Advance note: In no way would I consider this a full review of Elden Ring, as I’ve only played for a few nights and can easily tell I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.
I know I’m not the only person who’s heard all the mysticism around the FromSoftware label. The Soulsborne ‘series’ has captivated a community and seems to hold a venerated place in the pantheon of gaming. Above all, its main reputation seems to be that of brutal, gut-wrenching difficulty that only masochists could enjoy. And it was for this reason I avoided it, merely observing it from afar with no small amount of fascination. The fans are just so reverent about the series, including some major online figures I massively respect. STAR_ used to frequently stream Dark Souls games, Yahtzee called Dark Souls “the ultimate game of all time,” and Karl Jobst considers a level 1 no-hit run of all five Soulsborne games “the greatest feat in video game history.”
Taking the plunge
But for me, the tipping point was when my boyfriend purchased it, sat down to play, and I found him still playing it the next morning. I’ve always been too scared to make the leap into such a punishing series. But I finally decided I wanted to see just why FromSoftware games are so esteemed. And when’s a better time than while everyone else is discovering it as well?
Going in, I quickly decided that I wasn’t leaving any tactic off the table. I am prepared to do any and everything to survive, no matter how dirty or underhanded. I know Soulsborne’s reputation, and want any advantage to survive my first one. Due to my lack of experience with the combat system, I started as a Wretch so I could build my character from lvl1 in any direction, trying out everything available.
Multiplayer like no other
The first thing I fell in love with was the atypical multiplayer system. Throughout the game, you’ll see ghostly apparitions of other player characters fighting, exploring, and often looking at points of interest you may have missed. Red bloodstains will show you some poor sod’s last few seconds alive, and the floors are littered with messages helpful, misleading, silly, and everything in between. It’s such an interesting experience using these phantom players/otherworldly clues to craft a mental picture of whatever horrifying things await you ahead.
The tutorial dungeon helps you slowly get used to the combat system, which I immediately fell in love with. Everything matters, from angle-of-attack to the enemy’s awareness to the many different stances you can take before you strike. And I only had a club! All in all the combat is immersive and deep, rewarding the player for taking the time to figure it out.
Bosses that earn their pay
The final enemy in the dungeon quickly showed me why FromSoftware bosses are so infamous. This dude with a greatsword shish-kebabed over and over, and I was at my wits end by the end of it. Of course, I could always respawn at the exit and go my own way, but that would sacrifice those 600 hard-earned runes left behind in his arena. And at the same time, I was slowly getting better at fighting him. I found out that jumping-charged attacks usually stunned him, and got really good at combat-rolling out of his telegraphed swings. Until finally, amazingly, I killed him and got to triumphantly charge out of the dungeon and into the open world. This level of satisfaction the game bakes into its boss fights is an amazing rush because you always have something on the line. I’m already seeing why Soulsborne fans love this franchise so much.
Open world done right
The biggest change Elden Ring brings to the table is the new open-world element, which it does to great effect. Everywhere I went had its own secrets, landmarks, and identity to it, I never found anywhere that felt copy-pasted or phoned in. The world was also perfectly happy to hand your ass to you, ensuring you always understood where you stood in your current biome’s pecking order. But on the other hand, if you found yourself facing horrific odds, nothing is stopping you from going somewhere else, leveling up, and returning later to try again.
Torrent the horse is a new mechanic to the Soulsborne formula, making it easy to quickly traverse this new massive landscape. The devs have taken great pains to make him convenient as possible; you can summon him anywhere, still grab items off the ground even at a dead sprint, and even engage in horseback combat when the situation calls for it. Stamina doesn’t deplete out of combat as well, further increasing your commendable mobility. Exploration is the second-best part of the game, behind the massively-versatile combat system.
Rewarding and expansive combat system
I am blown away by how many different directions the player gets to customize how they take on the world. The best one is the summoning bell, which lets you call forth ethereal pets to aid you in combat. I only have the wolf pack right now, but it’s already a tried-and-true lynchpin in my arsenal. But then there are mixable potions, craftable grenades, and I haven’t even found a magic staff yet. My boyfriend, who’s playing astrologer, has shown me some truly insane spells I can’t wait to find. I’m so excited for the day I get to branch out into a sword-and-sorcerer build.
A unique attitude to cheesy strats
Honestly, the more I played, the more I realized the devs were fully expecting and encouraging dirty tactics. It’s not like the enemies weren’t exploiting outrageous movesets and gimmicky traps at every possible moment. The internet is littered right now with various underhanded strategies to tip the scales, but most of them have existed since Demon’s Souls. The game structure just seems to be built around not playing fair. It’s a very different design philosophy to most games I’ve played, where the world seems to follow its own rules, and it introduces a real sense of guile into Elden Ring‘s encouraged playstyle. And honestly, I’m finding it really refreshing that I can take my kid gloves off and remain fully-openminded in every combat situation. I don’t feel bad for capitalizing on every weakness I can. You can’t game a system that revolves around getting gamed.
I guess the big thing I’m trying to say is, don’t be afraid to try Elden Ring. And that’s especially if you aren’t already a fan of the Soulsborne genre. The game is hard, I won’t lie, but the open-world design completely removes any frustration that normally comes with it. You have so many combat options available to you! Plus you’re amply rewarded for everything you put into understanding, training, and exploring the world. I’ve barely scratched the surface on how many ways this game has impressed me. Very likely, I’ll be writing a follow-up article as I progress further. But for now, I highly encourage you to join me in the Lands Between!