Elden Ring Is A Miyazaki Masterpiece

Elden Ring Is A Miyazaki Masterpiece

Elden Ring Is A Miyazaki Masterpiece

Posted by Lawrence Rennie

3 Mar, 2022


I take my first steps into the vast, wondrous, and dangerous world of the Lands Between. After a brief conversation in which my prime objective is explained to me I stray from the golden path and spot a group of winged beasts to my right. I hunt them down and slay them all. My first triumph as a Tarnished! From this new vantage point I spot a skirmish amongst some goblins and some armoured soldiers over yonder. Buoyed by my first encounter I reckon I can wade in and pick off the stragglers here while they are distracted. Success again! These Lands Between aren’t so bad after all! 

Continuing forth I spot a campfire. A knight here warns me of a dragon at the lake. Suggests that I would be a fool to even venture over there. “But I am a Tarnished!” I exclaim to myself. “And no one can call me a fool! I just killed a battalion and some winged hell demons! To hell with your warning!”. A knight patrols on horseback around a camp in the ruins by the lake’s bank. My first real test, but I dispatched him and his mare, and now emboldened even further, I clear the camp too with some cunning stealth. “I am victorious! Nothing can stop me, the great Clintorious!”. I spot some stairs leading down to a treasure chest. My reward for sweet triumph. 

I’ve played my share of “Souls” games however, so I take a quick sword swipe at the chest—just in case. No mimicry here though. My reward awaits.

But as the chest opens my heart drops. Thick smoke billows out and a message appears—“Ensnared in a transporters trap!”. I awake in a far-off mine terrified out of my mind. I’m trapped with a lot of ‘runes’ on me, and suddenly not feeling quite so brave or bold. The enemies here are nasty. One takes a shot at me that nearly downs me. I scramble, running panickedly for anything that looks like an exit as more and more gangly bodies appear from every corner. Salvation! I barely scrape through alive, but as I emerge from one nightmare I step only into an altogether more terrifying hellscape: a blood-red sky, a crimson lake, twisted flora, giant beasts exuding gas, and 3 figures with far too many limbs coming unnervingly fast toward me. 

This is it. This is death, the first of many, as my soul perishes and my runes are lost forever. This is Elden Ring, and this might just be one of the best games I have ever played. 

Rising to Expectations 

Elden Ring had a weight like no other resting on its shoulders, so to not only withstand those expectations but instead rise beyond them is nothing short of miraculous. 

In development since 2017 and first announced at Xbox’s E3 showcase in 2019, the mysterious collaboration between gaming legend Hidetaka Miyazaki and Game of Thrones author George R.R Martin immediately caught the fervour of the gaming community. Miyazaki and FromSoftware already possess something of a cult like community with their “Soulsborne” games. Beginning with the Dark Souls trilogy of games and continuing with Bloodborne, the soulsborne games are dark fantasy action RPGs most renowned for their difficulty—­Elden Ring is their spiritual successor. The punishment and challenge baked into these games is all a part of the process; players are expected to die over and over until they learn to recognise enemy’s move patterns and rhythms enough to overcome them. The reward and satisfaction comes in eventually overcoming that which has caused you so many hours of pain. \

Such is the difficulty of these games that they soon became a genre unto themselves, developing a die-hard community that border on cultish in their glee for more of Miyazaki’s special brand of masochist torture. The difficulty is also what turns many players off however—why would anyone go through such hell just for some points in a video game? 

But whether you’re a card carrying FromSoft cultist or an indifferent player few could deny that the announcement of Elden Ring was not at least something to be curious about. Miyazaki is regarded as a master world builder in gaming; previous FromSoft games are also adored for their immersive worlds, complete with all manner of fantastical sights and hellish monstrosities as well as a rich lore that one could spend hours burrowing into; while George R.R Martin is perhaps the most respected fantasy author of the last half century. What kind of rich world such a pair could conjure together would excite anyone. 

Information went dark for two years following the 2019 announcement, and yet anticipation only grew outward in that time. Plenty of games come announced to plenty of excitement, only to then disappear without a trace. Was this a project that sounded too good to be true after all? Was Martin’s reputation for taking an immense amount of time to finish his works going to sink this project as well?

It wasn’t until the summer of 2021 that Elden Ring returned at Summer Game Fest with a trailer and a January 22 release date. But the gaming community was feeling particularly wounded at this time after the painful disappointment of Cyberpunk 2077 only 7 months earlier—a game that had held a similar build of excitement and expectation that Elden Ring was undergoing, only to then fail to meet its hype in disastrous style. The pressure was mounting ever higher for Elden Ring. Cyberpunk 2077 had seemed like a sure-fire bet to succeed and yet didn’t – surely the same couldn’t happen again?

The Best Open World Design Ever

Dear reader: simply put it did not, in fact, happen again. The achievement of Elden Ring is instead something to be marvelled at. Not only does FromSoftware’s magnum opus match its hype, it utterly obliterates it. 

Combat is the lifeblood of the soulsborne games and once again feels typically excellent in Elden Ring. Every swing, every movement, every strike feels wonderfully tactile and well weighted. The rhythm of the combat dissuades you from simple hack and slash and instead behoves you to consider each and every move you make; it is more of a dance of rhythm and recognising beats than a mindless battle, and once you are in step with an enemy’s move-set the rewarding satisfaction is incredible. The weapons all feel utterly unique too making it such a delight just to experiment with anything that you pick up, and all range of playstyles are accounted for – in true RPG style you can build your character exactly how you want them. A heavy brute with a massive greatsword, a lightweight dual wielder that is impossible to hit, a robed wizard who reigns fiery death from afar, or maybe a naked brawler who stalks the Lands Between with nothing but their underwear and their fists. Elden Ring lets you do it all. 

Enemies are all once again wonderfully designed as with every FromSoftware game. They are both brilliant to fight and wonderful/disgusting to look at. The awe of a giant troll bounding towards you, or a dragon sweeping over you, or a bestial lump of bodies squelching after you never leaves. Many are utterly terrifying to look at and yet you cannot help but want to get closer to inspect every detail (although you will very much definitely die doing this!).

But this is all typical of FromSoftware games; it is just the perfectly refined version of what already worked in previous titles. The true brilliance of this specific iteration however lies in its approach to the open world which is one of the most free and seemingly rich that I have encountered in a game ever. It is simply astounding. 

Elden Ring is a sandbox in every sense of the label. You are absolutely free to peruse this world at your choosing, and you will constantly be rewarded for doing so. Unlike other open world games there are no exhausting map markers, no question marks crowding out a map, no endless supply of inane checklist objectives. Elden Ring does not have to rely on dull and overdone tricks to persuade you to explore its world, the richness and awe found at every corner is reason enough. By stripping back it in fact ends up giving you so much more.

Anytime I sit with a goal in mind I’ll instead find something else to attract my attention, which will then divert me down one avenue, leading to another, and another, and another until suddenly I’ve gone from wanting to storm a castle in the south of the map to finding myself in a spectral world miles and miles under the ground with a flying moose chasing me down. It is perhaps the quickest I have ever reached 30 hours of playtime on a game, and anytime I am not playing Elden Ring I am constantly thinking about it and itching to get back in to go explore somewhere else. I could play this for a couple hundred more hours and still not tire of it, and I’ve no doubt that even with that time I would still have barely scratched the surface of all that the Lands Between have to offer me. 

The sense of scale on show here is also something to behold, both in terms of environment and enemies. From great mountain ranges, limitless caverns, endless abysses, dank caves, cramped catacombs, dark valleys, foggy swamps, island vistas, intimidating castles—it’s all here for you, and it all has something worth showing. Every single area feels lovingly crafted with intricate detail and a uniqueness to it which is all the more impressive when you consider just how large the world is. It genuinely feels like a miracle that any of this works at all. 

It is so easy to become entirely immersed in the Lands Between for hours on end with how much is packed into this massive world. There is something worth searching virtually everywhere, and it feels frankly impossible to catch all of it, and yet you most definitely would want to. Whether it is a pack of enemies, a unique boss, or even just a little piece of world lore, every avenue is worth exploring to its fullest. Plenty of comparisons have been made to Breath of the Wild’s ingenious open world, which is apt, however Elden Ring takes things an even further step beyond just on sheer scale and strength of detail.

Elden Ring is the ultimate fantasy RPG in this way. With the limitless options available every player is given the opportunity to craft a story for their character that is so entirely unique to them. Where you explore will become a part of your own personal history with the game; every location, every encounter becoming a memorable part of your unique journey around the Lands Between. Few games have ever managed to capture the sense of crafting your own character’s legend as well as Elden Ring does. 

A Perfect Execution

For those usually put off by the difficulties of FromSoftware’s game do not despair! Elden Ring manages to be the developer’s most accessible title yet; the punishment does not feel nearly as severe for Elden Ring as it does in other FromSoft titles and far more is explained to help you to get to grips with how everything works—there is still plenty to discover for yourself however! The main objective that you should be following (when you want to) is also far more clearly delineated and explained to you than in previous games. 

The challenge is of course still there in combat, but there is far more opportunity to learn and garner the skills and experience that you need to succeed. Because of just how open the world is, if you ever find yourself in an encounter that is clearly above your level then it is easy enough to hop on your spectral steed and ride away. Or if you find an area is consistently beating you down then the new addition of anytime fast travel will allow you to easily grind out experience elsewhere until you are strong enough to come back. Horseback combat is also a neat little way to avoid some of the harder rhythms of some encounters since you can more easily keep your distance and just make quick passing swipes. Does it feel cheap? Maybe. But it’s a Soulsborne game, and getting through it any way you can is the only thing that really matters. 

It’s early into 2022 yet, but we’re likely already looking at game of the year here in Elden Ring, and it might not be an exaggeration to even suggest the possibility of it being the game of the decade—maybe even of all time. Elden Ring executes everything it is doing perfectly and does so with such delight and seeming miraculous magic that it is near impossible to imagine anything coming within touching distance of it for quite some time. 

Final Score: 10/10


About Author

Lawrence Rennie

Lawrence is a Scottish-born writer with a love of games and films that he fortunately turned into a career grumbling about online. When not firing away the hours buried in a game or film he also co-writes 'Mechastopheles', an original comic series published by the UK’s leading comic magazine 2000AD as a naturally born-grumpy Scot; however, he asks that you don’t ask him too much about it though! Lawrence’s other musings include podcasts, fitness, his cat, and one day developing his own screenplay.

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