Review – Elderand
Anyone ever seen Pi? The debut film from Darren Aronofsky, this movie supposedly tracks the mental decline of a gifted mathematician who seems to see and experience pi everywhere. A bunch of weird things happen, like Jewish underground groups, people from government agencies threatening harmless protagonists, and a brain on the steps of a subway. When all was said and done, a power drill seems to have fixed everything by fixing nothing, and I’m reminded why I generally distrust black and white films made after 1960. The point is, a lot of people seemed to think this film was utter genius and, while I agree some of the shots are excellent, I feel that my overall confusion over whatever the hell the point was detracted from the experience. Abstract storytelling only works to a point.
Which brings us to Elderand, a Lovecraftian action RPG that comes to us from new developers, Mantra and Sinergia Games. This title seeks to bring a lot to players, including metrovania style exploration, customization of characters through leveling and stat distribution, tons of weapons to discover, and lots of intense action in the form of a rich variety of grunts, mini bosses, and big baddies.
Your character, a nameless mercenary aboard a doomed ship, must do what they can to rid the land of the evil that now permeates throughout. You’ve been hired to take out Sserthris, a malevolent ruler who apparently operates out of a mystical realm that’s beyond the reach of normal people. You now journey to Elderand to fight tooth and nail to restore order and peace. Yet this task is never as easy as it seems, for a growing group of cultists seek to keep the dark power they’ve harnessed.
This review is a tricky beast to write because of so many highs and lows that came through the course of playing Elderand. From the beginning, it already seemed like maybe things weren’t exactly as I thought they were. The still images and choice animations that I saw gave this a very pixel-heavy impression, more in the realm of Dead Cells or similarly “dirty” games. In fact, there’s quite a bit of smoothness throughout the game of Elderand, which is neither good nor bad. On the one hand, it helps minor enemies and mobs pop a bit more, thanks to lush colors and details, which can be helpful over the course of exploration. On the other, it also takes away some of the grit I was expecting, which tonally, changes how the game is perceived.
The combat is quite decent, I have to give it up in that realm. Right from the drop, multiple attack patterns come into play as you get used to melee weapons of all shapes and sizes, ranged strikers, consumable weapons (throwing axes, daggers, etc.), and even some magic staves. Players quickly develop their own preferences in Elderand for what works best, though that is hardly the be-all-end-all of the game. Like any title worth its salt, boss patterns take a bit of work in order to figure out so that you can’t just brutalize through it. You quickly decide which your favorite weapons are, and the Traitor’s Blade was my go-to for a vast majority of my playthrough.
The problem though, is that I quickly got bored with the combat when I had to keep grinding against the same enemies again and again. Regions tend to be dense with the same three to six beasts, and they respawn the second that you leave an area. This is good if you’re trying to bang out a couple of levels before moving somewhere else, but really bad if, say, you’re in a metroidvania title that you’ve never tried before. There’s something that’s frustrating at almost a molecular level about fighting in one direction for six or seven screens, using up all your health potions, then realizing you can’t go any further for whatever reason, and now need to fight your way back and pray you don’t get killed, because the last campfire save point was eight screens back.
The save points of Elderand were decently spread out, and they offered the multifunction of healing you up fully, saving your progress, and having a different kind of meat cooking at each spot you visited. Eventually, they also allow you to fast travel between save points. Although, this function doesn’t get activated until much, much later in the play. As I mentioned with the previous point, needing to explore and backtrack has its merit in terms of learning from your mistakes, but the rapid respawning of enemies is severely annoying, and I was audibly happy when I could finally just blip back to a previous area and try again.
However, there is something to the secret sauce of Elderand, which I think its size and pacing. It’s got enough in each area to give you an idea of what it all feels like and could be, without mucking you down and having you explore one spot too long. There’s an exceptionally generous amount of drops in each area to keep you both alive and excited, though the dropped coins are only as important as YOU think they are. That is to say, you can buy more items and weapons when you find the merchant, but you might not have to if you can ration out health potions and utilize the insta-heal of a campfire in the right amount of time. The point is there’s a whole lot to find and do, but not so much that you feel like you can’t do anything.
My entire play experience might have been better if it hadn’t been for how unimportant the entirety of the plotline felt. Since the character is given no other real ambition other than “mercenary,” the through line of Elderand felt almost like a secondary consideration to “let’s kill a bunch of things.” Every time I met a character who had something to say, it was an information dump of exposition that felt both too much and too little at the same time. The game begins telling you how important it is to slay Sserthris, but then one of the NPCs calls him a coward and belittles him like HE’S not the largest problem in the world, and now I’m confused. Also, if this is a mythic land beyond the reach of normal mortals, why am I just running into people left and right? It seems contrarian, doesn’t it?
In the end, I equate Elderand with my childhood experience of getting into roller derby with my family. For a couple of glorious weeks in the 90s, we, as a familial unit, were all about roller derby. We would watch it every night, sometimes a couple hours at a time, cheer on teams, curse heel characters, and have a grand time. But when that was done, I couldn’t tell you a single thing that made me excited to watch. It was fun, but that’s as far as I can extrapolate for the appeal. I’ve got the same feeling here. I had to keep loading up Elderand to remember aspects that I enjoyed, but, the second I closed the window, it was gone like a waking dream.
So treat it as such. I don’t think there’s anything horrifically bad about the game, but there’s nothing here that’ll make me fire it back up in a year or so. If you want an entertaining action metroidvania, and you have already ticked some other boxes, come and pick up this interesting yet forgettable journey. Otherwise, you may need to hire a totally different mercenary to do the job.
Not pixelated enough and not clean enough, Elderand lives in the margins. It has some good monster/boss designs, but ultimately creates a very flat world.
Very solid parry and dash mechanics, good weapons variety, and detailed combat that doesn’t muck around too much, forcing you to try new weapons. Exploration can be tedious at times, but mostly rewarding and satisfying.
Unmemorable. No real music that I even remember while playing, some good sound effects from enemies squelching and such, but I couldn’t pick a single thing from this game out of an audio lineup of three samples.
When I was playing it, I liked it and wanted to find more, try more, and be more in the game. As soon as I walked away, I stopped remembering anything about why I liked it. Like a rock skipping across a pond.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Elderand is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Elderand was provided by the publisher.