REVIEW – Elden Ring is huge. The game has received highly positive reviews worldwide, but I have plenty of reservations about it. When FromSoftware announced that it would be creating a new open-world experience, I was perhaps expecting a handful of areas cleverly interconnected in the usual developer fashion. However, Elden Ring is a huge game, full of mystery and extremely challenging boss battles that will test the skills of almost any player. No doubt it has become one of the most anticipated games of 2022.
Since we received Elden Ring on the day of release and the game is huge, that’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to write my review. Another reason is that I didn’t enjoy the game as much as I would have liked. I understand the concept of the developers and it is clear that many people are fans of Elden Ring, but for me it didn’t work for a number of reasons. Part of that is that, apart from Bloodborne, I’m not that much of a fan of the Souls series or Souls-like games, and especially not because these games are stuck to the original recipe – the Souls series has changed very little from the very first installment, 2009’s Demon’s Souls.
There is no “right way” here…
It wasn’t until about forty hours into the game that I realised that I was playing most of Elden Ring practically backwards. If only because there are so many different ways to approach the various locations, it was inevitable that I would run into invisible walls. Some areas I discovered were “ahead of time”. Although there were other paths I could have explored, the lack of direction convinced me that this was the way to go. But in the Elden Ring there is no right way…
Scattered around the map, you’ll find bosses that don’t belong to the main story – some of them will prevent you from moving in the direction you think you should go. These bosses seemed much more difficult than some of the main story-relevant bosses. In addition, on PC, there are also a lot of reports of technical problems (tearing, freezing) with boss fights, which not only makes the game experience infinitely more difficult, but also detracts from it. A lot of people have written that these problems were quite sporadic on PC in Elden Ring. I myself tested the game on Xbox Series X and fortunately didn’t encounter any such problems, but I did notice that the game loads quite a bit during the deaths for a next-gen title. And in a Souls game, there’s a good chance that you’ll die a lot…
Especially considering the style of gameplay that I have adopted from several FromSoftware games. I am not a player who relies on vitality. This was mostly a mistake while playing Elden Ring. Because of the open world nature, I ran into bosses well above my level. While I was able to beat them with persistence – and the use of the now re-balanced, reliable and almost broken looking Reduvia Blood Blade – it wasn’t exactly fun. I didn’t feel the usual sense of achievement, as if each victory was deserved, especially because I felt that I had won by luck.
But I really like a challenge. Much of the game feels as if it almost requires players to level up this stat to progress through the game comfortably. But it’s clear that despite the open world of Elden Ring, it’s going to be all the more difficult if you’re going about things in a way that the game doesn’t plan, especially if you don’t allocate points to vitality.
Do you need runes? Go and farm like no tomorrow…
At the same time, it’s not as if you can’t farm to level up in the game slowly – the Elden Ring almost seems to lead you to that. In the immediate vicinity of certain sites of grace (which, along with the Stake of Marika, replace the Dark Souls resurrection point, the campfires), there are small or large enemies lurking or killing each other, making it cheekily easy to farm XP (or, as they call it in this game, runes), only it gets incredibly boring after a while.
Speaking of which, the whole leveling system – which also hasn’t changed one iota since Demon’s Souls in 2009 – is also extremely boring and unimaginative for the umpteenth time. I understand that this is the Dark Souls system, and it’s clear that all FromSoftware games are based on the same system. However, for me, it’s still not fun to be able to stack a point on a skill (vigor, mind, endurance, strength, dexterity, intelligence, faith, arcane) and then your other gameplay-relevant abilities (how much HP, mana and stamina you have, how much you can hit, etc.) increase a bit.). Skill trees, anyone? It’s freaking 2022! In addition, it is not really explained in a normal way, for example, that the level of magic power (i.e. how much damage you can take with spells) is specifically related to which skill.
Explanations, clear direction or logic are narrowly measured by the game
The game is also characterised by an incredibly narrow-minded way of explaining things, and what it does explain often doesn’t make much sense. As an astrologer (the equivalent of a mage), for example, I used spells almost exclusively, and I encountered several problematic game design solutions in this area. It’s pretty ridiculous that I’m still using practically the same two offensive spells (Glintstone Pebble and Glintstone Arc) that I got at the very beginning of the game. Why? After buying three more spells later in the game (Catch Flame, Flaming Sing and Urgent Heal), I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I couldn’t use them. I later found out that they belonged to a different spell type (“sorcery” instead of “incantation”) and could only be used with a tool called sacred seal. Where can I find such a sacred seal? Maybe one of the bigger bosses drops it? Perhaps an interesting and exciting quest chain leads to it? Perhaps I can get it by cleverly selecting a dialogue? No, after googling it (which is almost “officially” worth doing a lot of times in this game, it’s so vague and chaotic what and how to do in it) I found that you simply buy it from certain vendors, use it, and that’s it. Bravo… Not to mention that the spells in the two spell types are in no way different from each other, so it doesn’t even make sense why they needed to be put into two separate categories, other than to needlessly annoy the player with such things.
UI and quest issues
Speaking of which, I’m not happy with the interface and the quest system either. These have also been criticised by so many veteran developers who worked at Ubisoft, or Guerilla Games (Horizon: Zero Dawn developer for example), or Nixxes, but after being literally disowned by fanatical fans, they deleted their Twitter posts about them.
As for the UI, it is literally a tragedy. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the point is of having to summon your ghost horse with three different buttons, by having to scroll through a menu to find it, instead of being able to do it with a single button, like in ALL OTHER open-world titles! It’s also a total mess where and how you can pick up and use your armour and weapons, after a separate “inventory” and equipment menu item was added by developers – totally unnecessarily. I thought for a long time that I couldn’t use certain weapons or armour because it wasn’t suitable for my caste (the word “use” was greyed out), but then I realised that it wasn’t that, but I was in the wrong place: instead of equipment, I was in the inventory menu. These may seem like small things after you realise it, but they are also signs of how little the developers cared about making the interface intuitive, clear, transparent and easy to use, or about summoning the ghost horse and certain spells (I’m thinking of summoning ghost warriors and dogs). Since you have to fight in real time and your life depends on a single blow or wasted moment (and “of course”, unlike other RPGs, time doesn’t freeze while you’re fumbling through your inventory), it’s annoying as hell that this part is so clumsily handled.
The whole quest system is similarly weak, and it’s not clear where you need to (or should) go according to your level, or even to progress through the story.
R.R. Martin, what were you doing there?
Speaking of quests, it’s also an interesting question to me why the story has become so unimportant in a basic Dark Souls clone (where there was never much of a story, but maybe not even that much here) as it is here, if George R.R. Martin was invited to make the game. I mean, the masses of PR jargon that’s been shoved down about this is apparent (“he created the game’s universe”, blah blah blah…) , but I don’t understand why Martin couldn’t write a decent story for it, at least somewhat similar to, say, Game of Thrones (or the novels from which the series was adapted), with fleshed out heroes, arch-villains, interesting NPCs, story twists, and so on.
Look, I get it, it’s a soulslike, it’s “not done” here, but if Martin was invited, wouldn’t a typical story have been expected? Because when I first heard about this (and we wrote it), I seriously thought he was going to write something really punchy.
Instead, here we have another over-mystified, no dark fantasy story, your hero, apart from being “Tarnished”, you don’t even know who he is, no past, no gender, no relationship, nothing and a completely uninteresting character – just like most of the stiff-faced NPCs who print boring text. In other words: it’s another Dark Souls copy-paste. Bravo, it really made a lot of sense to hire Martin.
The ambience is top-notch
On the plus side, the Elden Ring has an incredible dark fantasy atmosphere that grabs you from the very first minutes of the game’s intro and character generation. The Dark Souls games undeniably have a distinctly sinister and dark atmosphere that makes them a very unique style in the action RPG palette. From the incredibly depressing, mostly dark medieval environments, to the incredibly creatively crafted monsters (the art of which only the Japanese really understand). There really is something uniquely dark about the Demons/Dark Souls series, with a mood that can really grab you, and all of this can impress fans even more in a vast, more open world.
The various gothic locations: ruined castles, palaces full of really creepy undead knights and other grotesque monsters – all of these can still really get you.
Some people have criticised the graphics, but I had no problem with that on Xbox Series X, the visuals are quite stunning and although it’s a bit of a setback that it had to be released on a previous generation, Elden Ring is still very nice in almost every way.
I’m not too fond of the system of Souls games (when you die and sit down next to the campfire, the monsters respawn and you can lose the experience points you’ve gained), but I understand those who like it, as it gives you an extra challenge and extends the game time. (Which I am less sympathetic to because I have much less time, and I don’t particularly appreciate being dragged out, I understand that’s what others like about Soulslike.) What I find hard to accept is why Demon’s Souls gameplay has to be practically copy paste recycled over and over and over again, since 2009, non-stop?
Not my cup of sake
There’s a lot I haven’t written about in this review. I’m fully aware of that, but I’ve already exceeded 12,000 characters and I could write three times that much to get the full picture, but I’m not that time-strapped.
Overall, Elden Ring is a huge action role-playing game with an amazing atmosphere that soulslike fans will rightly love, because it ultimately delivers what they’ve come to expect. Criticism, however, is fundamentally subjective, and for an open-world RPG – which the author of Game of Thrones was involved in making – I expected much more in terms of story, gameplay, multiplayer and open world play. I’m sure the technical bugs will be fixed in time, but I’ll be back to the games I’ve been putting off playing because of the Elden Ring.
+ A huge, incredibly atmospheric world
+ Incredibly professional elaboration of the monsters
+ The locations and levels of the tracks are also professionally designed
– Very poor accessibility, both at the interface and gameplay level
– Lackluster story and quests
– Things that are basically missing from an open-world game, even at the level of quests and living-breathing world
Publisher: TBANDAI NAMCO
Genres: Open-world action-RPG
Publication: February 25, 2022