According to FromSoftware, I could have finished Elden Ring in 30 hours.
It’s something that baffles me, really. 30 hours in, I’d only just defeated the second of a handful of Shardbearers in need of a prod from my Falchion. Granted, I’d been exploring every nook and cranny of The Lands Between rather than simply pushing on with the main story. And I still am, because that’s how Elden Ring feels like it’s meant to be played. Plus, without the exploration, I’d probably be under-levelled. I imagine only those who do no-hit runs of the Dark series for fun will be completing this epic adventure anywhere close to that time, then.
The world of Elden Ring is huge. Leaving the underground catacomb in which you find yourself after creating your character, your jaw is likely to drop as you see the lush green land ahead of you. It’s unlike anything offered up in a FromSoftware game before. Then you start to explore and, in between getting your backside handed to you by enemies you’re really not ready for yet, you realise just how much there is to see and do. When you do finally progress the story and discover that the game’s map is actually multiple times the magnitude you’ve already witnessed, you’ll be in awe.
Rarely has exploring felt so rewarding. Travelling either on foot or on the back of your ghostly steed, Torrent, tens of hours can simply be spent searching Elden Ring‘s world for secrets. While there are common things in each area – such as catacombs where Ash Summons can be found, and tunnels where Smithing Stones are rife – on the whole you never really know what you’re going to find. Playing as a Sorcerer, for example, your time with the game might be revolutionised by finding someone who can teach you new spells. Or by the same token, you might put yourself through an arduous battle only to get a snazzy-looking Greatsword that you have absolutely zero use for.
Even when your reward is something not particularly useful for your build, however, you feel thankful. It’s your prize for overcoming a challenge. For going out of your way. And besides, there are other rewards, like the Runes you’ve gained for defeating enemies along the way, ever useful for levelling yourself up and buying items from vendors. Chances are, then, that exploration will become somewhat an obsession for the majority of Elden Ring players. It helps that it looks so god-damn good, too.
Playing on PS5 for review, my biggest disappointment with Elden Ring is that it doesn’t have a photo mode. With its day and night cycle, changeable weather and simply stunning use of colour, it’s a very photogenic game. And then there are the enemy and character designs which are derivative at their worst, but often surprisingly imaginative and always wonderfully realised. You’ll run headfirst into battle against familiar-looking soldiers and their scruffy hounds, but every once in a while you’ll be faced with something very unexpected and will likely just think “nope” in your head as you consider turning around and running the other way.
Unfortunately, even when playing in “Prioritize Frame Rate” mode on PS5 there are some hiccups. They’re not bad or frequent enough for you to really worry about them though, and may be sorted by a patch. You might just notice the odd hitch or bit of slowdown as you traverse the open world, for example, or a bit of pop-in. It’s mostly noticeable when you’re on horseback. Thankfully there are no such issues when you’re in a dungeon, no matter how big it is. And you rarely encounter issues out in the open world when it really matters: during combat.
As you’d expect from the developer of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne, the combat of Elden Ring is brutal. Anyone that has played one of those games will feel right at home here, though there are some new features to contend with such as the Guard Counter and Ash of War system that make combat even more fun and dynamic. Stealth has even been implemented, allowing players to sneak past some adversaries if they wish. Doing so can be a tense affair, too, as I found when I tip-toed around a gargantuan dragon in order to grab the valuable loot behind it.
Still, while Elden Ring can be hard-as-nails and alarmingly obscure at times, it is undoubtedly FromSoftware’s most accessible game to date. Those who like playing with others can summon assistance to help with the most troublesome of foes, for example. And there’s help for solo players, too, thanks to the addition of Sprit Ashes. These can be found throughout the world, and allow you to even up the odds by summoning a variety of characters and creatures to fight by your side. You can even upgrade them, making your summons more formidable. NPCs can also often be summoned before major boss fights; their damage output is pitiful, but the heat they take off of you can be hugely beneficial.
There are other things that make this the most accessible FromSoftware title too, such as a brilliant fast travel system that makes getting around the map a cinch. If you get stuck it’s never been easier to get back to a good grinding spot in order to crank out some additional levels, or simply explore a new area of the open world. There’s also a crafting system, allowing you to put the materials you’ve collected on your travels to good use. Collect enough recipes and you can make some very useful items indeed. And then there are the Great Runes at the heart of Elden Ring‘s story.
You’ll obtain multiple Great Runes as you overcome some of the most challenging adversaries Elden Ring has to throw at you, and once you’ve restored them to their former glory they can be equipped to provide some brilliant bonuses. The very first one, for example, boosts all of your stats by 5, which is the equivalent of gaining 40 (unoptimised) character levels. Only one Great Rune can be equipped at any one time though, and to activate its power you need to consume a rare item called a Rune Arc. Should you fall in battle the benefit will be lost, so you’ll have to think long and hard before taking the plunge.
There’s so much more I could say about Elden Ring, but like FromSoftware games before it, it’s best going into it knowing as little as possible. I don’t want to rob the sense of wonder and discovery from you. All you need to know is that this is undoubtedly FromSoftware’s best game yet by a large margin, and that’s making a statement. After Elden Ring, I just won’t be able to look at the likes of Dark Souls the same way again. This is not your typical open world game, with a list of things for you to check off as you make your way from one mission point to another. What’s delivered here feels fresh and overwhelmingly organic.
Combining the deep and challenging combat FromSoftware is known for with a vast and varied world that’s always a pleasure to explore, Elden Ring is quite simply incredible. From the moment you step foot into The Lands Between you’ll be engrossed, and while you’ll no doubt experience some setbacks on your adventure – such as a boss that at first seems impossible to defeat – there’s always somewhere else to go to cool off, pick yourself up, and perhaps power yourself up before returning to have another go. That is to say, you don’t just play Elden Ring; you live in its world for hours at a time. It will consume you, but you’ll willingly throw yourself into its maw with fervour.
Elden Ring Review – GameSpew’s Score