soulsborne experience that’s evolved into something more.
It’s Only a Flesh Wound!
Ask anyone who’s played one of Miyazaki’s previous games what it’s like, and the first thing they’ll mention is its difficulty. Elden Ring IS a challenging game. It likes to punish you – and it does so extremely well. From outwardly unfair bosses, to skeletons that reanimate, if something can kill you – it certainly will. However, with Elden Ring we do have a slight sense of breathing room which comes from its new mechanics.
Aside from those tried and tested ways, there’s a tonne of new ways to play. From utilising a mount to get around, to weapon arts, summons, and even stealth, there’s a lot to discover and master. Yet again, you’re never pressured into a certain way to play. In fact during my first character build I didn’t use a single weapon art or summon. Was the game any harder? Well no, but I could have had a much easier time in using these new abilities. If you want to play in the same vein as Dark Souls or Bloodborne then you can. But taking the time to learn these new ways is both a rewarding AND eye-opening experience.
The ability to summon friends and random strangers into your world is still here, but the gimmick has had a much needed face-lift. Not only are you able to summon helpful player assistance by touching a summoning sign, you can also be summoned into a random encounter thanks to the summoning stones. To make these random summons worthy of your time, you are granted some tasty consumables as a reward.
For those who like to be a pain to other players – or like PvP – you’re also able to invade other players’ games. This works slightly different from past iterations in that you can only invade a player if they either specifically place down an item, or are playing in co-op. While the PvP side to Elden Ring has somewhat improved from previous Miyazaki titles, you will still come across those who like to play unfair. Sadly it’s just what it is, and ultimately it’s down to us “good Tarnished” to name-and-shame.
Praise The Turtle!
As of writing, I’ve played about 200+ hours on Elden Ring – it’s an experience I am yet to finish – and it’s one that I’m not rushing to either. While I’m nowhere near conquering the Lands Between of every foe, tamed every dungeon, and gathered every scrap of loot – I can say with certainty that it’s the best Soulsborne experience I’ve had. As a big, big fan of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro, Elden Ring blows all of them out of the water. The title is Miyazaki’s magnum opus – and has certainly given the veteran developer a new platform to work from.
Whether you’re a fan of Hidetaka Miyazaki or not, Elden Ring is up there with the best games of all time. It’s a perfectly executed vision that offers a grand adventure in both scope and depth. There’s plenty of old favourites here that will satisfy even the toughest Souls veteran, whilst simultaneously being accessible to those just discovering the genre. It’s the perfect match of combat, exploration, and difficulty that all comes together to create a truly wonderful adventure that will long stay in anyone’s memory. Could Elden Ring be FromSoftware’s crowning achievement? I think it just could be!
Rapid Reviews Rating
5 out of 5
Elden Ring is out now and can be purchased from the Microsoft Store by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.