I lean back into my chair with a sigh as the familiar banner paints the middle of my TV screen. I zigged when I should have zagged, you see, eating the brunt of an oversized sword-swing that cleaved through half of my life, spelling certain death.
Then, like so many times before, I lean forward and dig right back into the brutal world of Elden Ring – From Software’s latest title. While some may argue whether it’s their best, undoubtedly it is the most ambitious.
In Elden Ring you take on the role of an unnamed Tarnished, a lost soul that was previously banished from the grace of the powerful Erdtree, now called back to the turbulent Lands Between following a cataclysmic event known as The Shattering. By seeking out those who bear shards of the Elden Ring, you will pursue a path to becoming the Elden Lord, and bringing some semblance of order back to the world.
In the meantime, you will die. A lot.
The story of Elden Ring takes a similar path in its exposition and world building as many of From Software’s previous titles. That is to say, don’t expect extensive cut-scenes of explanation or a single NPC to fill in every nook and cranny of the world’s history. The story is told in broken statues, and discarded items. It’s tucked away in spell descriptions and quest lines well-removed from the central path. To its credit, it does lay out the broader journey pretty well in its introduction, and even if you failed to seek out any more information, it would be enough to keep you engaged.
Indeed, the broader lore reminds me of a late-night Wikipedia binge: a single breadcrumb will lead you down a wild and crazy path that will unlock 4 new save points, a whole new region of the world you hadn’t seen yet, and probably 3 bosses.
The main element of Elden Ring that got peoples hype gears spinning was the premise that it was set in an open-world environment. While previous From Software games famously featured many hidden areas within maps, and less-than-obvious ways of being introduced to far-away castles and dungeons, this was the first title that embraced an absolutely massive and interconnected world. When you are first exploring the opening area of Limgrave, you might be interested in its scope. After you’ve unlocked some save points to fast-travel to and begin poking around in the Map Screen, you might think “Eh, it’s not that big.”
And then 60 hours later you are stumbling across an entirely new continent that you’ve never seen before, and you wonder how on earth the developers managed to turn the map screen into the biggest troll move ever.
And THEN you discover there’s an underground map.
Seriously, this world is insanely huge, and while there have been complaints lobbed at titles like Breath of the Wild for being a mile wide and an inch deep, Elden Ring suffers from no such plight. Given the variety of dungeons, hidden areas, and most importantly, delicious nuggets of lore around every corner and beyond every hill, the world beckons you into its darkest and most dangerous corners.
Elden Ring starts you off in a very similar way as many of From Software’s previous titles, in that you have an assortment of classes to choose from which dictate base stats, including the aptly-named “Wretch”: great for gluttons for punishment looking to start out with the absolute worst stats.
As you kill enemies, you are rewarded with Runes; these can be spent to increase your level, purchase items/armor/weapons, enhance weapons and spirit summons, and pretty much acts as the central currency in the world.
While there is certainly some value to the process of grinding and leveling up accordingly, any veteran will tell you that you can’t necessarily out-level some encounters. Many of the most challenging bosses will require a proper strategy, and your level will merely help you on that path.
While the combat fails to meet the perfection that was Bloodborne, it is following in its own often-referenced footsteps: indeed, when else would you reference Souls-like gameplay if not in a From Software title?
Each encounter, from the most common of mobs to the most epic of bosses, has a variety of move-sets that may require a well-timed dodge, block or parry. Stamina limits means that you need to be mindful of the energy you’re expending, and limited healing flasks between save/fast-travel points means that skill, patience and strategy are your best friends.
Well, that and a Magic build.
For me the star of the gameplay show actually involves your trusty steed, Torrent. While many other open-world games have you whistle for your horse and hope that it comes galloping in from a random direction – summoning Torrent is easy, and he materializes right under you. Furthermore, you can gather resources from atop torrent with ease – AND he has a double jump. Basically, torrent helps you to tackle the great big world of The Lands Between in style. Definitely one of the highlights!
The first thing that struck me about the soundtrack was the background music to the title screen – while many of the previous Souls entries and similar titles had a more restrained, somber tone, this one is almost jubilant, triumphant sounding by comparison.
As I explored the broadening world of The Lands Between, from (relatively) peaceful fields to turbulent volcanos, frigid peaks, stately manors and beyond, the soundtrack offered a fitting and impressive complement.
Visually, there was no shortage of breath-taking vistas during my journeys, though it lacked the same level of polish I enjoyed in Ghost of Tsushima. While it may have been lacking slightly in quality, however, Elden Ring more than made up for it with quantity.
Overall, Elden Ring is a strong contender for Game of the Year, and we’re just barely rounding out the first quarter. With a memorable and massive world, genuinely intriguing lore, a great soundtrack and rock-solid combat foundations, Elden Ring offers a solid 40-60 hours of entertainment on the first play-through alone. Replayability? With multiple endings, challenging bosses galore, and plenty of weapons, spells and trinkets to gather, you can get lost in the world of Elden Ring for 100+ hours easily.
Enjoy the journey, Tarnished!