It’s sort of an odd feeling to finally be talking about Elden Ring. It’s been quite a journey since the original Demon’s Souls bought this style of gameplay to the forefront, and in recent years we’ve become more used to comparing tons of other games to Dark Souls because so many try to ape that style. Well, the game is finally here, and it’s a spiritual successor to the Soulsborne candle that is going to show everyone how it is mother effin done.
Elden Ring is an open-world action RPG from FromSoftware, the famous team behind Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While it may not be a direct sequel to any of those previously mentioned games, it's very clear that Elden Ring is a spiritual successor that takes all of the best parts of FromSoft’s previous work and mashes them together into what might just end up being the definitive ‘souls’ experience, despite not having that word anywhere near its title.
First up, it’s important to get it out in the open. Is this game just Dark Souls again? Not really, thankfully. I mean sure, if you stick someone in front of footage of the combat, they’d probably think it was from Dark Souls at first glance, but it’s the gameplay that ties everything together that helps to differentiate itself from FromSoft’s other work. It’s also the surrounding gameplay that makes Elden Ring one of the most playable entries in the not-franchise.
There was honestly so much here that could go wrong. Certain types of sandboxes substitute engaging gameplay for busywork disguised as fun, and it’s certainly possible that Elden Ring was going to go down that route. Luckily, it handily avoids this by being one of the most naturally explorable and interesting worlds that any game has ever produced. The classic sense of mystery that surrounds FromSoftware games is here in full force, and you never know what you’re going to run into as you explore the open world.
After a brief tutorial, you’re pushed out, blinking, into the sunlight. From pretty much that point onwards, you have free rein over where you go in most circumstances. There are some linear segments, typically in the places where you fight bosses to advance the story, but for the most part, you can just spend your time poking away at every nook and cranny that the map is hiding, and there sure are a lot of them.
Elden Ring is filled to bursting with special overworld encounters that genuinely keep you guessing. When I was exploring the world, it wasn’t just for want of something to do -- I was genuinely exploring the world just to see what would happen. You can come across dungeons, weird and unique monsters lying in wait, or occasionally a neutral NPC who gives you a glimpse into the storyline. It is just a glimpse, mind. There’s an insane amount of content here, and FromSoft has stuck to their typical way of hiding story moments in the littlest details, but on such a bigger scale that it’s almost frightening. VaatiVidya is going to be at this one for a while.
In terms of story, it’s pretty hard to convey, because this is a game made by FromSoftware. As with their other works, a lot of the story and world-building lies below the surface. The tone this time is closer to a perverse Arthurian legend, with knights, glory, grace, and honor coming up more than in a fake joust at a ren fair. It still has the touch of corruption and darkness that you probably expect from Miyazaki, but you can certainly feel the high-fantasy current that runs through it all.
If you want to know some specific beats from the storyline, then I’ll try my best. At some point in the history of this world, something called The Elden Ring was smashed, making the land’s eternal queen disappear. Her demigod children all took shards of the shattered ring and gained horrific new power, leading to a war that killed an insane amount of people in an event known as the shattering. As one of those tarnished soldiers, it’s your job to rise once again and claim back your lost grace, collect all of the shards, and become the Elden Lord. I think.
The story that is there is incredibly well-written and reliably told through tiny world details from NPCs, item descriptions, and actual features of the world itself. Having said that, if you actually figure out the storyline on your first playthrough, then you’re a genius. If you’ve struggled with that past FromSoftware games, then you’ll have to resort to watching the YouTube explanation once someone else has figured it out. At least it’s comforting to know that the combat isn’t the only familiar feature from Dark Souls that has made a comeback.
So the combat is incredibly similar to Dark Souls combat, but that doesn't mean it's a perfect clone of any one game. I mean, it's as close to a clone as you can get while still being legally distinct, but there's enough changes to at least call it refined. You do have a stamina meter, light, and heavy attacks, and a dodge roll related to how heavy you are, but the whole thing has been tweaked in various places to make it the best combat of the series so far. In general, combat feels a lot more frenetic, like Bloodborne, but with everything tightened up. Once again, the direction of your dodges helps you win fights, rather than simply the timing, but enemy hitboxes seem to actually conform to their attack animations rather than being vaguely associated.
There's also an amazing variety of weaponry at your disposal, with everything from fast claw weapons to giant great axes hidden in the far corners of the lands. Combined with the new weapon art system, you end up with the most variety in combat of any FromSoft title on the market. Each weapon comes with a special attack, and you can swap these between different compatible weapons. As well as leaving PvP opponents guessing, this also drags the weapon's damage type along for the ride, meaning you don't have to commit to making one specific sword your blood damage sword.
There’s also another interesting element of Elden Ring’s gameplay that shows up in combat: platforming. Rather than the awkward jumping of previous titles, you now have a dedicated jumping button, and while you’re riding your horse, you can double jump. Outside of combat, this adds some interesting elements to both exploration and puzzle-solving, as you can find secrets and rewards on the other side of jumping puzzles. This verticality has also been bought into the combat, with your ability to jump giving you access to some pretty powerful moves. This new twist to the combat is welcome, but if you’ve been playing a lot of the Dark Souls series lately, it’ll probably take a fair bit of time to get used to.
Another part of the formula that has been changed up a bit is magic. In previous titles, magic-users had a horrible tendency to be completely ill-suited to either the early-game or late-game depending on the title in question, and even worse, they were completely non-viable in PvP due to their speed at casting. All of those troubles are out of the window here. From the get-go, you’re given spells that are a little weaker but cost low mana and have a really speedy cast-time, making it actually usable across the board. In general, some of the spells you can unlock are insane and really add some flash and flair to pure spellcasting builds. The only slight downside is that it seems pretty tough to actually find more spells, especially in the early game.
So, since Elden Ring has the best combat of the series, a stunning and explorable open world, classic FromSoft storytelling, and actually viable magic users, this must be the perfect game? Well, not quite. There are a few things that the game seems to have fallen foul of, but most of them are either minor negatives or are a consequence of the type of game that Elden Ring is.
The first minor complaint is the nomadic vendors that wander the land. They appear everywhere and are mostly interchangeable but sell different goods. Unfortunately, they also don’t appear on your map, so you just have to try to remember where they were. Most of the time, I just end up running around until I find one and hope that they have the stuff I need. It would have been nice for them to be marked on the map, or at least if we could mark them on our map ourselves without leaving glowing blue pillars dotted across the landscape in the process.
A slightly bigger problem with Elden Ring is the difficulty curve. It’s mostly thanks to the open-world nature of the gameplay, as you’re not stopped from wandering into a high-level area and getting your ass turned into paste. On the other side of that coin, if you miss an area until you’re way too powerful for it, the encounters and dungeons can end up feeling really underwhelming, and that’s a shame when they’re all so well-designed for the most part. There’s also a nasty habit of making the non-optional bosses really difficult to read, which is fine, but it makes the first two non-optional bosses tougher than the next three put together.
It’s not supposed to be time to talk about the new online features, and that is incredibly difficult for me to do. Notes and bloodstains are back, as you might expect, and so is summoning and invading, though with a few tweaks. You can still put down your sign like you normally would, but a better way is to use summoning pools, these posts dotted around the land where summoning signs gather. To see the signs though, you have to use a single-use consumable each time. While they’re pretty easy to create, this does put a bit of a time limit on your ability to summon. Invading is also back, but apparently, you can only invade people who are already summoning people.
Part of the reason I said that was hard to talk about was that while I was playing the title for review, I wasn’t able to summon another human being and was only summoned for help one time. I have no idea if that means that the online features work well and no one was using them, or if they’re completely broken and that’s why it never worked. Either way, on paper it seems like this new system will make it easier to summon your friends and to get into one-v-one matches against opponents.
Elden Ring Review | Final Thoughts
The truth of the matter is that if you’re already a fan of FromSoftware’s recent games, then you’ll probably end up enjoying this one. Elden Ring feels like it has been strategically designed to be the best game of this style that has ever been made, by FromSoft or anyone else for that matter. It combined all of the best elements from every game, mashes them together, and then turns the whole thing into an endlessly explorable, alive-feeling world. While that’s great for folks like me who are already along for the ride, chances are that if this is your first time, you’re going to hit a brick wall pretty quickly and need to run to Reddit for help.
At the end of the day, Elden Ring is exactly what fans of Dark Souls have been hoping for. It’s easily the best Soulsborne/Soulslike game that has been released so far and is almost certainly going to see an active community for some years to come. For newcomers, it might not be so appealing, but if you find yourself able to bust past the brick wall of this game, then you’ll find one of the most enjoyable experiences to be had in gaming -- at least if you’re the sort of masochist who finds supreme joy in beating a boss after your 90th try.
TechRaptor's Elden Ring review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
- Endlessly explorable open world
- Refined "Soulslike" combat
- Almost all build styles are viable in PvE
- Ghost horse
- The difficulty curve is more like a figure of eight
- Not particularly inviting for newcomers