Elden Ring Review
Last night I was playing Elden Ring and found myself in one of its gameplay loops which I tend to spend a lot of my playtime in. I was fighting a boss. This is a big part of the game, with main and side bosses all over the place for a variety of reasons which are explained if you listen closely, or perhaps left as a question mark in the wind in the absence of that one piece of lore hidden away somewhere which would shed light. Anyway, I love to tackle bosses with others. My character state and the point of the game I was at mean I’m forever challenged; I need to git gud but I can’t do more than I already do – I’ve over ten years of Soulsborne muscle memory and I’m still not very good. I always build the wrong character and I love to cooperate. Jolly cooperation, it is then, yes?
I’ve gone off on a tangent. This boss fight, then. Ranged battle would have been perfect but I know few spells, fewer incantations and my bow and arrow game is awfully poor. My choice was melee, and repeated failure when I go alone. Or rather, repeated learning of how not to do it next time. I did however have a stock of Furlcalling Finger Remedies and by using one I revealed people’s summons signs. If I summon them quickly enough, I could get two others to join me in an attempt to down the big bad.
Sure, it adds more health to the baddie to compensate, but this is worth allowing for the chance of getting help, and having different or better fighters alongside you, those with more health, more vigour, more strength. More opportunity to back off and recharge my health too if the evil one is tackling another of my partners instead of me.
Anyway, let’s get to the point. I’ve been trying to beat this boss for a few days, doing other things in-game in between rafts of attempts. The gameplay loop I’m in is using my consumables to see the summons signs, summoning fellow Tarnished (i.e. you the player and various NPCs you’ll encounter over so very many hours) to help and going through the mist to fight this boss. Sometimes we get destroyed, others we do OK and every now and then I make that progress I’m itching for. But I’ve still not beaten him. I’m still trying though, and I will keep trying until it’s done, and I can move forward.
What is the point of all this? To say that Elden Ring is the most compelling game I’ve played in years, one which I want to play and enjoy playing and think about playing when I’m not, all despite the fact I’m not actually getting anywhere. Except, that is, for learning. I know when something bad is about to happen to me, I can see the boss’ attack patterns and I know his area of effect. I know what doesn’t work too, when to step in and attack; when to pull out and run. I know now not to go too far back as I can fall off the edge. I know all of this now, and I didn’t before. So next time will be the time I beat him. Get my reward and move onwards in my quest for the Elden Ring.
Elden Ring is the latest game from the mind of Hidetaki Miyazaki and his FromSoft development studio. It has been built upon the years of experience gained through the development and release of Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy, Bloodborne and Sekiro. The headline difference is that here we have an open world. A full and true open world which is majestic in its size and inescapably entertaining in its execution. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was lauded for its open world and how it’s fleshed out to encourage and reward exploration, whilst all being wrapped up in the clothes of Link himself. For this team, and this new entry into the Soulsborne lineage, where the environment is so central to the game and how it plays, moving to such a game world was undoubtedly a risk. But it is one which has paid off handsomely. The whole place lives and breathes as one, with areas moving into areas fluidly and with noticeable differences of style, and everything inside an area has a unique style as well. There is something to do at all times, without feeling like there is no opportunity to rest safely and consider what's next. A concern I had was that I would not be able to find those corners, those vantage points where I could observe the enemies from a distance before taking them down or try to check where I was headed before going blindly into something I ultimately didn’t want. This was not a validated concern.
That’s not to say the transition to an openworld Soulsborne – or introduction if it’s all totally new – was easy. Far from it. Early on I found myself wondering what to do, where to go or how to do it. There’s no consistent and obvious route from start to end of an area, the end being the boss, as you may just end up somewhere else entirely or find an underground cavern with what is very much a side boss. When I faced difficulties and wanted to use the open world to try something else, I didn’t know where to go and sometimes didn’t want to know what was over there – in case it bit me. I fought through it though, and it’s led to a new, more cavalier playstyle. I can get on my horse and run through areas fast, collecting the goodies but leaving the chasing pack. Or, I might just think “let’s go this way because if it ends badly it doesn’t matter, I’ll just go that way next time”. It’s freed me from the noose which were my souls in the past, and runes here.
In fact, the whole game is far more accessible than anything FromSoft has done before. There’s the traditional tutorial level as you start but then as you enter the main game proper there is real direction and guidance from an impossible-to-miss NPC. There is no ambiguity in what he says and if you follow him, the early path is clear. The first few rafts of enemies are all reasonable in terms of challenge, and fair in that there aren’t true ambushes or too many enemies per horde which shout “Attack!” and trounce you at the same time. Cooperation is easy to accomplish and even the fact you have a dedicated jump button and can also crouch if you want to try stealth speaks volumes. As we’re in an open world environment too, it’s possible to just change direction, and should it all go wrong fast travel is open from the start to sites of lost grace you have already visited – think bonfires from Dark Souls. Each of these sites directs you where to go if you want to progress from there, too. It is all designed to draw players in and support them in learning the mechanics and enable their preferred playstyle to flourish.
There are various other things which feel like changes either made to, or with the result of, making this an accessible game full stop, without caveating it by comparing it to previous FromSoft titles. For instance, conversations with NPCs, whilst presented with a unique style of prose and fabulous rural but engaging voice acting, do tell you more clearly where to go, what to get and what something does. There’s a heap of information in the early game if you stop to talk to folk, and it all makes sense and helps build the plan. Equally the in-game art is fabulous across the board, and the music, oh the music. I find myself always humming it as it’s just an earworm – all of it.
The weapon system is incredibly in-depth. Each weapon will be of a particular type, and then within that there will be differences. A sword might be piercing, for example, which has benefits against certain foes (armoured ones with gaps perhaps, or those where drawing blood is a big enabler). On top of that weapons scale differently with your stats and your build and so are naturally suited to some Tarnished than others. You can upgrade weapons to build their base stats and benefit more from any scaling, and you can upgrade down multiple paths to drive a particular type of damage if needed for your preferred style of play or a boss who otherwise you just can’t down. It’s kind of a mini-game in its own right, especially as you need consumable materials to upgrade - so you can’t just go full throttle in all directions, with all weapons. Other consumables can be used to craft items throughout the game, with more becoming available as you collect different cookbooks and other items on your travels.
I’ve been playing Elden Ring for many hours now but there is still so much to do. The world is massive and the secrets are myriad. The main quest is challenging, side quests (which aren’t really quests in the way you may be familiar – there is no logged objective for instance) are varied in type and size, and the world is wonderful to live in, learn about and unlock its secrets, and those of others who also live in the lands between. It’s a game I’ve loved so far and will play for many more hours. By the time my Elden Ring journey truly ends I may well feel it’s the greatest game ever made. For now, it is Soulsborne in an open world, done in an accessible way with every moment to date a joy. I think about it at all times when I’m not playing it. I think you will too.
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