Thoughts: Elden Ring


I am the worst person to write a review of Elden Ring. My objections to From Software’s Dark Souls series have been pretty well-documented over the years, along with my visceral negative reactions whenever I see design elements from Dark Souls turn up in other games. Asking me for my opinion about a game that is just Dark Souls again, but this time also open world, seems like it’s going to a forgone conclusion — especially because I’m starting to get increasingly irritated by open world games too.

But that means I am also the best person to write a review of Elden Ring. I do not have the massive rose-tinted glasses for Dark Souls and From Software that the entire rest of the gaming world does. I am not so invested in my cred as a Hardcore Gamer that I regard smashing my face against the same boss for four hours as a rational and sane thing to be doing with my time. I have had zero exposure to the pre-release hype. And the reviews from the mainstream gaming media made my eyeballs roll so hard they practically did a complete 360 degree rotation in their sockets.  10/10! Game of the year! One of the finest games ever made! A predictably vomitous stream of superlatives that I almost felt compelled to prove wrong, hence my breaking the From Software moratorium I’ve had in place ever since Dark Souls 2 and picking up Elden Ring on release.

Only to find myself thinking, after a few hours of play: shit. They might actually be right.

Oh, not about the “One of the finest games ever made” part, because for me personally that’s an insanely high bar to clear. And it remains to be seen how far Elden Ring gets in the GOTY stakes; it’s far from perfect and could easily be overhauled if I end up playing something that’s cleaner in its execution, and in fact I’ll be quite disappointed in the quality of 2022’s game releases if it isn’t. But there is a honeymoon period with the game, just after the first couple of hours and lasting until around the forty-hour mark, where I found myself falling into the same trap that developers and reviewers have been walking into, lemming-like, ever since the first Dark Souls transcended its cult status over a decade ago, and thinking: why can’t more games be like this? It’s perhaps unsurprising given that the world design of Dark Souls is the one thing I unambiguously like about those games, and Elden Ring making the jump to being properly open world means that all of those elements are dialled up to eleven. It’s the second-best open world game I’ve experienced since Breath of the Wild1, and there is definitely a lot that other games can learn from here. Unfortunately it also commits the same error most modern open world games inevitably do, of making the game too long and the world too big and finding itself unable to generate enough content to fill that space. Elden Ring stood up to the feeling of encroaching ennui for an impressively long period of time, far longer than I thought a game would be able to hold my full attention for these days, and it hit much higher highs while it still had it. Ultimately it still succumbed, though, and a side effect of the length was that the bits of it that are still properly Dark Souls had more than enough time to become truly obnoxious.


From Software are famously minimalist in their storytelling, preferring to provide the player with a few details and then let them fill in the rest of the gaps themselves either through exploring the world or through their imaginations. Usually I’m quite in favour of this approach; spoon-feeding the plot to the player via Mass Effect-style expository conversations and cutscenes has become increasingly trite, and I don’t mind it at all when a game decides to take a lighter touch as this implies the developers think I might actually be able to figure something out on my own without having it explicitly stated. However there’s a big difference between steering the player with a light touch, and being completely hands-off with no touch, and I think Elden Ring goes too far in the latter direction. After 65 hours I realised I no longer had any idea what the hell I was doing or why and had to go back and watch the game’s intro again for a much-needed reminder; this hurt the impact of a lot of the bosses, as they’d introduce themselves by stating their names like it meant something to me when the complete lack of context around them meant that what they actually were was a speedbump on the way to the end of the game. Anyway, it turns out the basic premise of Elden Ring is essentially the same as every other From game: somebody has taken a hammer to the magic holding the world together and thrown everything into disarray, and there’s a bunch of god-tier entities warring over the decaying remnants of society who need the anonymous player character to restore order by giving them all a good killing.

In this iteration of the formula, said player character is referred to as a Tarnished2 rather than an Undead or a Hunter or a… Sekiro, but nothing fundamental has changed about your abilities and if you’ve played a Dark Souls game you’ll know what to expect here. Combat involves light and heavy attacks with a variety of weapons that lock you into attack animations until they are finished; if you get greedy and overcommit to attacking you’ll likely find yourself eating a counterattack you might otherwise have been able to avoid with the ubiquitous dodge roll, which is your primary defensive measure as it has a generous amount of invincibility frames. In general you’re looking for enemy attack tells, either dodging the incoming blows or blocking them with a shield, and then punishing the attacker with a suitably quick riposte before they come at you again. When you kill them your character automatically hoovers up currency from their lifeless body, called Runes, and you can spend Runes either as money in a shop to buy items and upgrade weapons, or — and this is the far more common use case — as XP points to level up your character and increase their stats.


Aside from the slower and more thoughtful approach to combat, this is hardly out of the ordinary for a third-person open world game. All of them have RPG progression systems attached now. But the catch with Dark Souls, which Elden Ring also inherits, is that when your character dies, all of the Runes they are carrying are dropped on the floor and you respawn at the nearest checkpoint with zero Runes. All of the monsters in the world that you might have spent twenty or thirty minutes hacking your way through also respawn. If you can make it past them a second time and get back to the spot where you died you can pick your Runes back up again, and all will be well — at least until the next time you die. But, if you die again before you pick them up, those Runes are gone forever and you’ve effectively lost whatever percentage of a level those Runes represented. And while the combat may be slower and more thoughtful it is also highly lethal, even when the game is playing fair — which it often isn’t. With the possible exception of some notoriously difficult platformers for the ZX Spectrum and Atari ST, I think I have died more times in Elden Ring than any other game I’ve ever played.

This has historically been one of my big disagreements with the Dark Souls series. I hate losing progress in a game. I also hate having to do a long jog from the nearest checkpoint to where I dropped my Runes/Souls past multiple packs of enemies, and I especially hate having to do this every time I want to attempt a tough boss. I understand the argument that death having a tangible drawback like this, in terms of both time and resources, is supposed to make dying more impactful and increase the tension of fights. I just think it’s utter bollocks because it’s relying entirely on negative emotions to drive key gameplay mechanics. I play games for escapism, to have fun, not for the “Eurrrrrrrgh…” feeling when a boss that’s one hit away from dying pulls some bullshit move to kill you and you know you’re going to have to do a corpse run and then kite it around the room a bit so that you can pick up your dropped Runes. And one of the reasons I’ve ended up quite liking Elden Ring is because I think it proves me right; having not played a From Software game since Dark Souls 2 I don’t know how much their games were already moving in this direction anyway, but a large part of why Elden Ring is a much more forgiving game than either of the Souls games I’ve played is because FromSoft appear to have pulled their heads out of their asses as far as the corpse run is concerned, at least. Checkpointing in the open world is absurdly generous, and even in dungeons I’d say 90% of the bosses have a checkpoint right outside the boss door — and the boss fights are still very tense! It turns out that the nerve-wracking, pulse-pounding experience of fighting a Souls boss, one which leaves your controller drenched in sweat even after you successfully kill the bastard, was not in fact reliant on metaphorically kicking the player in the nuts every time they died after all.


That’s not to say that corpse runs are entirely gone from the game, or that I didn’t lose thousands and thousands of Runes on my way through Elden Ring thanks to dying a second time before I could retrieve them. I do not think there is any excuse for Elden Ring not having a checkpoint outside of every boss door, especially because while it has the standard Dark Souls bonfires that do double duty as respawn and fast travel points, it also introduces a thing called a Stake of Marika that acts as a localised respawn point if you die in a specific encounter. The ominous wall of golden fog that signifies an Elden Ring boss is almost always preceded by either a full bonfire (here called Sites of Grace) or one of these Stakes — but only almost always, and it’s still incredibly irritating when you die to a boss and it turns out it’s one of the ones where the level designer couldn’t resist their ingrained tendency to be an asshole about checkpoint placement.

On the other hand I found my attitude towards Rune loss changing over the course of the game, thanks to both the way Elden Ring normalises player death and the number of opportunities it gives you to “bank” your Runes before doing anything dangerous. Unlike Dark Souls, which offered bonfire-to-bonfire fast travel only, Elden Ring lets you fast travel to a Grace site from anywhere. This means that if you’re carrying an amount of Runes that you’d be uncomfortable losing through an unfortunate death, you can at any time go back to a Grace site and level up, or (if you don’t have enough Runes for that) teleport to a merchant and convert your Runes into useful resources, or even spend a few minutes farming low-threat, high-value monsters in the overworld to push you over the level-up threshold. This flexibility around movement puts much more power in the hands of the player, enough so that when I did end up losing Runes I never felt like it was the game’s fault. I could have gone and spent them on something useful before delving into that new dungeon or walking into the boss room, and the fact that I didn’t was a product of my own overconfidence instead of unnecessarily punishing game design. You die so much in Elden Ring that you have to assume that it’s going to happen to you when you’re exploring a new area, and plan accordingly by zeroing out your Runes first — and if you don’t, well, that’s now entirely on you.


So Elden Ring either eliminates or hugely minimises two of my biggest problems with the Soulslike genre. That just leaves the third: overtuned bossfights that are so difficult that people have to make twenty or thirty attempts before they clear them. To be clear, I think it’s fine for a game to have difficult bosses that repeatedly kill me, just so long as I’m making measurable progress along the path to killing it on every attempt. I do not like to feel like I am going backwards, or that the only thing separating a successful boss kill from any one of the many failures is that their AI randomly decided to do attack pattern A five times in a row instead of segueing into the more unforgiving attack patterns B and C. The latter is a guaranteed recipe for frustration boiling over into ragequits — again, that’s not my idea of fun, and it’s why I peaced out of From Software games eight years ago despite enjoying quite a lot of what they did, because that was the feeling I got from most of the Dark Souls/Dark Souls 2 bossfights. The bad news here is that I don’t think Elden Ring’s boss design has changed all that much; in isolation they’re a little easier to swallow thanks to the more forgiving checkpointing, but fighting a boss “at level” — taking it on at the appropriate level of player power for which it was designed, in so far as such a thing exists in Elden Ring  — is still way too far over on the wrong side of the line separating “demanding” from “frustrating” for my liking. But the good news is that, thanks to Elden Ring’s open world, you never actually have to do this.

Elden Ring can be logically separated into three different types of environment. The first are the game’s Legacy Dungeons, which are huge, set-piece locations like castles and magical fortresses that have been ripped straight out of a Souls game and which have all of the strengths and weaknesses you’d expect; they’re among the most interesting environments in Elden Ring and are definitely the most densely-designed, with multiple routes through them and a ton of secrets and side areas to uncover, but since they’re the most obviously Souls-y parts of the game the Legacy Dungeons are also where the dickish checkpoint placement starts to creep back in. The Legacy Dungeons are seamlessly embedded into the open world proper (no loading screen transitions, you just walk through the front door and you’re in the Legacy Dungeon, which I found honestly quite impressive) which is where you’ll end up spending the vast majority of your time in Elden Ring. What’s a little surprising about the open world is that, in terms of the general design and layout, there’s way less separating Elden Ring from something like Skyrim than there really should be. Elden Ring has a much greater variety in its content and freedom in its design than I’m used to from Western open world games; I greatly appreciated both of these things and will talk more about them later. Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that if you took a conventional open world game and removed all of the question mark symbols from the world map — but left the locations there, you just don’t put a massive “GO HERE” marker on them and let the player find them on their own — you end up with something that looks a lot like Elden Ring’s open world.


The reason I say this is because the most common pieces of open world content are the third type of environment you’ll encounter in Elden Ring: the caves, mines and catacombs scattered around the nooks and crannies of the map. And the design philosophy behind these is almost exactly the same as the one driving the mini-dungeons in Skyrim: make a small dungeon out of prefabricated bits that contains a single puzzle for the player to solve, which takes no more than 5-10 minutes to complete before spitting them back out into the open world proper. Elden Ring puts quite a bit more thought into the individual dungeon gimmicks than an Ubisoft game would, and it also puts a lower-grade boss at the end of each one that adds a bit of additional variety; still, while exploring your first Elden Ring catacomb is agreeably tense and scary and you creep through it cautiously as you don’t know what’s around the next corner, exploring the fifteenth is a rather more abbreviated experience as you’ve seen 90% of the content already and are just looking for what’s different this time, and by the time you get to twenty there’s a high probability you’ll just skip it entirely. The same goes for a lot of the above-ground points of interest. Come across a ruined village? You’re looking for a staircase down into a basement which will contain either a chest with an item or a boss leading to a chest with an item. Wizard tower? There’ll be a single spell waiting for you at the top once you solve the puzzle that drops the ward on the front door. The smaller locations like the shacks, churches and enemy camps are even simpler as there’s usually just one big-ticket item sitting in the middle of the camp/shack/church and you walk in and pick it up.

I found this design ethos surprising because it’s the precise opposite of what I’d seen from From Software previously, which had focused on bespoke world design that constantly switched things up so that you never knew quite what to expect. Elden Ring still has that in its Legacy Dungeons, but the open world is much more of a mixed experience as many of the overworld portions have been put together according to this repetitive formula — they’ve had to be, because that’s the only way you can generate the amount of content required to fill a 75-hour open world game, but I still found it a little bit disappointing. Nevertheless, the simple act of removing the question mark symbols from the world map is a tremendous benefit as it forces the player to actually explore to find stuff — some of these locations are surprisingly well-hidden — as well as providing a more meaningful journey by not turning the world into a series of checkboxes to tick. I spent ten hours in the first two areas of the game, Lingrave and the Weeping Peninsula, and I made a fair effort to hunt down all of the major content in those areas before tackling Elden Ring’s first Legacy Dungeon, Stormveil Castle. I think I did a pretty good job, but there’s probably a fair chunk of stuff that I missed — and that’s fine, because I don’t know about it, because it’s not marked on the map. It’s enough for me that it feels like I cleared Lingrave out; I can move on to the next thing with a clear conscience because there’s nothing on the world map telling me “Actually your completion rate for Lingrave is only 77%”. The lack of any guiderails means that I am the one setting my goals and determining when I’ve progressed enough to move on to the next area, and this is a remarkably empowering and refreshing feeling.


And while much of Elden Ring’s open world content may be put together from prefabricated parts which become rote over time, it also has an astonishingly high frequency of “holy shit” moments (or alternatively “what the hell is that?” moments) on an environmental or enemy reveal. The visual design of the game is exceptional, rejecting the beyond-photorealistic look that’s the current trend for open world stuff and instead finding its own distinct aesthetic. Elden Ring’s Lands Between are a world in autumn, at the tipping point of terminal decline, a ghostly, ethereal, otherworldly thing with enormous craggy mountains and shimmering spectral trees constantly visible miles off in the distance, and which provide both an ominous backdrop to your current adventures as well as the promise of what you’re going to be doing in twenty or thirty hours’ time. The “hidden” locations are even more impressive; much of the overworld might be constructed according to a formula, but there are several side areas3 which, while on the smaller side, drop the prefabricated approach and provide pretty much exactly what I was looking for in Elden Ring, taking an open world and blending in FromSoft’s bespoke level design almost seamlessly. And the enemy variety really has to be seen to be believed; I suspect Elden Ring gets as far as it does because it can leverage the last 15 years of FromSoft games for enemy concepts and even animation rigs/textures (I definitely recognise the basic skeleton and the rat from Dark Souls), but that’s fine with me because I didn’t play any of those games so it all seems fresh and new. The most thrilling encounters in the open world are things that you just wouldn’t find in any other open world game because they’re not as gung-ho about trying to kill the player: when the game decides to drop a dragon on your head, or when you’re crossing a bridge at night and end up in a protracted horseback battle with what appears to be a Nazgul, or when you hear a loud thumping behind you and turn around just in time to see a charging Runebear that’s about to take your head off.

Because Elden Ring understands something very important that I think is missing from Western open world games: open worlds need to have some bite to them. I’ve always enjoyed blundering into a new area and getting completely bodied by something I just didn’t understand — less so the traditional Dark Souls approach to this, but we’ve already covered that Elden Ring has fixed most of my complaints about that. It has absolutely no reservations about bringing you out of your comfort zone to fight some horrible beastie that you just weren’t expecting to find, even in areas that you thought were “safe” but which you just hadn’t visited at the right time to spawn the beastie in question. Obviously I’d be much less in favour of this if Elden Ring ever forced you into a battle you didn’t want to fight, but you always have the option of turning your horse 180 degrees in the opposite direction and riding away; the thing that I like is that the game is constantly surprising you with these unexpected battles against named boss enemies, and while they are rarely unwinnable a constant truth about Elden Ring is that if you’re being confronted by something you are unfamiliar with you’re much more likely to die to it. Elden Ring’s world may look stunning, but it is not nice, and the fact that there’s nothing obviously threatening on the road ahead is not remotely a guarantee of safety.


But it’s time to circle back around to the point I was making a few paragraphs up, and in the process explain the real strength behind Elden Ring’s open world. Fighting bosses at-level in Elden Ring is just as much of a pain in the ass as it is in any Dark Souls game — but thanks to the vast amount of stuff to do in the open world, and the much more generous checkpointing, you never have to fight them at-level. If a particular boss is giving you trouble you always have the option of leaving and doing something else for a few hours, getting more levels and upgrading your weapon — and I should stress that this isn’t grinding or farming, it’s simply a matter of exploring the open world to find new locations, killing the enemies you find along the way (who are hopefully a more manageable prospect than the boss), and then investing the Runes you get from doing that. After you’ve done this you can just teleport straight back to the boss chamber and try it again with zero time wasted on travel. Even small-ish increases in player power can make a big difference in a bossfight, and the open world is big enough that if you’re doing even a half-decent job of exploration you’ll outmatch most bosses by 20 or 30 levels by the time you hit the second Legacy Dungeon and play the rest of the game on what is effectively Easy Mode. Which, because this is From Software we’re talking about, is still pretty difficult a lot of the time — but usually not frustratingly so. This indirect flexibility around difficulty that the open world affords Elden Ring was key to my enjoyment of it, and I think the open world and the classic Dark Souls gameplay of the Legacy Dungeons really do enhance one another; your exploration in the open world lets you beat up bigger bosses, which in turn opens up new areas to explore and enables you to beat up even bigger bosses. It’s hardly the most innovative gameplay loop, but not one that I feel the more constrained environments of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 really enabled, whereas Elden Ring’s open world is more than broad enough to support it as you’ll always have 3-4 places you can potentially go next and if you get blocked on one route by a tough encounter you can just switch to another one and come back later.


We’re now at the part of the review where usually I’d start listing a game’s flaws, and Elden Ring has rather more than its fair share of these:

  • For example, there’s a big problem with itemisation as 90% of the things you’ll find are intended for hybrid builds that are balancing magic and melee, and if you’re playing a pure Strength build (as I did for the entire game because I like two-handed swords and plate mail) you can use precisely none of this stuff and so end up feeling a bit short-changed on dungeon rewards.
  • Despite Elden Ring being a comparatively forgiving game there are still more than a few From-ish design tics in here that are definitely Bad Design and which I feel like reviews gloss over just because it’s From doing it — the initial breadcrumbing hints take you straight from the tutorial area4 into the first Legacy Dungeon, which is gated by a boss that has become notorious for wrecking people who have only been playing the game for 45 minutes by the time they encounter him. What you’re actually supposed to do here is go off and spend 10-ish hours levelling up in the open world before attempting the boss, and railroading new players into this roadblock strikes me as a particularly dick move, even for From.
  • Elden Ring has an obsession with making you fight gigantic enemies such as dragons and gargoyles. Elden Ring also has a combat camera that dates approximately from last century and which really isn’t up to fighting these monsters; if you’re in melee range then you will be able to see, at best, one of the boss’s feet (making it kind of hard to read attack animations) and at worst the camera will get stuck against a piece of scenery and then attempt to correct by crawling up the boss’s asshole.
  • The PC port is bad. Really bad. I had to deal with half an hour of occasional framerate freezing/stuttering nearly every time I booted it (which is absolutely maddening in a boss fight), and it crashed outright twelve or thirteen times in my 75 hours with the game. And then added insult to injury by displaying a message complaining that I hadn’t shut it down properly on the subsequent boot.


I could go on like this for a while. A very long while. Elden Ring is far from a perfect game, despite all of those 10/10 review scores. However, I think the biggest problem with it is the one I mentioned in the opening of the review: it’s just too damn big. Unusually I don’t mean that From Software just shouldn’t have tried to make a 75 hour game; my attention span is definitely getting shorter as I get older and I prefer my games to last no longer than a couple of weekends these days, but the fact that I stuck with Elden Ring all the way to the end (and even 100%ed the achievements!) demonstrates that it definitely could have been a good 75 hour game if it had managed to keep up the same level of quality and variety the whole way through. Unfortunately aside from the last 3-4 bosses it runs out of new things to throw at you about twenty hours before you get to the final boss. Past that point you’re just fighting retextures of things you’ve already fought half a dozen times already. Yes, we know you dumpstered those other four gargoyles, but what if we painted one black and called it a Black Blade Kindred instead? Ah, so you’re experienced fighting Erdtree Avatars since there’s one in every area, how about we turn it into a regular enemy for this Legacy Dungeon? None of the retextures behave significantly differently aside from having inflated health and damage to compensate for your increased levels, and since Elden Ring trades so heavily on being able to throw weird things at you, to surprise you, to make you exclaim in horror as some new monstrosity hauls itself out of a lake or a lava pool or flies down from the sky to confront you, it not having anything significantly new to cover the last few areas of the game is a massive flaw and the point where the game starts to feel very tired in spite of the excellent work that had been done up until then.

It’s not like Elden Ring doesn’t have problems with recycling content before then, either. Between the open world bosses, the Legacy Dungeon bosses, and every mini-dungeon needing to have a boss at the end, I would say that there are something like 200 bosses in Elden Ring. There’s inevitably going to be a certain amount of repeat content here and when you have 200 bosses in a game not all of them can be hits, but I’m surprised at how awkwardly some of them are jammed into places where they really should not go. For example, there’s an open world boss called the Fallingstar Beast that’s basically a big bull made of stone that does fast charging attacks followed by massive AoE tail swipes and gravity slams. It’s so mobile and aggressive that it is clearly supposed to be fought on horseback — so I was very surprised when I got to the end of a mini-dungeon and went through the fog door and was confronted with a Fallingstar Beast that I now had to fight on foot in an underground chamber that was roughly the size of a broom closet. Another example are the dragons; there’s seven or eight dragon fights in the game, enough so that you get pretty familiar with the dragon AI and moveset which, as you would expect, involves a lot of swooping through the air to drench the area beneath it in a fire breath attack before slamming back down to earth two hundred feet away. The first couple of dragons are fought in large wide open spaces that enable this behaviour quite well, but the third is in a comparatively small nook in the ground that’s hemmed in by scenery and the game simply cannot cope with this, with the dragon in question constantly glitching out and sliding over the terrain and flat-out vanishing when it gets too far away from its spawn point because it’s on a very short tether — far shorter than the typical range of a dragon swoop attack.


The reason these bosses (and others) are so uneven is pretty obvious: From Software were being stretched to their absolute limits with Elden Ring, and so their quality control suffered to the point where Elden Ring has forever punctured the mystique of Dark Souls combat as a highly-tuned, skill-based experience. There are some fights which live up to this (I really enjoyed bosses like Dragonlord Placidusax and Shardbearer Mohg), but there’s too many which are either unfinished or unpolished, especially towards the end of the game where my number of attempts required to clear a boss started to creep back up into the double digits — not because the bosses were cunningly designed in any way, but because they had absurdly overpowered attacks that would effectively one-shot even my massively overlevelled, Vigor-boosted character. My clearing those bosses was a matter of the boss 1) randomly deciding not to use those attacks too much and 2) staying in one place long enough for my pure melee character to waddle over and hit it, not any particular skill on my part. The combat still has much to recommend it simply because the slow, methodical nature of it is quite different and there’s a vast number of meaningfully different character builds possible5, but I wouldn’t call it particularly skill-based unless you’re in the top 1% of Souls players. The rest of us need big HP bars, many healing flask charges and a healthy dose of overlevelling to carry us through the worst of the bullshit.

For all of that complaining, though, Elden Ring remains a remarkable game, one where I can spend 6,000 words talking about it and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface6. It is the first From Software game that I have ever completed, and while it is a very long game I was greatly enjoying myself for most of that length — contrast that reaction with something like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which had a similar length but which was stretched so thin that it ended up as sixty hours of formless nothing. Elden Ring definitely has a problem with being over-long, but it at least populates its running time with memorable moment after memorable moment, repeatedly wowing you with its imagination and willingness to do things that more conventional open world games will not. I don’t think it’s going to change anyone’s opinions on Soulslike combat, but I do think it does a good job of removing the worst of the pain points around it and making the basic concept far more palatable, even to pathological Souls haters like myself. And while I think calling Elden Ring GOTY 2022 is definitely overhyping it — it’s far too uneven for that, and we still have nine months of the year to go — I do think it’s a must-play for anyone interested in the things that it’s doing, just to see how it’s doing them; it’s one of the very rare games where I think I actually would be quite happy to see the rest of the industry chasing the trend that it has set, and the potential shot in the arm the increasingly stagnant open world genre sorely needs right now7.

  1. The first-best is the delightful A Short Hike.
  2. I’d start a Capitalised Noun count here but I’d be in low triple digits by the time I finished the review.
  3. Although exactly what “side area” means in a game with only the most basic of critical paths is up for debate. The vast majority of Elden Ring is technically a side area.
  4. Which itself is the victim of Bad Design because it presents you with a choice between going through a brightly lit door or jumping down into a dark pit. The dark pit is where the actual tutorial sequence is, while the door fast-tracks you to the game proper.
  5. I do not talk about builds because I stuck with the same one throughout the game and it was the most boring one, but the ridiculous quantity of magic in Elden Ring means you’ll never lack for variety if you’re not dogmatically opposed to it. And yes, there is respec available so you’re not 100% locked in to the choices you make in the early game.
  6. Even if this is partly because talking about the really good stuff would be spoilery and Elden Ring should definitely be experienced blind; I’m very glad I played it on release before the game had been exhaustively datamined and wiki-fied.
  7. For the record, I also thought this about Breath of the Wild and the lesson the wider industry seemed to take from that game was that it was good because of the climbing — and even that got walked back a few years later. So I’m fully prepared to be disappointed on this one.
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7 thoughts on “Thoughts: Elden Ring

  1. innokenti says:

    Ah well, guess I’m playing a From Soft game. Bah.

  2. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    Elden Ring is my GOTY so far. You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head with From’s shifting design: they’ve worked hard with each new game to make the level design more forgiving and less disdainful of the player’s time, but they seem to have become personally offended by people getting good at beating their bosses and have gotten increasingly cheap with them. Elden Ring has a lot of bosses that can turn 180 degrees on a dime to destroy the player.

    I was annoyed that the parry system is back to being so bad after Sekiro, but apparently Sekiro began development after Elden Ring, so presumably not all lessons could be applied. Incidentally, Sekiro is the From title I’d recommend most if you want to talk about the fairness of the combat. It’s the simplest of this style of game, easily beatable in a weekend once you know what you’re doing, and yet also the game with the highest difficulty curve. And while it has some long, brutal fights, I don’t feel like it leaned on cheapness the same way that so many Souls/Borne/Ring bosses do.

  3. WNG says:

    I rather bounced off this I’m afraid. The world is gorgeous, but very quickly started to feel very one-note, since the only gameplay system was combat. Not even well contextualized combat that I can get emotionally invested in, just here’s some dudes, stab them. Here’s more dudes, stab them. Bump one stat by one point so I can stab harder dudes, it’s just slow Diablo. The combat is good, but it isn’t gonna sucker me in for a hundred hours on its own.

    That and I have approximately zero patience for grinding, or boss battles. Grinding to do boss battles sounds less appealing than folding laundry, where at least I get clean socks at the end.

  4. ilitarist says:

    I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game, haven’t even finished the Stormveil Castle. You are spot on as always; the PC port is atrocious, the game looks good, the bullshit is still overwhelming.

    To be honest I’m surprise with the praise that the game allows you to tune the difficulty of the main story by allowing you to get stronger by doing side content. Because it’s what every RPG does since the 90′s, isn’t it?.. Dark Souls itself did it to a lesser extent. In that regard the game goes as far away as possible from their previous game, Sekiro. That game had a defined character and most of upgrades came from finding specific items in the world, so when the game told you to kill someone you had to bang your head against the wall till it’s done. Never finished even half of that game. Elden Ring’s exploration part feels like a necessary part of this style of game, it lets you mix the constant dread with some relatively relaxing ways to progress.

    Items and builds are still bad. Just please tell me how and what that stuff does, don’t make me spend several levels to get right stats to be able to see that “enchant weapon” spell doesn’t work on upgraded weapons. I still don’t know what exactly it does when it does work.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe unique weapons (the ones that need Somber Smithing Stones to upgrade) can’t be enchanted with spells because they’re so much stronger than regular weapons. Another hint to their identity is whether you can swap out their skills via ashes of war (generic enchantable weapons) or not.

      When you do enchant a thing, go look at your equipment screen, it’ll often list new damage numbers while the enchantment is active. If not, it’s usually something that behaves like you’d expect, like a poison enchantment inflicting poison on an enemy that can be poisoned when you fill up their poison status gauge.

      • ilitarist says:

        I think you can only enchant weapons that do only physical damage. Heavy and Normal and the like. Weapon that cause bleeding can’t be enchanted either. True hardcore experience is about developing your build by using wiki, cause you can’t anticipate those things.

        • Anonymous says:

          Oh that’s it, you’re right. And yeah, despite loving what the game has to offer I think it’s too bad I’ve felt the need to check the wiki so much. Where is [X] character right now? Can they ever be found outside of that Roundtable Hold? ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

          I read that Dark Souls 2 was the one game to let you enchant weapons that already have non-physical damage and it seems that was one of its good design choices.

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