Elden Ring plays out like a Souls series of greatest hits. A masterclass in open-world design heavily influenced by genre-defining titles like Breath of the Wild. Historically, the Souls series have been interconnected levels that could take you in two or three different directions. With Elden Ring, FromSoftware and Hidetaka Miyazaki have taken the series in a wildly different direction. There is no quest list, map tracking or direction in Elden Ring, and it creates an adventure that feels entirely personal and extremely rewarding.
The Beauty Within Difficulty
Elden Ring, like the other soul’s games in the series, is unrelenting and punishing within its difficulty. The game will always give you the tools to beat the bosses you need to. However, that might not always be apparent. The punishing difficulty curve within Elden Ring makes it easy to think the game is just too hard, or it’s impossible to overcome. However, the beauty within its design is that you can always overcome the difficulty. The series has always rewarded perseverance and patience over anything else.
While Elden Ring may not have a traditional difficulty setting, it has built-in systems to make the game easier. One of the biggest complaints within the series has always been that it’s far too hard and not accessible. While this can be true, finding specific armour sets, items to lock certain bosses down and summoning can help ease some of that initial difficulty. Summons within the game include NPCs and your friends or even random players. Each fight presents its own difficulty, but they never feel difficult for the sake of difficulty.
For example, looking at a very early game boss (minor spoilers). Margit, the Fell Omen, is probably one of the most difficult introductory bosses in the Souls series. This boss has claimed many controllers and seen frustrated players simply quitting the game because he is too difficult. However, with Elden Ring being the first introduction to the open-world formula, he’s an intended wall to encourage exploration and teach players it’s ok to leave and come back later. While you can simply go explore, level up and return stronger, there is a different way to tackle this boss. In one of Elden Rings’s many dungeons, lies a particular item that will lockdown Margit for several seconds at a time. This item, mixed with a flurry of blows, will cause Margit to stagger and make the fight substantially easier. This is the perfect example of Elden Rings’s genius design. FromSoftware teaches players through in-game experience. This creates a much more rewarding and engaging journey down the line.
Hauntingly Vibrant Open-World
We could easily write Elden Ring off as simply another FromSoftware Souls game. But what we’re given here is an open-world experience so close to Breath of the Wild that it could be considered a masterpiece in its own right. I cannot understate the Breath of the Wild influence within Elden Ring. While Breath of the Wild propelled the open-world formula forward, Elden Ring seems to do the same for its respective genre. Looking forward to the games coming out this year and even the open-world games of the past. It’s hard to believe we’ll see another game of this calibre in our lifetime.
Each time I ventured into the realm of the lands between, I found something new and unexpected. Spending hundreds of hours with a game it’s easy to fall into the expected formulas. Climb this mountain, see a boss, kill the boss, move on and complete your next task on the list. However, because of Elden Rings’ open design and lack of any real quest tracker, the sense of immersion and adventure never disappears. I kept a hand-written notebook throughout my playtime to keep track of NPC quests, points of interest and any other small thing I think I might forget throughout my journey. While this isn’t a requirement by any means, it really brought me into the game and helped me experience everything the game had to offer.
Exploration is Key
Elden Ring rewards exploration and if you’re not into that, then the game might not be for you. There is a heavy emphasis on exploration and finding your own way in the world. Elden Ring does not hold players’ hands and will not direct you where to go, often. I say it doesn’t direct you often because there are intuitive systems to tell you where to go. Like many other systems within Elden Ring, players have to seek it out. Each site of grace (checkpoints and rest areas) have a flamelike light flowing off of them. This light will always move in the direction of one of the game’s major bosses. Systems like this are littered throughout the game and show how much care and thought is put into the experience.
However, when Elden Ring is at its best, I lose hours diving through random catacombs and dungeons. Finding new loot and spells made the exploration worth it, but honestly. I would have explored for dozens of hours just to see what the sheer scope of this game really was. The first section of the game, Limgrave, could easily have been the entire game. Moving through Limgrave, I lost dozens of hours. Concerned I would finish the game too early, I avoided any main bosses. Finally, I decide to brave the castle, fight Mertil, the Fell Omen and risk finishing the game. Little did I know I was far from close to completing the game and my journey had just begun. I thought this because Dark Souls 3, for example, had 19 bosses within its core game. Elden Ring houses 80+ bosses which are at least four times bigger than Dark Souls 3. The experience is immense and overwhelming but after the steep learning curve, Elden Ring provided me with one of the most rewarding experiences in recent memory.
As of writing this piece, I have well over 100 hours put into Elden Ring and I don’t think I’ve seen everything the game offers. Elden Ring is best experienced going in with no prior knowledge of bosses, puzzles or dungeons. Play the game however you want, rush bosses, spend 40 hours exploring caves or start a dozen new characters. Experience the beauty of this game first hand and in your own way. Elden Ring truly is a once-in-a-generation experience.