Also On: Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Medium: Blu-ray / Digital
FromSoftware fans rejoice, praise the sun, etc., etc., because this is the week you?ve been waiting for with the release of Elden Ring for PlayStation, Xbox and PC platforms. I?ll just start off this review by saying that if you?ve ever enjoyed any entry in the Demons/Dark Souls franchise, then you?ll likely find a lot to love about Elden Ring. Its DNA as a Souls-style game certainly shines through, but with enough new elements to help Elden Ring feel like its own thing, much in the way single entry games like Bloodborne and Sekiro managed to deviate from the Dark Souls path previously.
Elden Ring is an absolutely beautiful game too. I?ve been playing on the PlayStation 5, generally in performance mode, and I?m constantly stunned by the stellar art design in this game. Whether it?s the grotesque enemies I encounter, the sprawling main story dungeons, or the fantasy infused overworld labeled “The Lands Between”, there have been a number of jaw dropping moments throughout my adventure. And for the most part my experience has been bug free, which is worth mentioning considering the scope of the game seems to dwarf FromSoftware?s previous efforts. My only real issue is an occasional frame rate hiccup, but even that is few and far between.
As far as gameplay goes, a lot of elements will be familiar to FromSoftware fans. At the onset of the game you?ll design your player character, pick a starting class, and set out on your adventure across an extremely large map filled with enemies, secret dungeons, eclectic NPCs, and a fair number of punishing boss battles that will test your abilities quite a bit. Combat isn?t too different from the Dark Souls series, you?ll either go with a melee, ranged, or magic style build, or a potential hybrid, giving you the same amount of flexibility found in other Souls games. You can dodge, block, parry, and run around opponents, with the added ability to make use of a mount called Torrent when fighting in the open world. Combat while on horseback is actually pretty key to a number of challenging encounters in The Lands Between, and I found it to be more useful than I would have suspected at the onset of the game.
You?ll also still encounter a penalty upon death, losing your runes (souls) and needing to retrieve them from the place you died after resurrecting at one of many checkpoints in the game called Sites of Lost Grace. These locations are actually spread liberally around both the overworld and main dungeon locations, perhaps a little more so than previous Souls titles, making death feel a little less aggravating which is sure to appeal to new players. For instance, the first main boss bottle of the game features a Site of Grace directly before that encounter, allowing you to respawn right away without needing to mow down mobs or avoid traps beforehand.
For my first foray into the world of Elden Ring I went with a strength focused build, as I typically do in Souls games, but I?d say that maybe keeping your options open early on wouldn?t be a bad idea. There?s a fair amount of gear that becomes available quickly, which seems to run the gamut of Strength, Dexterity, and Faith in particular, giving you a variety of options at the onset. Thankfully, you?ll also gain the option to respec later on, so even if you?ve created a build you are not entirely happy with, you can certainly change it. Magic is also a pretty big factor here, with a hefty number of offensive and defensive spells available through a variety of NPCs. Crafting is also an important mechanic, with tons of crafting materials available, along with a number of recipes to purchase or find in order to expand your crafting repetoire.
As far as the classic difficulty that Souls games are generally known for, I didn?t find Elden Ring to be either too punishing or too easy, and instead thought it seemed fairly balanced for experienced players. Like most Souls games, it?s certainly possible to just sort of brute strength your way through the game, grinding up experience and outleveling most encounters. But with Elden Ring I feel like The Lands Between offers up an easy excuse to just go exploring, and by default you?ll gain level after level just by seeing what?s out there, killing enemies you encounter along the way. There?s also a hefty number of side dungeons, mini-bosses, and other challenging encounters that help feed into your experience and gear in a significant way, enough so that I never felt like it was necessary to grind in order to overcome my next point in the story. If I got stuck somewhere I just simply went somewhere else, as there is no shortage of new locations to check out. Seriously, the map in Elden Ring is absolutely huge, and you are rarely locked out of a location you want to visit, so just set a marker on the map and head in that direction if you wish.
I?ve absolutely enjoyed my time with Elden Ring, and while I?d say my expectations were high prior to playing the game, those expectations have certainly been met or even exceeded along my journey. It feels like a culmination of everything FromSoftware has accomplished in the genre so far, offering up a robust world with tons of exploration married to the unique combat we?ve come to expect from their previous titles. I can?t necessarily say that there?s enough changes here that will appeal to people who have bounced off of Souls games previously, but it?s such a great looking (and playing) game that I think if you enjoy action-RPGs in the slightest that it?s still worth a shot. And of course if you?re already a FromSoftware fan, then I?d imagine you?re already on board, and I can safely say that you won?t be disappointed.
Note: Bandai Namco provided us with a Elden Ring PS5 code for review purposes