|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
|Platforms||PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC|
|Release Date||February 25th, 2022|
After what has felt like three long years, Elden Ring has now arrived on shelves and digital storefronts. FromSoftware is the company primarily responsible for the conversation around whether video games should be challenging or not. Yet, we see players of all kinds intrigued by the wonder, mystery, and horror of its titles. What kind of player are you? Veterans ready themselves for the pain that exploring this new land will bring, while newcomers previously hesitant to jump into Dark Souls or Bloodborne timidly brace themselves and expect the worst. For players still hesitant to jump on the bandwagon, know that it will take some time to get familiar with how such a game works, but there is no better time to hop on and enjoy the ride.
Elden Ring is Rated M for Mature and contains heavy spiritual and dark themes. Due to the game’s large amount of content, this guide is not a fully detailed representation of everything that is in the game.
Spiritual Content: Elden Ring takes place in a high-fantasy setting. Multiple supernatural and fantastical creatures populate this world. Players interact with various magical items and characters even if they don’t build a magic-based character. Early in the game, players acquire an object used to summon non-playable creatures and characters to aid in combat.
Churches/cathedrals are plentiful around the world but meant for the fictional deities of the game. Many of them will be destroyed when you reach them, some even on fire. Respawn points called Stakes of Marika, commonly found near important locations, are reminiscent of catholic sculptures. The “Sites of Lost Grace” are more important than the stakes, in which players can rest and strengthen their characters. Those sites are what little divine light the world has left in it and a haven for players to rest in between their travels.
Violence: Elden Ring includes extensive amounts of blood and gore. Players use melee and ranged weapons and magical abilities to take on enemies. Blood splatter effects occur when the player or enemies get hit. A boss character cuts off his hand, and as blood pours out, he shoves it into a dragon’s head and uses that as a flamethrower. Many items that players may use consist of severed fingers and tongues—limbs also hang from the ceilings of some locations. Lastly, many areas have corpses strewn about them.
Sexual Content: A player can walk around in their underwear but not fully nude. One monster in the game is primarily naked but has scales covering its breasts and genital region.
Language/Crude Humor: “S**t” appears in the dialogue. An NPC is known as “Dung Eater.”
The plot has never been the strong suit of a Souls game, and the same can be said for Elden Ring. The story takes place after a world called The Lands Between has shattered and decayed due to war and the shattering of the Elden Ring. You, the player, take control of an exile referred to as The Tarnished. Your objective is to kill each demigod that has its shards, known as the Great Runes. That premise is not so different from other games in the subgenre. That task will not come easy, and it requires much grinding and hard work. With that grind also comes many deaths. Thankfully, Elden Ring offers far more than the linear path that veteran players have come to know.
That grind feels less nerve-racking and heartbreaking with a big open world to explore. You no longer have to live, die, and repeat to collect what XP and items you’re looking for. If a boss or area is giving you trouble, try something else. One major factor I quickly tired of in previous Souls games was how spread out the checkpoints/bonfires were. I got sick of the monotony of progressing and having to take ten steps back every time I died. Elden Ring has its version of a bonfire called Lost Graces, but now we have minor checkpoints throughout the world for bosses and other locations that greatly aid in reducing the monotony that kept me from enjoying these games for so long. That change alone lowered the barrier to entry exponentially for players like myself and immensely helped me appreciate the game much more than I expected.
Elden Ring‘s map is loaded with places to go and rewards to collect if you persevere through the challenges that await each location. The highlight of the open world is the dungeons, and If I really must make the correlation, these are as plentiful as shrines are to Breath of the Wild. Even more copious is the number of bosses—of varying degrees of difficulty. On a smaller scale, enemies and encampments are peppered throughout the land. What you acquire from getting through any of these is most likely an item that holds some kind of importance, big or small. It could be a consumable, a piece of gear, or a summonable spirit. When starting the game, the size of the world might seem lacking, but it opens up as you explore and locate each area’s map to clear the fog. If you see it in the distance, you can likely go there—pick a direction and go.
If I have to knock Elden Ring for anything, it’s that the peculiar controls and user interface are one of the biggest hurdles and have only seen minor improvements since Demon’s Souls. The act of playing the game has gone unchanged, just like every previous Souls game, so it won’t take long for experienced players to jump in but will feel strange to a newcomer. There is also so much that the game doesn’t say that a new player won’t know unless they do some research or talk to another player with some experience. However, the elitist “git gud” argument holds some weight. Part of the Souls-like experience is figuring things out and making discoveries for yourself, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for things to go unchanged either. Despite the obtuseness that comes with every FromSoft game, Elden Ring brings the perfect balance of keeping things pure while making advancements in all the right places.
The most significant improvement that FromSoftware has made with Elden Ring is focusing on battle assistance. Spirit summoning is a vital mechanic that players will utilize to help with challenging encounters and boss fights. The best comparison I can make is that this is FromSoftware’s version of what it is like to summon in an RPG like Final Fantasy. Players are given one at the beginning of the game, but can acquire more. The ability to summon actual player allies is now much easier with the use of specific items and a password system to bring in your friends. There’s nothing like calling on your homies if one of you needs help with delving into a dungeon, clearing a camp, or fighting a boss. The multiplayer features take a few more steps than I’d like, but I look forward to a day when I bring a whole party to a Souls game.
While roaming The Lands Between brings a strong appeal, much about Elden RIng still holds the essence of a Souls-like. The bosses are larger than life and will destroy you if you’re not ready to take them on. One of my favorite areas to explore was Stormveil castle, which gave off some classic Demon’s Souls vibes as I had to find a path to the first central boss. It feels like the developers had some critical locations in mind that stick to the formulaic designs that they are known for, but they built an entire open world around them. The process of killing one demigod and slowly carving your path to the next somehow feels like comfort food when the overworld of this particular entry might seem daunting at times. Those more focused areas feel much closer to what a franchise veteran knows and loves.
Lastly, I want to touch on the game’s tone and aesthetic. Previous games have always carried a theme of death and lifelessness with some Gothic horror, the latter of which Bloodborne dialed up to 11. While Elden Ring holds the former, I feel like the theme of decay is more prominent here. It’s almost as if FromSoft had Goerge R.R. Martin create the basis for the world and characters so that they could kill all of it. I see here a classic high-fantasy world that is right on the edge of destruction that could potentially be healed. In contrast, the not-so-different lands of the previous games are beyond salvaging. The setting is a massive factor in players looking at this game that they usually wouldn’t see themselves getting into.
In Elden Ring, the large open world of The Lands Between brings a sense of discovery that isn’t new but blends well with the Souls-like subgenre. As someone who has dabbled in these games over the years, I adore that FromSoft let their guard down a bit to create avenues for new players to overcome their hesitancy to play one of these for the first time. In doing so, they did not make any sacrifices that tarnished the pedigree that they are known for. Making progress will be challenging, but every step forward brings a rush of dopamine that goes unmatched. The world is your oyster. Except, that oyster will gladly slam shut on your hand. You’ll be missing a hand, but pry that thing open and take the pearl by force.
The Bottom Line
Elden Ring stays true to its strange and obtuse controls and UI, but blows the subgenre wide open for both veterans and newcomers.