Elden Ring is, of course, the latest release developed by From Software. From their humble beginnings on the Playstation, with King’s Field, I don’t think anyone could reasonably imagine the iconic place their games would come to hold in the modern scene. I’m not going to spend too long on the history of their titles, but it goes without saying that the Souls series (being Demon’s Souls then Dark Souls I-III) and ephemerally Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Fromsoft have been known to develop games with punishing combat and mysterious worlds.
With Elden Ring, they have crafted a game that incorporates the best features of their previous titles, spread over a vast open world. The overworld is composed of distinct regions, each with their own look and perils. You can find hidden dungeons and ruins that contain further secrets. There are also “legacy dungeons”. These are more traditional, multi-layered Souls-y levels that have their own mandatory bosses.
I have spent around 25 hours since release day with Elden Ring and whilst I don’t feel comfortable giving a full review (I haven’t even challenged the first legacy dungeon yet), I am more than happy to share my first impressions of this title.
I can’t say too much about the story, for two reasons: (1) I haven’t played long enough to fully appreciate what is going on and (2) the narrative is as vague as any Souls game. From what I understand, the “Elden Ring” was shattered into pieces, each fragment being claimed by a different demi-God, all descendants of King Godfrey. This has resulted in the “Greater Will” (some sort of deity) abandoning the Lands Between. You’re tasked with challenging these demi-Gods and claiming each piece of the Elden Ring, to reforge it and become the new Elden Lord. The marketing is chock full of references to Fromsoft’s collaboration with George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones). However, from what the devs have said, his contribution was quite minimal. He essentially wrote the “mythos” – the back story of the world leading up to the events of the game. As such, the story feels just like any other Fromsoft game. It’s mysterious, obscure, and fascinating.
You begin the game in the region of Limgrave and are vaguely directed towards Stormveil Castle, to challenge King Godrick. However, I haven’t even touched this yet, instead doing copious amounts of exploring – not to spoil anything, but Elden Ring’s map seems to just keep growing, with nearly all of it being traversable. You can switch between being on foot, whereby Fromsoft have introduced a dedicated jump button to scale those trickier bits. You can call your steed, Torrent, to travel between places faster and you can fast travel between sites of grace (Elden Ring’s equivalent of bonfires). Now, whilst all of these mechanics are basic features of any big open-world game, what makes Elden Ring such a pleasure to play is just how free you are to explore the world. The lack of quest markers and a solid path to complete the main quest actively encouraged me to just explore and experience the world. The typical risk vs. reward hallmark of Fromsoft’s Souls games is present in this through and through. Sure, you can just take off and explore whenever you want and wherever you like. However, you’ll likely end up in regions that you’re under-leveled to challenge, facing foes that snuff you out in a hit or two. This is one thing I truly adore about the better open-world games that are out there – you’re not arbitrarily blocked from end game areas by quest locks or some such. Also, there’s no padding in Elden Ring. There’s no “this game will take 500 hours to do everything”, where 450 of those hours are spent doing dross and repetitive tasks. Discovering various ruins, dungeons, and hidden bosses, that actively generate tangible rewards is very engaging.
Of course, I cannot talk about Elden Ring without talking about the combat. If you have played the Dark Souls games, Elden Ring is a genuine evolution of Dark Souls III. It is very much paced the same and functions the same way. Customization has been improved though, with the introduction of Ashes of War. These are like a hybrid of infusions and weapon arts from Dark Souls III. You can swap out the Ashes of War on most weapons for better ones; some of which come with a specific “affinity” – this game’s version of infusion. For example, attaching the Stomp (Upward Cut) Ash of War onto a weapon will not only give you that weapon art, but also improve the way the weapon is affected by your strength stat. It feels really intuitive and makes using your special move/weapon art more appealing and effective. Parrying still requires great timing. However, your ability to execute devastating counters has been widened with the introduction of Guard Counters. Simply put, when you block an attack, you have a window within which to swing a heavy attack. If it lands and is timed right, you will stagger the enemy, opening them up for a critical counter. This is great for people who use their shield a lot and new players will find this counter really helpful in the early game.
Some enemies are better being fought on horseback (though Torrent is more like some sort of mini reindeer). Mounted combat is extremely simple but still exhilarating. Going up against an armor-clad knight and his horse, or even a dragon, whilst weaving and cantering to get your hits in with your steed feels fluid and exciting.
I’ve seen people complain about Elden Ring’s lack of some sort of diary/codex/quest marker system aka hand holding! If you want that from your open-world game, you will just have to miss out on Elden Ring I’m afraid. You can place different markers down on the map to remind yourself that there’s a boss or an NPC that you need to go back to. Important routes are marked by yellow lines that point from one grace to another. On the whole though, Elden Ring leaves your adventure up to you. As you can see from the current state of my map, I’ve visited a lot of regions, seeing what I can discover, but I haven’t even entered the first legacy dungeon.
The sheer scale of the map means that enemies are in tighter, more dangerous groups. However, you can use the terrain and the open space to effectively thin these groups in different ways. Also, being able to craft consumables such as weapon buffs is such a nice quality of life improvement.
Honestly, there are so many positives that I can mention – Elden Ring is a remarkable achievement. But I won’t sugar coat it: PC performance is going to be an issue for some folks. Full disclosure, I’m playing Elden Ring on a 1080ti, i7-7700k 4.20Ghz, and 16GB RAM. This stuff was pretty much the best of the best… Five years ago.
I’ve heard of people struggling with performance on the latest GPU’s and CPU’s, in some cases with 8x the amount of RAM I have. My experience on PC has been more favorable than theirs. Whilst I do get some momentary frame dips, FPS is at 60 for the majority of the time. These dips are most prominent when I engage in mounted combat. The battle with the Tree Sentinel was particularly framey. There are texture pop-ins and for some reason, I had two crashes within 10 minutes of each other exploring one particular dungeon (Fringefolk Hero’s Grave). I have not had the same experience as those people with top-end, current-gen rigs. All my settings are on “High” and minus the odd dip in frames and those crashes I mentioned, my playthrough so far has been incredibly enjoyable. I’ve even done some minor exploration of a highly resource-intensive subterranean citadel and the experience was very smooth. I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: if you have the latest and greatest hardware and are intending to run Elden Ring on Maximum settings, with HDR enabled and all that other juicy stuff; all whilst having OBS capture 4K footage, you’re probably going to run into the optimization issues that have a lot of users claiming the PC version is “terrible”. To use that term for Elden Ring’s PC port is simply misleading though. When I think of “terrible”, I think of Cyberpunk 2077’s launch or God forbid, the 300+ hours I spent with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PS3. Elden Ring’s PC port is not “terrible”, but it clearly isn’t as well optimized as the console variants.
So far, my 25 hours with Elden Ring have left me with a resoundingly positive impression. It captures everything that is so enjoyable about the previous Souls titles and presents them over a truly beautiful and interesting open-world with layers of complexity I’m still yet to appreciate. At this point in time, Elden Ring is in my mind, the best entry into the “Soulsborne” collection. Minor performance issues aside, Elden Ring is everything I wished for and so much more and there’s still more it has to offer. When I’m playing Elden Ring, I’m fully immersed and when I’m not playing Elden Ring, I’m thinking about playing Elden Ring.
I won’t be giving Elden Ring an official rating – I’ve not played nearly enough for a full review. That said, I’d tentatively put it down as a 9/10. The optimization of the PC version is the only thing holding it back from a perfect 10.
Many thanks go to Damien’s Wallet for a PC copy of this title.
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Damien (dkpriory) has grown up gaming, from the humble days of the Atari all the way through to modern PC gaming. Unafraid to let a game steal his life for a few months, he is passionate about playing something immersive but also yearns for something to take him back to his childhood. Sadly no longer a member of the NookGaming team or creating content, but check out his archives on Youtube here.