Way back in 2009, at the very tail end of the PS3’s lifecycle, Sony and Atlus USA decided to localize and publish a weird little action RPG called Demon’s Souls. Created by From Software, at that time a niche publisher known for its King’s Field and Armored Core games, this particular title had undergone a troubled development cycle that had been saved at the 11th hour by a then unknown developer named Hidetaka Miyazaki. Miyazaki created a uniquely punishing form of gameplay that baffled many critics at the time, and it threatened to simply sink into obscurity.
Against all odds, however, the game was a massive sleeper hit. At a time when games seem to be getting increasingly easier, Demon’s Souls was a shocking breath of fresh air, creating an entirely new genre in a stagnating games market: the Souls-like.
Now, all these years later, From Software has released a new game in a new universe, inspired by all of the games they have made in the preceding years, and with help from one of contemporary literature’s most popular authors, to boot.
What Is It?
Elden Ring is the much anticipated new title from From Software. This time around, the game takes place in a completely open world, with some key adjustments to the standard Souls-like formula.
The lore of Elden Ring is itself vast and expansive (thanks in part due to writing help from none other than George R. R. Martin), and attempting to tell the whole thing in as little space as I have is impossible. The gist, however, is this: In a place called The Lands Between, a civil war called The Shattering has been ongoing for over a thousand years. A millenia before hand, someone (or something) shattered the eponymous Elden Ring, which was both a real ring and a metaphysical concept that governed the rules of life and death, via an enormous glowing tree called the Erdtree. Because of this, noone native to The Lands Between can die. Queen Marika, the God-Queen of the realm, has completely disappeared, and her demi-god children, hungry for power, seek to grab as many pieces of the shattered Elden Ring as their own in order to take her place. But the war has been going on for centuries, and nobody has emerged victorious. The scars of this war can be seen in both the landscape (especially places suffering under the Scarlet Rot), and the people (most have been reduced to yattering zombies or mindless husks).
You, however, are not among this group, as you were exiled some time ago. You are a Tarnished, an individual who, for whatever reason, had lost the grace of the Erdtree and cannot physically die. You and your kind are being drawn back to The Lands Between due to the chaos, on the potential that you may be able to get shards of the Elden Ring for yourself, and take Marika’s place as the new Elden Lord… or will you? Because as becomes clear over time, there are other things happening underneath the surface, and you will ultimately find yourself making decisions that will dictate the fate of The Lands Between.
Why Should I Care?
At it’s heart, Elden Ring is still very much a From Software game. You still create a character who traverses a dark, decaying fantasy world where danger is around every corner and even the most common mooks can tear you to pieces if you let your guard down. You are given a consumable that can be used to replenish your health, and the number of times you can use it can be increased over time (as well as its effects). You have checkpoint areas (this time called Sites of Grace), where you can replenish your health, change out parts of your inventory and upgrade your character (at the cost of reviving all non-boss characters you have killed). If you die, you will lose all of your collected points (this time called Runes) that act as both upgrade material and currency, and will have to go back to the site of your death to retrieve them (and if you die before then, they’re gone for good). The world’s story and lore are told through collectibles and items, as well as dialogue with various NPCs you encounter. Also like past games, there is a multiplayer component that allows one to either call for or answer a call for aid, or invade another player’s game and kill them for their runes.
But this time around, some key parts of the formula have been altered. For one thing, you no longer have to deal with any equivalent to Dark Souls‘s ‘hollowing’. If you die, you are revived with full health. Furthermore, you no longer have to worry about weapon or armor decay, and if you use a weapon, it will stay pristine throughout the game. Traversal has also seen some changes, including the ability to jump (yes!), and the addition of a mount named Torrent, who can not only run faster than you can, but can also double jump. Also, Sites of Grace also operate as fast travel points, and additional sites (marked by statues called Stakes Of Marika) act as semi-check points nearby bosses and combat zones (so you don’t have to traverse long distances to get back to a boss battle). Combat is now a hybrid of previous From Software games, combining the defensiveness of Dark Souls, the aggressiveness of Bloodborne, and the stealth and strategy of Sekiro.
But probably the most obvious difference this time around is the world itself: instead of an inter-connected group of dungeons, The Lands Between are a completely open world that you can explore. Granted, you may still need to find certain items or kill certain bosses in order to access certain areas, but other than that? The world is wide open. Pick a direction and go, and you will almost certainly find something (that may or may not mutilate you in seconds). The overworld Map itself is extremely detailed, and require searching for pieces of the map itself in order to complete it.
And what sights you will see! From the tranquil melancholy of Limgrave, to the nightmarish Hellscape of Caelid, to the astonishing nocturnal Eternal City, you will always find something to amaze you.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
In spite of its difficulty, Elden Ring may be From Software’s most accessible game to date. True, it’s still difficult, but the game gives you tools from the beginning that help you comprehend the vast and dangerous landscape you walk into. Right out of the gate, you will encounter enemies that you simply cannot kill just yet, so you are forced to actually wander the landscape, explore, fight other enemies, and learn. Failure in Elden Ring is not a punishment, but an opportunity. Yes, you will die. But you will also learn and grow as a player. Every enemy has a rhythm, from the most common soldier to the behemoth bosses.
Is the game perfect? Not entirely. There are some minor graphical issues like clipping, and the distance required for fall damage is a little vague (the game is more vertical and expects exploration, so unlike past games fall damage is more generous). But honest? None of those issues hurt the game itself. Its virtues far outshine any minor blemishes the product may be.
Hell, I’ve just finished this review and I’m still thinking about playing it!