Review – Elden Ring
We are halfway through 2022, with so many great gaming releases, and even more games to come, but if there’s one thing that’s pretty much unanimous among the gaming populace, is that we’ve had our game of the year decided for us since late February. For as much as Neon White, Total War: Warhammer III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, and Rogue Legacy 2 ended up being bangers, we all know Elden Ring is the best game to have released in 2022. I cannot remember the last time a game was so hyped before release, only to still SURPASS everybody’s expectations upon finally dropping. Nearly six months after its release, I am still thinking about it. I am still playing it, all thanks to double dipping on a PS5 copy after beating it on a Series S. And I’m still loving the hell out of it.
That was my greatest fear with Elden Ring. Sure, it’s massive. Sprawling. It’s Dark Souls meets Breath of the Wild, just like how everyone has already said over the past five months. Its world is huge, almost never-ending, borderline intimidating. I feared that it wouldn’t be as replayable as other Souls titles. I’ll argue that this isn’t the kind of game that immediately made me want to start a New Game+ savefile like Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls did, but waiting on it for a bit before returning to it just made me miss it and cherish it.
I was witnessing the birth of so many memes (this one being my favorite). We all saw the now-legendary PC player “Let Me Solo Her” help out newcomers with defeating Malenia, probably the most loathsome boss in Souls history. I was grinning at people’s different stories within the game’s world. It’s amazing: Elden Ring made me suffer from FOMO even though I had spent more than a hundred hours on my first playthrough. This is how it made me want to replay it. The memories it created were too good not to be revisited.
Elden Ring is truly special. For the first time in a Souls game, I gave a crap about its (very complicated) lore. Starting off a new savefile on a different console not only allowed me to experience it with vastly superior graphics and performance, but also allowed me to experiment with completely different builds. I have always resorted to the same kind of strategy and build in a Souls game: obscenely high stamina and health, and little investment on magic. I’ve always resorted to high Dexterity stats and weapons in order to attack as many times as possible with light weapons, chipping damage from foes in a quick (and very annoying – for them) fashion.
I had never thought of wasting time on magic builds or turning myself into a wizard in a Souls game, but after hearing how people were having fun with these playstyles, that’s what I did in my second playthrough. It was a blast! Granted, it’s not what I’m going to do in any future Soulsborne installment (if they ever decide to make one, that is), but that just proved how fun and intuitive Elden Ring is. It’s the true “play it your way” kind of game, unlike the statements Ubisoft and other AAA publishers gush about their open world games. Upon climbing out of the first cave, the world is your oyster to explore. Granted, some areas require items obtained by killing bosses, but the world is still yours to explore in a myriad of ways.
Getting lost in the world of Elden Ring is, without a doubt, its strongest selling point. Sure, iconic moments such as fighting Malenia or Radahn are good and all, but wandering around each gigantic province the game offers you, without a care in the world, and organically stumbling upon a dungeon or hidden treasure, was what truly made it special to me. Even more than the way Breath of the Wild handled its open world exploration, in my humble opinion. Not a single area in that game felt unnecessary. There was always something happening in your vicinity. You just needed to to pick a random direction, summon your trustworthy horse, and ride like the wind.
That doesn’t mean that the level design, namely the dungeon design, suffered in the transition to an open world structure. On the contrary: when you find a “non-optional” dungeon to tackle, s*** gets real. Stormveil Castle, The Royal Academy of Lucaria, the insanity that was exploring Leyndell… those were EPIC levels. What can I even say about the first time I discovered there was an entire region larger than most games underneath the main overworld? Some of the best, if not the best level design I’ve ever seen in a FromSoftware game. Plus some of the best lore as well.
I’ll say that I didn’t buy that whole “created by George R. R. Martin” nonsense spilled out before, during, and after the game’s release. I didn’t believe that before February, considering how the man is humanly unable to finish a book or any task he’s been assigned to do, and I certainly do not believe nowadays, after experiencing the game’s story and meeting its plethora of characters. Elden Ring felt like yet another Dark Souls plot, which is not a bad thing. To be fair, I never cared that much about the plot in a Soulsborne game (with the exception of Bloodborne), but Elden Ring hit differently. I’d argue it was thanks to its open world design, something that usually hinders storytelling in a game like this.
I loved meeting Blaidd. I got heavily involved with Ranni’s gigantic sidequest. The buildup to the Radahn Festival was absolutely epic, in a way I had never seen before in a FromSoftware game. Irina’s story was heartbreaking. How to even start when it comes to talking about the Turtle Pope! It wasn’t just the main plot that captivated me: it was that, plus the cumulative effort of all these smaller stories, creating a living breathing world where every town, every monster, every character felt important and essential to the growth of your character, as well as the world surrounding them. Something not unlike what we’ve seen in games like The Witcher 3, for example.
One thing almost every single FromSoftware game suffers from is that inherent feeling that, at a certain point during development, the budget runs out, developers get tired at creating new monsters and areas, and they just either start to copy and past older enemies or reduce the size and scope of some of the later levels in any given game of theirs. While Elden Ring suffers from having repeated bosses, very rarely did this annoy me. They would always make sure to add a new special attack, buff their stats, or give you a different way to tackle them, such as letting you fight against a boss while riding your horse, which is basically Elden Ring‘s easy mode.
I think that’s one of the main things that makes this game stand out in comparison to other Souls games: its consistency. Dark Souls‘ second half is nowhere near as good as its first, for instance. Demon’s Souls just stops giving you levels to explore after a while, basically giving you a halfway, if much, in between boss battles. Elden Ring, on the other hand, saves some of its best level design (Crumbling Farum Azula, anyone?) and its best boss battles to the very end, after a literal hundred hours of gameplay, maybe twice as much if you’re a lunatic and decide to 100% it.
I am pretty sure I had only scratched the surface of what the game had to offer during my first playthrough, even after clocking as many hours as I did. I am sure my second playthrough will be shorter, but no less filled to the brim with new areas and secrets to unveil. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to kill that freaking Dragonlord Placidusax boss. A man can dream.
Of course, I want more from it. I really hope there’s a DLC pack or two in the works. I almost feel like a spoiled child asking for more after playing one of the largest and most expansive games ever released, but that’s what Elden Ring does to your brain. Just like a drug, it makes you suffer some hardcore side effects, namely stress, anger, and many nights without letting you sleep (blame Malenia for that), but it leaves you starving for more. Just one more dungeon. Please, just give me one more boss to beat, one more dragon to slay. It’s not like I’m devoid of reasons to revisit its world (after all, this entire review is based around me replaying the damn thing), but I’ll never say no to even more reasons to do so.
It’s funny to think that, technically speaking, I spent my entire first playthrough loving the absolute hell out of Elden Ring even though I was playing its “worst” next-gen version. The Xbox Series S version of it looked great and ran somewhat fine, but it’s nowhere near as pretty or stable as this PS5 build I’m now experiencing. Even though, in a way, this is not a true next-gen game (just like 99% of titles out in the wild, it’s a cross-gen experience), this feels more next-gen than most PS5 and Series X exclusives. Not only because of its graphics and performance, which are excellent, but mainly due to its scope. This is exactly what I want from these overpriced machines the size of a 1980’s cellphone: bigger worlds, better gameplay, more content, and not just a bump in resolution or ray-tracing.
The final question: does Elden Ring hold up after nearly half a year? Yes. Is it still the best game of 2022, after the barrage of titles we’ve seen from March to July? Absolutely. That initial buzz may have died out a bit, but I’d have to be insane not to call it one of the most impressive games I’ve played in years, and most importantly, FromSoftware’s greatest title of all time. It’s as special now as it was back when it dropped onto the world like a nuke. A game for the ages. How the company will even be able to one-up this game in the future is a question for another time, but I don’t mind. I’ll keep enjoying Elden Ring, and hopefully any future DLC, for the foreseeable future, without a care in the world. Except when fighting Malenia. That’s still loathsome.
Sprawling environments, strong level and character designs, excellent animations, and a great framerate. I tried looking for a complaint, but I couldn’t find one. Even though it’s not a proper next-gen game, it looks better than almost everything available on the PS5 and Series S/X.
It takes the core gameplay from Dark Souls and dials it to eleven with a vast amount of builds to experiment with. The open world design resulted in a game where no people will have two similar playthroughs. Finally, kudos to the horseback gameplay.
Not a lot of music when you’re exploring the overworld, but that’s not a problem at all. When the music kicks in, it’s beyond epic. Not to mention the excellent voice acting and sound effects.
Elden Ring is the best Souls game ever made. I feared that its length would take a toll on its replayability, but that wasn’t the case.
Final Verdict: 10
Elden Ring is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.