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June 2024

Elden Ring

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: From Software
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Elden Ring'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 24, 2022 @ 11:00 p.m. PST

Unparalleled adventure awaits in Elden Ring, an epic fantasy action/RPG title created by Dark Souls' Hidetaka Miyazaki, and George R.R. Martin.

Buy Elden Ring

It's still difficult to believe that FromSoftware has gone from making anime mecha tie-in games and obscure action titles to being considered among the best developers in the business. The Souls franchise and its variety of spin-offs have effectively redefined gaming, and attempts to copy the formula have lived in its shadow. Thankfully, FromSoftware hasn't started coasting. Elden Ring is probably the biggest and most ambitious game in the Soulslike genre to date, providing one of the most enjoyable experiences on the market.

Elden Ring takes place in a land known as The Land Between. At one time, a great power known as the Elden Ring brought peace and stability to the land. It was destroyed, and its powerful shards were strewn across the realm. Unfortunately, shards fell into the hands of beings who used its power for malicious purposes. As long as the ring shards remain separate and in possession of evildoers, there is no hope for the land. You play as a Tarnished, an exile who can reunite the Elden Ring and claim the throne to return the land to its former glory. Other Tarnished are seeking the same goal, and the land is also beset by nightmare monsters.

Elden Ring's setting is interesting, but the mention of George R.R. Martin feels overblown. It feels so much like a FromSoft game that I'd be hard-pressed to say what Martin contributed in terms of aesthetic, style or tone. If you're expecting something that feels different from the usual FromSoft aesthetic, you'll probably be disappointed. To its credit, the world feels more alive than I'm used to from FromSoft games. It feels far more like a living, breathing world, even though it's trending quickly toward decay and doom and half of the population appears to be various degrees of insane or evil.

The biggest defining feature of Elden Ring is its world map. While previous Souls titles had a wide-open area, Elden Ring is the first that tosses you on a map, provides some vague directions, and tells you to explore. While the map isn't the biggest, it is densely packed. There are a lot of small encounters and hidden areas, as well as dungeons large and small. Some areas are gated off by specific game progress, but there are also plenty of areas that you can find without hitting obvious markers.

With the increased world size also comes increased mobility options. Your horse, Torrent, can be summoned at any time on the overworld. Torrent moves incredibly quickly and can use mobility options like a double-jump or riding wind to reach areas that you normally can't. The double-jump is a great way to find a few secrets (or leave an embarrassing bloodstain). You're also more mobile on foot than usual, with the ability to jump manually and with fall damage being far less of an issue.

Elden Ring's version of campfires is a site of grace, and they are plentiful. They appear frequently on the overworld and in dungeons. As usual, resting at them restores all your healing and respawns enemies, and it lets you perform some basic upgrades or reshuffling. New to the game are Markers, which temporary checkpoints. If you die close to one, you can choose to respawn there instead of at a site of grace. However, they are only temporary and can't be used to rest or upgrade, so if you abandon an attempt at a boss, you'll have to return to it normally.

Probably the biggest advantage to Elden Ring's open world is that you can go somewhere else at any time. Previous Souls titles had multiple paths, but you'd often only have one real path to follow. In Elden Ring, if you're getting burned out on an area or frustrated by a boss, you can choose to go somewhere else. While areas expect progressively higher stats and equipment, you're not that limited. Plenty of areas can be taken down with slow progress, clever use of items, or even the old standby of "run past everything to the next bonfire."

Since there are so many little alcoves and hidden areas, you're almost certain to find something else you can do to power up before your next encounter with a tough boss. If you're playing a magic-using class, you can find tutors to teach new spells. If you're a warrior, you might find a better piece of equipment hidden behind an optional boss. There are even some items that are specifically designed to weaken certain difficult enemies and reward you for searching before ramming your face against the foe.

That's what really makes Elden Ring different. The freedom to do something else is an absolute boon to the baked-in frustration of a Soulslike. It's easy to get frustrated at a roadblock, but it becomes a lot less frustrating when you have hundreds of other possible things to do. I think it will make the game a lot less frustrating for people who usually bounce off Soulslikes because you'll basically never reach a point where your only option is to bash your head against a boss until it breaks (your head or the boss).

However, that also means that Elden Ring is less focused, and that somewhat works against one of the strengths of Soulslikes. The strength of the open-world setting comes out if you like to choose a direction and explore, but if you favor Souls games for their generally tight and focused design, the open world might not thrill you. It can also make side-quests frustrating, since you have to remember which area had the quest-giver that you need to revisit. For the most part, the open world is a positive.

Elden Ring feels a whole lot like other Dark Souls titles. It's probably closest to Dark Souls III, but you can see the DNA of Sekiro and Bloodborne in there as well. The combat, spells, and general combat structure feels familiar but not in a bad way. I felt like magic was more fun to use early on, but that may be due to some of the starting spells feeling better.

The game allows for more flexibility and customization. You can use Ashes of War to modify weapons with special abilities or different scaling, and that opens up the potential weapon pool for certain classes. Ashes are earned from side-quests, killing certain enemies, or buying from shops, and you can duplicate them on more than one weapon. You can also modify a flask to provide buffs or bonuses instead of just healing.

Speaking of flasks, they make a return in Elden Ring almost unchanged. You can decide between devoting one of your flasks to restoring HP or FP and swap that at any time when you feel like you need more health or mana. New to Elden Ring is a cool feature where defeating entire groups of enemies will restore some of your flask charges, with more being restored depending on the group. This encourages you to be more aggressive and take out foes because fighting instead of running away can give you a near-full refill, so you waste less time returning from a checkpoint.

One feature I particularly loved is the ability to summon Spirit Familiars. Think of these as a light version of summoning co-op players. These familiars come in a variety of types, and they can be summoned at any time as long as you've found and activated a Spirit Pool, and they cost very few FP. They're not as strong as a real player, but the flexibility means they can work for any play style. It's also cool to summon a giant jellyfish to blast your foes.

If there's one thing that I felt cold about, it was mounted combat. It never felt fun or engaging, and it didn't mesh well with the weighty precision combat of a Soulslike. Melee combat felt like a chore, and ranged combat felt much like unmounted combat except my dodge was worse. You can occasionally get into a groove of circling around foes and peppering them with magic bolts, but I mostly used the horse for movement and found any excuse I could to get off the steed for combat.

I don't want to come across like Elden Ring is just Dark Souls again. There have been dozens upon dozens of tweaks, changes, and new features, many of which might only be noticeable to hardcore fans. For example, there's a day and night cycle now, with certain enemies changing behavior depending on the time of the day. There's even dynamic weather. It gives the areas a far more "living" feeling than I'm used to from Souls games, and while it isn't technically new, it is a welcome improvement to the genre.

There's also just an absurd amount of stuff to do. There are tons of side-quests, tons of dungeons, entire paths you can or can't traverse depending on what you've done, multiple endings, multiple builds, dozens of weapons, countless magic spells, and a bevy of boss creatures. If you enjoy Souls games, then you'll spend hours upon hours on Elden Ring. It felt like every place I looked had something new, even if it was just a horrific enemy or a neat piece of gear.

Elden Ring has the benefit of being the Souls game that has felt best at launch. On performance mode, it runs buttery smooth, and even resolution mode largely feels good. The visuals have seen an overall upgrade, with effects and animations looking better than ever. There's still some awkwardness, but incredibly strong art design makes up for that. Each area has its own distinct feeling, and some are genuinely breathtaking. Of course, enemies are as terrifying as always, and there's one particular "handy" enemy that skeeved me out more than anything I've ever encountered in a game — and it wasn't even a boss!

Elden Ring is exactly the game people were hoping it would be. It's the biggest FromSoft Soulslike to date, with a ton of polish and a bucketload of content. It won't change your mind if you don't enjoy the genre, but Elden Ring accomplishes what it had set out to do. Not every new feature hits, and it sometimes felt a touch too familiar, but when the biggest complaint I can think of is, "It feels like some of the best games ever made," that is a sign of its quality. Elden Ring is the game we've all been waiting for.

Score: 9.5/10

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