FromSoftware hit it big when they came up with Demon’s Souls. The original title went from a questionable release, one Sony wasn’t confident in bringing to other regions, to create a genre. Instead of relying on the typical elements that make a game hard, things like cheap mechanics or extremely aggressive AI, it asked players to be a lot more thoughtful in their approach. Consider the dangers that await you, pay attention to your surroundings, and learn from your mistakes. Since then they’ve adapted the formula in different ways, with the most recent attempt being Elden Ring. With some impressive talent, most notably George R.R. Martin, known best for A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, a new look and tons of experience, can Elden Ring meet expectations or are they set so high that it’s destined to fail?
Elden Ring starts by asking players to create their characters. There are various classes, each having certain advantages and disadvantages, that will determine how your journey begins. There is also a rather basic character creator, one that gives enough options to be interested, though far from the most robust around. Once everything is set up, there is a small introduction to the world through a thoughtfully crafted cutscene.
The Start to a Thrilling Adventure
Even though the scene doesn’t include a lot of words or information, it gives the world context while also teasing things to come. Essentially, there is a legend that the Elden Ring was destroyed, the Queen disappeared and her children obtained the pieces. After that there was a war, one where no lord arose, eventually leading to the current events. What makes the opening work isn’t the narrative, as much as the promise of things to come. There are wonderful designs and concepts that tease potential things to come, one that will no doubt leave players hoping for more.
Depending on your skill it might take a while, but long term Elden Ring makes good on this promise. This is done in a number of different ways, really showing the talent of everyone involved. Instead of relying too much on exposition dumps or cutscenes that could be a movie themselves, it embraces the vague nature of the Souls series, giving bosses, people, and even the world around you a lot of information through context. These small cutscenes and cryptic messages will leave players wanting more, urging them to see how far they can go on this quest.
Those worried don’t need to fret too much, as Elden Ring is the most accessible game I’ve played in the genre, without losing its identity. The best example of this is one of the first dungeons. The cave might be small but it’s more than happy to punish, which can feel cheap, though not really discouraging. Part of the struggle is due to the enemy, imps, being stone enemies that resemble the background. They’re easy to lose, even easier to miss, and are happy to take advantage of this.
There are a few dastardly ones that cling to walls or are obstructed by the dungeon, likely leading to a mistake or even death. However, after making that mistake, it isn’t hard to overcome them either. Simply go into the room you failed, look for the enemy, and then use your awareness to your advantage. With enough resourcefulness, any challenge can be overcome in a way that feels earned. That distinction is very important, as a lot of games make winning feel conditional. A great example of this is one of the walls has multiple Imps to defeat. The first time you’ll probably not notice them, move too far, and die. Shooting an arrow at them will allow for a solo battle, perhaps three are defeated, except you die before claiming your prize. Now you know there are four, repeat the same tactic and win.
A lot of the encounters are structured exactly like this. Deceptively simple encourages making a mistake and then has an equally simple solution. This even bleeds to the bosses, the every dreaded skill gatekeepers of the Souls genre.
One Step Away from Victory… or Doom?
Instead of relying on insane timing or twitchy inputs, they’re often slow and methodic. There is a rhythm with the challenge being less about overcoming their attacks and more finding an opening. That isn’t to say there aren’t manic bosses, a few of them are extremely hostile with combos that hinge on subverting expectations, along with your esoteric mechanic bosses are well.
As players progress, the world also starts to open up. There are more vendors that sell useful resources for crafting or progressing, a variety of weapons, along with equipment that suits multiple play styles. Enemies will also occasionally give better gear, as an Imp gave me a much better helmet, along with different weapons or resources. In true Souls fashion, cash is tied to surviving, so it isn’t the solution to every problem, just different ways to solve each issue.
Perhaps what makes Elden Ring stand out the most isn’t the concept, mechanics, or even lore, it’s the use of bright colors and whimsical elements. Instead of dark and dreary landscapes filled with tortured souls that wouldn’t look out of place in Berserk’s eclipse, there are bright fields, shimmering skylines, glorious knights with white and gold armor, and more. It’s a welcome change of pace that builds off the aforementioned concept that draws players in.
Regardless of what platform you play, the game runs well and smoothly. For console players, an option to pick between performance or quality mode is available. It does run at 60 frames per second on performance mode at a dynamic resolution whereas quality will give you a native 4K running at 30 frames per second. Though if you have a PC, there’s no doubt that it can easily have a 4K resolution at 60 frames per second depending on your gaming rig. There is some audio getting cut out at times for the PC version but when it comes to either Xbox or PS5 version, it is less noticeable.
Elden Ring Review Verdict
What makes Elden Ring work is a deep understanding of both what players like about the games and what makes the setting different. It should immediately feel different, yet the same, making for a wonderful experience. Some might be put off by the more accessible nature, at least initially, though it does a good job of offering this without taking away from what makes the experience special. You’ll still struggle, die, make another mistake, die, get to the boss and then die again. Just instead of putting people off, it encourages using the awareness to your advantage. For these reasons, along with the wonderful cutscenes that touch on a fascinating narrative and delightful scenery, it’s easy to recommend Elden Ring.
[Editor’s Note: Elden Ring was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes. The game was tested as well on PC and Xbox Series.]