Review: Elden Ring
By: Chad Christian (TapRackBang)
Elden Ring has been out for a few weeks at the time of writing this. I’ve put about 65 hours into the game, I’m nowhere near finished, and that is far from a complaint. The game is absolutely massive; I won’t be able to cover everything, but I’ll share my thoughts on the wavetops and let you decide the rest for yourself. From Software took their tried and true formula and blew it up to a magnanimous scale. Again, 65 hours in, and I haven’t even uncovered the entire map. Of course, you could speed through it and finish the game much faster, but that’s not my goal at all with the “Soulsborne” games. They stick to the same method of storytelling, leaving it up to the player to glean all the clues they can from dialogue and item descriptions to piece the story together. While I know I won’t be able to write my own thesis on it; I’ve been enjoying taking my time, exploring the world, and experiencing everything for myself. I have yet to grasp what exactly is going on, but with George R. R. Martin tag-teaming in on the lore front, I’m not at all worried that it will hold up.
Mechanically, Elden Ring feels very familiar. It is absolutely the next successor in the From Software legacy. The roguelike aspect remains - souls are now called “runes,” bonfires are now “sites of grace,” resting at a site of grace or dying resets enemies in the world, and dying means either running back to where you fell to collect your runes, or losing them in the process if you die again. These are the staples of From Software games, and it’s a good thing that they didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. Movement and combat feel the same but with some improvements. Two major features in this title are the ability to change a weapon’s abilities/moveset, called “Ashes of War,” and mounted combat. Almost immediately, the player character, one of several called “Tarnished,” receives a spirit steed named Torrent, a horned horse-like creature that serves as your beast of burden to ferry you around the Lands Between. I honestly wasn’t sure how much I’d like mounted combat; I’ve never really been a fan of it in other games as it’s usually clunky and unwieldy, but in Elden Ring, it’s very fluid and at times quite necessary. I’ve come to enjoy and even prefer it in many circumstances, though it’s not always beneficial (lookin’ at you, Deathbird).
The main new feature of Elden Ring is certainly its open-world design. I was curious to see how an open world would fit the From Software model. In other installments like Dark Souls, the world design was intricate, ingenious, and fascinating, twisting in on itself and making the world seem much larger than it actually was. I was a bit concerned that those features would be overridden with an open-world design, and it is different, but it doesn’t suffer for it.
My good friend from school and bootcamp (who goes by CitizenFresh online) put it this way: “the open-world feature is additive - it doesn’t steal from From Software’s ingenuity.” That’s about as accurate as you can get. There is so much to explore here, and while you can’t go everywhere right out of the gate, you can (and I did) explore for hours before even fighting your first mandatory boss. There are some similarities in design from one area to another, i.e., some of the dungeons run similar courses, but so far, nothing has felt tired or overused. Where other open-world titles rest on their laurels of “another settlement needs our help” to inflate content (shots fired lul), From Software doesn’t seem to be in the business of adding content for content’s sake. Just about everything in their games is placed for a purpose - or at least with a decent explanation of why it’s there. Elden Ring seems to add the repeating open-world elements like dungeons as meaningful features or even roadblocks, and I look forward to uncovering the lore behind them.
On that note, I’ve already spent more time in multiplayer/co-op than I have in all other From Software games combined. Elden Ring has several unique areas and settings, and each of them has its own catalog of hidden dungeons to explore with mini-bosses to fight. It’s a rite of passage in Souls games to not cheese bosses by summoning help, and I honestly prefer playing those other games solo. It’s worth noting that you can still fly solo if you’d like - none of that forced online play stuff here (except for one optional NPC questline I’ve found so far, which requires you to run some invasions and the like). I haven’t felt the need to run around the whole of the Lands Between with a full squad, but those dungeons specifically are fun to team up on and get some of that extra loot.
The multiplayer mechanics are very familiar to previous installments but less invasive - literally. In Dark Souls, for example, if you had restored your humanity, you were at risk of being invaded practically at any time. In Elden Ring, you either have to be in co-op mode or have to use a certain collectible called the “Taunter’s Tongue” to be invaded. It can still be inconvenient to be running around doing your thing only to get dunked on by some kid, but in this entry, you have to be asking for it anyway. You still have the few random NPC invasions as in other titles, but those don’t count as multiplayer in my book. Lastly, If you’re planning on playing with any friends, absolutely take advantage of the multiplayer group/password system. Not only does it help keep summons confined to your preferred group, but there are subtle traces you leave behind in each others’ worlds and bonuses you share when completing milestones. I think it’s a pretty cool feature.
So if you’re just getting started with Elden Ring, I have a few non-spoiler tips for you. I’ve talked about exploration, and that would be my number one recommendation for anyone - explore! The bosses are just as tough as any other title, if not more so, and exploring the vast world offers much-needed experience and loot to help you out. So far, my experience has been: explore, find a boss, try to fight the boss, die in humiliation, explore and level, attempt said boss fight, die in humiliation, explore and level, kill the boss. If you’re new to the From Software realm, be patient with yourself. Their games are notoriously difficult, as I’m sure you know, but they are highly rewarding. Stick to it because eventually, the game's feel will click in for you, but expect to die - a lot. Take your time, read item descriptions, talk to everyone you can (and more than once, because they usually have more to say than just the first time you click on ‘em), and if you run into something too tough, go exploring! Also, make sure you explore the world at different times of day.
Many areas have different enemies and features depending on the time of day, and you can quickly pass time at sites of grace to easily manage this. Try to get a feel for mounted combat quickly; as I said before, it’s vital. Don’t ever sell your smithing stones, and make sure you level up your weapon as much as you can. However, like previous titles, those stones used to upgrade your weapons are fairly limited, though some enemies occasionally drop them - very occasionally. So I’d suggest picking your favorite weapon/build and focusing on upgrading that one weapon for a while. Without spoilers, don’t kill any non-hostile NPCs you find in the world. Especially one particular woman, as she allows you to upgrade the spirits you can summon if you follow her questline a bit. The game encourages you to utilize those spirits; they’re only available to summon in certain difficult areas and can make all the difference in a tough fight.
So far, Elden Ring has been an amazing game. Unlike other From Software entries, when you see a castle on a hill or something in the distance and think, “Hey, that looks like a place!”, it is a place, and you can go figure out how to reach it (at least sooner or later). The way they’ve designed progression in such an open world is masterful. Somehow, even though you can go almost anywhere, I find myself circling ever closer to that beautifully luminous central Erdtree, and it amazes me how autonomous I still feel in my choices. I’ve often said that the Soulsborne games are the only games I recommend looking up spoilers for before playing. Dark Souls 1 and Bloodborne specifically were immensely more enjoyable when I read through the lore first, then played through to see how it all fit together. Of course, there is still much left up for speculation and interpretation, which is half the fun when it comes to these games.
I haven’t looked up any spoilers or lore for Elden Ring yet, as I’m enjoying experiencing the brand new game, but if you’re looking for further tips, tricks, lore, and more, I highly recommend the YouTube channel by the name of VaatiVidya. The creator behind it is very thorough, pleasing to listen to, and extremely helpful in mechanical tips, lore, NPC quests and storylines, and so much more. If Elden Ring is your first From Software game, welcome to the shitshow club! Whether you’re new to these games or a returning masochist, I hope you enjoy this masterpiece of a game, and please share with us what you think of it! I haven’t finished the game yet, but so far, Elden Ring deserves a 10/10.