When I got to the end of Elden Ring, all I could think was, "This is going to be a game that people either love or hate." It's rich in ideas, but dense and occasionally exhausting. It's willing to challenge genre conventions but doesn't quite deliver on those promises. It's also FromSoftware's first attempt at an open-world RPG since Dark Souls 3 in 2016 and its first console release since Bloodborne in 2015. These games have been revered as some of the best RPGs ever made (though Bloodborne is technically more like an action-adventure game), so expectations for Elden Ring have been sky high since its announcement last year—and rightfully so!
FromSoftware is a Japanese video game development company that has made a name for itself with the Dark Souls series. The first title in the series, Demon's Souls, was released in 2009 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Since then, FromSoftware has released three more games (Dark Souls II and III; Bloodborne) as well as several spinoffs like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice—which I'll be reviewing later.
In addition to making its own games, FromSoftware also provides game engine technology to other developers—including Kojima Productions (Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima). This partnership allowed Kojima Productions to use the high-fidelity rendering capabilities of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice's engine when developing Death Stranding—a highly anticipated action game from Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima (see our review here).
The release of Elden Ring feels like a turning point for the studio.
If you’re a fan of FromSoftware, then Elden Ring is a game that will feel familiar. In the same way Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice are unmistakably FromSoftware titles, Elden Ring has all the hallmarks of an established developer making their own kind of game. It's an experience that mixes elements from other games in its genre with some unique twists to create something wholly new for players.
Elden Ring is not only one of their most ambitious titles (and it’s far more ambitious than most games), but it also feels like a turning point for the studio in terms of scope and scale. They've always been willing to push themselves in terms of gameplay design, but now they're beginning to experiment with narrative as well—a departure from their previous work which focused on building memorable worlds over clear storytelling structures or characters worth caring about.
The question remains: how does this new direction fare?
This is also the first game in a long time to put Mikami on the spot and challenge him to prove he still can, and he's delivered.
This is also the first game in a long time to put Mikami on the spot and challenge him to prove he still can, and he's delivered. He's delivered a world that feels alive, with a story that keeps you invested from start to finish. And it's not just the stories or characters themselves that are so compelling—it's how they all unfold over time, how they intersect with one another and weave together into an epic tale unlike anything else we've seen before in video games.
At some point in your Elden Ring adventure, you'll find yourself thinking "I wonder what ____ would do here?" If a puzzle or series of puzzles is particularly tough, it's easy to imagine how someone else might approach it. You think about all the tools and techniques they'd use to solve the problem—and then you do the same thing.
For example: I was playing through an early boss fight and came across an area where I had to use my bow (or sword) to fend off enemies while also navigating platforms that appeared out-of-reach and in danger of falling into spikes below. I quickly realized there were three different ways this could play out: one where I'd have time to kill enemies while avoiding hazards; another where I'd only be able to tackle one or two enemies before needing either more arrows or space; and lastly, a third option where enemies were so numerous that no matter what weapons or movements I made, death was inevitable for me but not for those pesky goblins looking for blood. As soon as these options dawned on me like so many bright lights behind my eyelids after falling asleep during reading hour at school (sorry Mrs. Johns),
There's actually a lot of content here, but it's squandered by tedious backtracking, the same boss fights and reused assets across multiple dungeons
One of the biggest problems with Elden Ring is that it’s a big game with very little content. There’s actually a lot of content here, but it’s squandered by tedious backtracking, the same boss fights and reused assets across multiple dungeons.
With so many areas to explore and enemies to fight, you might expect there to be more variety in combat scenarios than what we got in The Witcher 3 or even the Dark Souls series (which were also repetitive). Unfortunately this isn’t the case; most fights take place against four or five different enemy types that you encounter over and over again throughout each dungeon. The bosses are even worse: they often reuse assets from earlier in the game—meaning if you run into one of these monsters on your first playthrough, then see them again as a boss later on? Well played!
This is a game defined by its boss encounters, but when you're simply fighting enemies you've already defeated multiple times before, it's hard not to feel a little jaded about them
The game is defined by its boss encounters, which are some of the best fights in any action game. The bosses are not only fun to fight and look amazing, but they also show off the game's most interesting mechanics. For example, one boss has an area-of-effect attack that you can use to your advantage—if you can figure out how to use it properly. Another boss has a shield that blocks damage from frontal attacks but not from behind or above or below (and if you're skilled enough with movement controls, this shield becomes less important anyway). Boss fights are where Elden Ring really shines; they're the only part of the game where there's real challenge and variety in combat.
However, when you're fighting regular enemies on your way through Elden Ring's long campaign (and even during side quests), it's hard not to feel a little jaded about them: A lot of these encounters are similar to those found in other recent games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or Darksiders III. In fact, some of those battles will even feel familiar if you've played those titles recently!
The broad concept is fascinating, taking From's penchant for gothic ruins soaked in an air of dread and using that as a springboard into more imaginative landscapes. With regard to Elden Ring, it's hard not to see it as the logical next step from the established Soulsborne template.
The core idea here is that your character—a member of a mighty order known as The Ring—is traveling through lands that have been devastated by some cataclysmic event called The End of Days, which has turned them into twisted wastelands crawling with weird creatures and monsters. In addition to fighting off enemies and solving puzzles, you'll also be able to explore these landscapes at your leisure once they've been cleared out and restored by your party members (or so we hope).
Elden Ring is best when it leans into its Souls roots, but through the sheer weight of its ambition.
If you're familiar with the Souls series, Elden Ring is best when it leans into its souls roots. It's when the game stretches beyond those confines that it feels weirdly small. The setting and story are so grandiose that they feel like they could've been set in any number of fantasy worlds—but instead of being a world full of memorable characters and locations, Elden Ring's world is populated by mostly forgettable NPCs and locations that you can't get to because there aren't enough sidequests unlocked yet. And while the plot may feature some interesting twists and turns, I don't think I'll remember any of them after finishing this game, which isn't exactly uncommon for games in this genre but still disappointing considering how much time was spent developing all these characters.
Finally: Elden Ring is an ambitious game with a lot going for it as far as gameplay goes; I just wish there were more options available for players who want something different out there other than just another Souls clone (which this could've easily become).
Elden Ring is a game I'm still trying to process. It's a big, beautiful world that's full of interesting ideas and complex systems, but it feels like it could have done so much more with them. The story's overbearing reverence for its own mythology makes it feel like an obligation rather than an opportunity; the focus on loot over narrative depth means there's no real reason to keep playing once you're done with the main campaign; and there are too few memorable boss encounters to justify all this time spent fighting enemies who look alike or just plain don't do anything interesting at all. But...I also love it? This may be because I'm such a huge fan of FromSoftware's work in general (I've played every Souls game multiple times), but Elden Ring has managed to capture my imagination despite its flaws because of its ambition.