Elden Ring brings exploration and death to a new level


Since the launch of Bloodborne, I’ve been an avid fan of FromSoftware’s games.

Bloodborne offered a thrilling gothic, Lovecraftian experience, and it swiftly became one of my favourite games of all time. Following Bloodborne, I also played FromSoftware titles like Dark Souls 3, Dark Souls, and some of Dark Souls 2 and Demon’s Souls. Now, I’m finally diving into Elden Ring, FromSoftware’s latest and greatest.

Elden Ring was directed by notable developer Hidetaka Miyazaki and created in collaboration with the fantasy writer George R.R. Martin, the author behind Songs of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones).

Over the past week, I’ve played roughly 25 to 30 hours of Elden Ring and I can confidently state that it’s one of my favourite games ever. Between the exploration, cool spells, interesting enemy types and fascinating lore, Elden Ring has a lot to offer action-RPG fans who aren’t afraid of a challenge.

Rich lore

Elden Ring features an engrossing story that’s at the same time also a little convoluted. Your character is “tarnished” in the ‘Lands Between,’ and your goal is to recover every ‘Great Rune’ and restore the Elden Ring to become the Elden Lord. As previously mentioned, George R.R. Martin worked on Elden Ring and helped create the game’s mythos. To be clear, Martin didn’t write the storyline, but he created the Lands Between and its history involving the Erdtree, Elden Ring, Queen Marika and other characters, including the Demigods.

The Demigods are the big bosses in Elden Ring and each of them holds a Great Rune, the items you need to reassemble to restore the Elden Ring.

Elden Ring, unfortunately, lacks a quest log and clear missions, forcing the player to travel through the game’s world looking for Legacy Dungeons that host the Demigods. Though the main story reportedly takes roughly 30 hours to complete, I’ve played roughly that amount and have only defeated the first Demigod.

Though Elden Ring doesn’t feature a quest log, it’s full of NPCs that offer quests — you’ll just have to remember them yourself.

During my time with the game, I encountered two rather interesting missions. In one instance, I came across a character by the side of the road. She asked if I could hand a letter to her father who’s trapped in a nearby castle. So, I ventured to the castle and found her father. I gave him the letter and he decided to stay in the castle to fight off the enemies. I then went back to the maiden to tell her that her father was alive, but discovered she had been murdered.

Another quest started when I hit a talking tree that turned out to be a demi-human under a spell. After I saved the demi-human, they were grateful and said that they would get me items from a nearby cave. I went to the cave and found him injured at the opening. I then defeated the demi-human enemies and bosses in the cave and retrieved an item for the ally demi-human. Now, the demi-human alters my garments for me.

Speaking of quests, your main goal in Elden Ring is to reassemble the Elden Ring, which you’ll accomplish by making your character stronger. Similar to other Souls-like games, you do this by defeating enemies. Elden Ring‘s core formula works like this: you defeat enemies and gain ‘runes,’ which work like in-game currency that you use to level up your character. You’ll put these runes into RPG-like attributes, including Vigor (health), Stamina (endurance), Mind (your mana bar), Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Faith and Arcane (focuses on Spirits), which are all levelled up individually. You can also find items in the world called charms that increase your attributes, among other things like increasing your resistances. And as you may have guessed, the stronger your character gets, the easier it is to defeat enemies.

Breaking the mould

Elden Ring feels like a combination of Skyrim‘s open-world and the Dark Souls series’ core combat elements. The game is very open and from the start, you can navigate to a variety of areas around the map. For example, before even beating the first Demigod, I encountered a variety of different environment types as I travelled across the land, sometimes by accident.

Elden Ring thrives on exploration, and you’ll miss certain spells, weapons, ‘Ashes of War’ and ‘Spirit Ashes’ if you’re not always on the lookout. Travelling the lands of Elden Ring is easy with your ‘Spectral Steed,’ ‘Torrent,’ but that’s not always how I discovered new areas. While I haven’t come across a Mimic (an enemy type in Dark Souls games that pretends to be a treasure chest), some chests teleport the player across the map. These chests result in the ultimate form of exploration and have brought me to crazy parts of the world, including areas that aren’t necessarily for beginners.

This is only a small portion of Elden Ring’s map.

A level of exploration has always been part of Souls games, but Elden Ring takes the concept to another level and you’re encouraged to get lost and stray from the main path. You’ll collect Map Fragments that instantly reveal the surrounding portion of the World Map. This map becomes really helpful as you progress through the game and you’ll be able to fast travel to ‘Sites of Grace’ on the map (Sites of Graces are like your ‘Bonfires’ in Dark Souls titles).

Elden Ring also offers ‘Beacons’ and ‘Map Markers.’ Beacons are displayed on the World Map and in the environment, allowing you to follow a blue pillar of light to your destination. While Map Markers let you place markers in your World Map, you can always remember different locations on the map. I found it pretty useful to go back to locations with puzzles I couldn’t initially figure out or when I was stuck on difficult bosses.

Ashes of War

Elden Ring features a variety of spells, weapons, garments, Ashes of War and Spirit Ashes, giving players various ways to fight their enemies.

In my playthrough, I used a ‘Faith’ build, which allows me to use a variety of spells like ‘Lightning Spear,’ ‘Poison Cloud,’ ‘Beast Claw,’ ‘Dragon Maw’ and more. There are also ‘Intelligence’ build users that use a lot of spells, but personally, I’m a huge fan of lightning.

Alongside various spells, your character also has access to cool weapons. One, based on the Demigod Godrick the Golden, is just the head of a dragon placed on my fist. Another weapon I use often looks like cursive letters written in a bright light that magically tethers to my fist. Attached to these cool weapons are ‘Ashes of War’ that give you access to a special attack that uses your weapon. Some Ashes of War are exchangeable among your weapons. For instance, I have a mace that uses an Ash of War that shoots a blade of holy light against enemies. This Ash of War can be applied to all maces, swords and daggers, whereas my Demigod Ash of War is exclusive to that weapon.

And if your spells, weapons and Ashes of War don’t work, there are always Spirit Ashes — collectible spirits of dead enemies that you can equip. You can summon them in battle whenever there’s a Spirit Ash symbol in the bottom right corner. When you see that icon, typically around bosses or mini-bosses, you can summon your Spirit to assist you in battle. Unfortunately, you can only use it once before you rest at your Site of Grace, which keeps the game pretty fair. There are a variety of Spirit Ashes to choose from and after completing specific missions you’ll be able to level them up to fight against stronger enemies.

Dark Souls difficulty

After spending about 25 to 30 hours with Elden Ring, I still find the game incredibly difficult. As I previously mentioned, I was able to travel to different areas of the map that I wasn’t necessarily ready for. However, even in the level 40 range, I’m still finding plenty of areas challenging. Whether it’s bosses, mini-bosses or just random enemies, I definitely need to jump several levels before I’m ready to take on certain tasks I’ve encountered.

The game is full of enemy types, from dragons to knights, demi-humans, giant bears, weird octopuses, sirens, and several more. Sometimes, you’ll see recurring enemy types, but they typically feature slightly different designs, new abilities and hit a lot harder.

I know that I haven’t seen all the bosses yet, but so far I’ve encountered stone cats, dragons with four wings and use red lightning, a ghost in a boat that summons skeletons, a bull-like creature, a firey fox and many more.

Unfortunately, for those concerned about how difficult Elden Ring is, the game lacks an adjustable difficulty setting like other Dark Souls titles. In terms of other FromSoftware titles, Elden Ring is definitely not the hardest (that goes to Demon’s Souls or Sekiro)but it seems more challenging than Bloodborne or Dark Souls III. I think beginners can definitely get more enjoyment from this game than some of the other titles; you just have to be smart about certain things. In the first two minutes of the game, you’ll encounter a boss wandering the lands. For me, I decided to tackle this boss 30 levels later because I didn’t want to deal with the frustration of having to take it on immediately. The game is full of a lot of optional bosses and enemies you can run past, allowing you to circle back and face them when your character is stronger.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike other FromSoftware games, I’m finding that I don’t need to take as many frustration breaks. Elden Ring is very fair and the more you practice, the better you’ll become at the game.

What can be frustrating for many, though, is the lack of accessibility options for people with disabilities. These options don’t make a game easier and instead are designed to make games more accessible for gamers that are blind, deaf or have another disability. FromSoftware titles need to improve in this regard.

GOTY contender

Elden Ring is a clear game of the year (GOTY) contender, thanks to its rich lore, open world, varied enemy types and customization options. I’ve really enjoyed my time with the game so far and have a lot more to discover and several more bosses to beat.

With that said, Elden Ring does look a little dated when it comes to visuals. While the environment and the world look are stunning, the visuals are comparable to Dark Souls 3 rather than the more recent PS5 Demon’s Souls remake.

For those who like challenging RPGs that offer more than 100 hours of gameplay, Elden Ring is the title you’ve been waiting for. Hidetaka Miyazaki, FromSoftware, and George R.R. Martin have created a great masterpiece.

Elden Ring is available for $79.99 at the PlayStation Store, Xbox Store, Amazon and Best Buy for consoles. PC gamers can purchase the title for the same price at Steam.

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