When Bandai Namco gave us a chance to play Elden Ring a few weeks back, I was already impressed with the game. Sure, it had some minor issues and all but overall, it seemed like an excellent Soul-like game! I’ve no opinion about GRR Martin (never read Game of Thrones, never watched the show) so his involvement didn’t really do anything for me.
Now, after about a week of game time under my belt, how does Elden Ring fare?
Read on to find out.
What is Elden Ring?
Developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco, Elden Ring is an open third person action adventure game in the vein of Dark Souls, Sekiro and Bloodborne. It’s available on the Playstation and Xbox consoles, as well as PC.
Our review copy was graciously provided to us by the awesome folks at Bandai Namco!
If you’ve not yet read up on our preview (why not?), know that Elden Ring (while in the same genre as the Souls games), is not as hardcore as you’d expect. It’s filled with concessions that make the game much easier in some aspects though it’s still pretty tough nonetheless.
In Elden Ring, you’re a Tarnished, out to become an Elden Lord by claiming the Elden Ring. Yeah, From Software’s back to its convoluted lore dumps again. Elden Ring isn’t as dense as the Dark Souls games were but it too is fiendishly stingy with its plot and lore.
The story is doled out in small tidbits by the NPCs (or through short cutscenes) you encounter, with you made to fill in the blanks. I’ve been playing it for a while and hell, I still don’t understand the world and its lore. Then again, I barely understand Dark Souls after 3 games, so that’s no surprise.
Being an open world game, Elden Ring has even more of an uphill battle to maintain a cohesive story. It’s a battle it wholehearted abandons the first chance it gets. Once you’re past the initial cutscenes and cinematics, the game basically gives your free rein on what to do and where to go.
If you mistakenly wander into territory that’s too powerful for your character? Tough luck, you dead. It’s refreshing not to have any inkling what to do, which fits in really well with the plot too. You literally have zero idea of who you are (or even what is a Tarnished) and your role in the world of Elden Ring.
Unfortunately, that’s barely going to change over your playtime as From Software’s not made much effort into making the story easier to grasp, despite the collaboration with author GRR Martin.
It’s nice that there are optional quests now, something I felt the Dark Souls games were lacking in. There are quite a bit of them (such as one that requires you to deliver a letter) and while they’re not really essential, they do flesh out the conversations you can have with the game’s NPCs.
While Elden Ring is it’s own game, you’d not be wrong to see that there are similarities enough to Dark Souls that make the game somewhat familiar.
Like the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls, the Tarnished are a kind of undead too. While they do die, they’re soon resurrected at Sites of Grace or Stake of Marika checkpoints. The difference being that you can do a ton of maintenance at Sites of Grace (such as change the time of day) while a Stake of Marika just functions as a respawn point.
One issue I have with Sites of Grace are their placement.
Some are literally a few steps away from each other, which makes no sense at all. For example, the Stormveil Main Gate and Gateside Chamber Sites of Grace are literally a short run away from each other. Just run through the main gate, turn left and run up the incline and you’ll get to the Gateside Chamber Site of Grace. Why?!
Other times, you’d go a punishingly long way through gauntlet of enemies before getting to the next one. Better placement would’ve been much appreciated.
Death still functions similarly to Dark Souls though as you drop the game’s currency (Runes) when you die. If you can make it where you died, you can recover them. If you die before that, they’re lost.
While the mechanics are similar (as are the environments), Elden Ring is a much more enlightened (read: easier) beast. Flasks (which can refill either Health or Mana depending on the type) can be replenished mid-stage by killing enemy groups. Not all of them have this ability, but quite a bit do.
Enemy groups can range from a small sortie (maybe about 3 – 5 foes) to huge groups (I’ve encountered sections that counted 10 or more enemies as a group). You’ll never know how many there are or which enemies are considered a part of a group, so it’s mostly trial and error to find out.
Despite that, this ultimately leads to the game being much more forgiving as you can heal (or recover mana) much more than you’re probably used to. Also, there’s no penalty for retreat. As long as you’re not in combat, you can just teleport to any Sites of Grace you’ve found. No penalty, no loss of runes.
To compensate for that, the game is filled with buffed up enemies.
You’ll regularly encounter enemies with tremendous HP, which makes combat challenging. Magic has been severely debuffed, as damage from the spells is pathetic compared to the Dark Souls games.
As a pure magic user (with points in Strength just enough to hold a sword and a 100% Physical Resist shield), Elden Ring is hell. I’m not joking. It’s all fun and games (I love the fact that you can chain spell animations now instead of casting time one at a time) when you’re topped up on Mana, but run out and you’re screwed.
Running out of juice isn’t a big deal when you’re exploring, but up against the bosses it’s a very real possibility because bosses take absurd amounts of damage to kill while dealing devastating damage.
Coupled with high magic resistance (or low spell damage), and every single boss fight is a crapshoot as to who kills who first. 99% of the time, it’s me dead. Elden Ring really needs to buff magic damage and increase the number of Magic staves and staffs you can use.
I’m just past after beating Godrick and I’m still using the same old staff I got from the start of the game. Oh I’ve found tons of gear (swords, hammers…even a damn whip) but nothing that’s for a magic user. It’s insane when you think about it.
I’ve also yet to find an NPC that sells sorceries that I don’t have so I’m also stuck with the two spells I started with and Rancorcall, a spell I got from somewhere I forgot.
Thankfully, like Dark Souls games, you can summon allies into your game. By activating Summoning Shrines, you can call upon AI to help you fight bosses. All you need to do is find their Golden Sign near the boss and you can call them to your aid in the fight.
It works similar for human players too, except they’re going to need to place their sign first before you can summon them. Unfortunately I’ve not had a lot of chance to try this out as nobody seems to be in the same area as me when I’m online.
Invasions are also possible though it seems Covenants are no longer in the game. Now you use an item if you’re invaded and want assistance from other players to ward off the invader.
You can also summon spirit allies in the game, but the few that I’ve found (a wolf pack and a giant jellyfish) aren’t worth the mana in the first place. My spells are much more potent. Perhaps they’d fare better with a melee build, but magic builds have barely any use for them other than as tanks (and poor ones as that) to soak up damage from enemies.
While the game is a bit unbalanced against magic builds, melee characters will have a better time.
There’s a ton of gear that caters to melee or dexterity builds in the game and you’ll quickly amass a handful just from enemy drops from killing trash mobs.
Combat is essential to the game (no surprise there) but now there are also buffs in the form of Trinkets (which you can equip) and Ashes of War skills (which you can imbue weapons with). You’ll also need to strengthen your gear at the blacksmith (but that’s nothing new for Souls fans).
Each weapon also comes with its own skill too, though being a magic wielder I don’t see much use to them. Melee builds will get better mileage though.
Ashes of War gives weapons special abilities or skills and are only usable with specific weapons. There are quite a number of them and they’re mostly dropped by glittering dung beetles that you can find roaming around. Kill them and the Ashes of War is yours.
Again, Magic users get the shaft (pun intended) as Ashes of War are mainly geared to the melee weapons. Trinkets too though there are a couple that are useful to Magic users too.
To be fair, this bias against Magic users was present in Dark Souls, but I’d expected Elden Ring to be different…silly me.
I’m also quite surprised on how similar Elden Ring is to Dark Souls visually. Elden Ring really doesn’t distinguish itself visually, like From Software’s other offerings Sekiro and Bloodborne.
The fantasy locations can easily be swapped between games without much problem. In my time with the game, I got to explore ruined castles, dank catacombs, poison swamps and trap-filled tombs…all locations that are present in Dark Souls.
I’ve yet to encounter a locale that’s not compatible as a Dark Souls area.
Perhaps that’s why, even after so much time playing the game, I still think of Elden Ring as a Dark Souls game. Despite the minor changes, at its core, this is really Dark Souls IV, albeit with difficulty concessions.
Weirdly, the time of day doesn’t seem to make any difference to the game. Sure, it gets darker at night (and enemies will carry torches) but I didn’t notice any new quests or enemy placements or other major changes. Attacking Castle Morne was the same in the morning or at night, barring the lighting conditions.
I’m honestly disappointed that this feature’s not leveraged more though perhaps expansions or patches will address this particular complaint of mine.
Thankfully, the issues I had with the preview build have been mostly resolved.
I’ve been playing on the ‘Prioritize Frame Rate’ mode which is a solid 60FPS most times and the egregious object pop-ins have been severely reduced. They’re not all gone (as there’s still pop-in, especially in open areas) but they’re severely reduced.
The framerate also stutters here and there (particularly in large or busy areas) but is otherwise solid. Just beware of venturing out in the open world if its raining, because it it will drain the framerate like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, load times are still too long.
Whether you’re respawning or fast travelling, there’s a very noticeable wait for the load bar to fill up. I’m running the game on the Xbox Series X via the internal SSD, so the slow loading is inexcusable. There definitely should be better optimization in this regard.
The Bottom Line.
From Software’s hit the ball out of the park yet again with Elden Ring.
Despite similar issues found in previous From Software games, Elden Ring is a much improved refinement of the standard Dark Souls formula. Hardcore fans will whine that it’s much easier but it’s evident that the game’s geared to a more casual crowd, at least in terms of difficulty.
While the story telling could be much improved, the fun gameplay and the stellar visuals are still top-notch and makes Elden Ring an easy Game of the Year contender for 2022.
Great game that feels really familiar to Dark Souls but much easier.
- Dark Souls gameplay still fun.
- Exploring the open world.
- The difficulty keeps you coming back.
- Ashes of War and Trinkets enhance gameplay..
- Not much handholding.
- Bosses are sponges.
- Sites of Grace could be spread more evenly.
- Loading time for respawns and fast travel.
- Story could be more cohesive.
- Magic builds are weaker than in other Souls games.
- Framerate stutters in open areas.