Elden Ring Review

Four things I like about this game, and one I don't

Elden Ring PS5

By Paul Hunter

I'm over 50 hours into my Elden Ring run and I'm utterly hooked on this latest masterpiece by FromSoftware. And I don't call it a masterpiece lightly—Elden Ring embraces everything the developer has learned over the last 13 years crafting the Souls games and expands upon their legendary gameplay in so many novel way. It's truly their best effort yet and the crown jewel of their offerings. Elden Ring is bold, beautiful and brutal, exactly what I hoped this game would be and then some.

Let's head on into the sacred Lands Between, O'Tarnished one, here are four things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: The Choose Your Own Adventure

The centrepiece feature of Elden Ring is its vast open world and my lord does it shake up the classic Souls formula. The Lands Between, the game's setting, is divided into several huge areas such as Limgrave the opening setting, the harsh lands of Caelid to the east and the Liurnia wetlands to the north, to name a few. What impressed me the most is all three of these huge regions (plus others areas!) are all accessible right from the get-go. This is a huge departure from previous FromSoftware games and means you can tackle most areas in the order you choose with few restrictions blocking your passage.

What's really neat is in many cases there's a usual way of progressing to the next area, typically beating a tough boss or finding a special key, but there are secret passages to bypass many of these gated spot. For example, while I was exploring Stormveil Castle, the first huge dungeon in Limgrave, I discovered a secret path around the castle's outside that took me all the way to Liurnia to the north. This essentially let me (at least for the time being) completely skip the first Demigod boss and begin exploring the game's massive second area. A similar situation happened when I went to explore the northern-most region: I found a lift that was inaccessible and thought the area was gated, only to later find a mine off the beaten path with its own rickety lift that brought me to this formerly inaccessible region.

The best part about this open-world structure is it means you're essentially never blocked from exploring more of the game. If you encounter an especially tough boss, like the fearsome Shardbearers, that absolutely destroy you, Elden Ring gives you two options: persist until you defeat the boss in usual Souls fashion, or go explore another area and return after you've acquired better weapons, armour, spells and stats. The freedom and flexibility to tackle areas and bosses in any order you choose is simply exquisite and feels like the culmination of FromSoftware's formula.

Speaking of the game world itself, holy hell is it gorgeous. Graphically it's the best From game yet and the variety of biomes is stunning to behold. Limgrave is a green and golden land filled with luscious waterfalls and an extremely bad-tempered north where lightning and rain crash down. Caelid to the east has red corrupted soil, nasty poison swamps and huge roaming beasts that makes this a particularly challenging place to wander through. To the north Liurnia features a massive central lake surrounded by cliffs home to several magical castles. Beyond that to the north east is a divine city filled with massive giants and castles that reach high into the sky. It's all so breathtaking to take in. And I need to mention the vivid use of colours—Elden Ring areas range from bright vibrant blues to deep royal purples to majestic golden yellows and it's such a huge contrast from the typically bleak environments found in the Souls games. I have hundreds of incredible #PS5Share photos I'm waiting to share after the game releases, and after everyone's had a chance to dive in.

I also have to mention one spot in particular that practically blew my mind. While exploring the eastern forest of Limgrave I encountered a rather subtle building housing a well lift and when I stepped on it took below grounds hundreds of metres to this hidden magical zone that was huge in size (at least a third the size of Limgrave itself!) and at the far end of this region was another lift that took me deep in the rotten lands of Caelid. It's just incredible that the Lands Between is huge enough and yet there's at least one massive underground zone as well. And it also reinforces the importance of searching the open world everywhere, you'll never know when you'll stumble on something that whisks you away to another big area.

Liked: The Immaculate Gameplay

Elden Ring is hard, very hard, so Souls fans need not worry there. But Elden Ring is by far the most accessible game of the series for multiple gameplay reasons.

For one, From has introduced stealth so now you can silently creep towards distracted or unaware enemies and get a backstab in before they've had a chance to respond. In some areas, like a mini fortress near the Stormveil Castle main entrance you can take out an entire army of foot soldiers using stealth. You also have ability to perform devastating jump strikes to deal extra damage, plus you can quickly jump on ledges and out of harm's way in the heat of battle.

Another big new addition are Ashes you can call upon that summon ghostly figures to your aid. Early in the game I found simple, weak helpers like a wandering pack of zombies or a pack of three lone wolves. But if you search far and wide, and beat some of the game's side mission bosses, you can find powerful spiritual allies that can dramatically shift battles in your favour. Ashes are such a cool addition, especially during times when there's no summoning pool nearby for you to find co-op partners.

When you begin your Elden Ring journey you'll be able to pick from ten starting classes across various playstyles. I chose the Prophet for his Faith-based incantations, mainly consisting of healing, holy and fire spells. The Astrologer is another magic-based class, this one focused on Sorcery and Arcane spells. There's also, of course, classes for those into melee fighting, like the Warrior, Samuria or Hero, and those into Dex builds like the Prisoner. Like all Souls games though, your starting class doesn't lock you in and you're able to upgrade your characters any way you wish by trading in Runes (the in-game currency) to Melina the Maiden, which you encounter early on.

Elden Ring also introduces Ashes of War that you can affix to weapons and armour, granting you new attacks. This system is awesome as the range of abilities you can equip is vast: there are melee attacks like spinning slashes, ground slams and sweeps, magic attacks like summoning storms or transforming your blade into a giant greatsword, plus buff abilities like a range of battle cries that can increase attack power or your character's stats. Ashes of War can be upgraded at the Table of Lost Grace, a hub zone area containing plenty of helpful NPCs.

As if that weren't enough, individual weapons can also come come with skills ranging from various parries to the ability to kick. Some of the most destructive weapons, usually acquired after defeating bosses, may even have their signature skills like unleashing a troll's roar or unleashing the Magma Wyrm's ground smash that triggers a blast of magma. The amount of weapon customization is impressive and absolutely worth spending hours testing out abilities to find ones that best suit your playstyle or helps you defeat troublesome bosses.

Elden Ring further enhances the gameplay by introducing Torrent your Spectral Steed. Accessible in all the Overworld locations, your horse is great for traversing long distances in short amount of time, particularly since it has a high jump and can double jump for ever more vertical reach. But you can also attack enemies while mounted and it's a great way to inflict damage from relative safety. There are plenty of bosses found in the Overworld and you can do these entire fights on your horse—if you're skilled enough to not get Torrent killed (don't worry, it revives right after battle!). It's so incredibly fun riding as the horse and gave me nostalgic Shadow of the Colossus vibes.

When you combine all of the above, from the stealth to the character customizations to horse-mounted mobility to the weapon variety to the spellcasting, combat in Elden Ring is utterly sublime. There are more combat options than any previous FromSoftware game giving you more ways to tailor your character exactly to your liking and more ways to tackle bosses. This is the best gameplay ever in a From game, and that's saying a hell of a lot.

Liked: The Jaw-Dropping Bosses

FromSoftware games like Dark Souls, Demon's Souls and Bloodborne are known for their epic boss battles but I think Elden Ring is the new benchmark for boss quantity, boss variety and boss 'wow' factor. The Lands Between is plastered with minibosses, whether that's powerful brutes wandering the lands, or the dozens of cave, caverns and crypts that act like the game's Breath of the Wild-type challenge dungeons. I quickly lost track of how many bosses I battled but it's easily several dozen and virtually all of them were memorable in one way or another.

The variety of bosses is also hugely diverse. You'll battle everything from fire-breathing dragons, to knights both mounted and on foot, to ferocious bears, to poison-spewing plants, to skyscraper-tall trolls, to magical creatures with glowing auras. The amount of effort From took to make each boss fight challenging and unique is just so impressive. From a difficulty perspective, expect a decent challenge from the minibosses and a gigantic challenge from the main story bosses, particularly the shardbearing Demigods.

I also need to point out how impressive and varied the regular enemies are. I fought massive land octopi that have devastation jumping ground pounds, aggressive bears that relentless hunt you down, fearsome red knights that can fell you in a single swipe, oversize dogs and vultures that attack in packs and can quickly rip your apart, plus my personal favourite the spider hands that are, well, scary as hell. It's absolutely mind-boggling the artistry on display here with all regular enemies having a distinctive look and personality.

Liked: The Improved Co-op and PVP

It's never been easier to jump into a FromSoftware multiplayer session than in Elden Ring. That's because they're introduced Summoning Pools indicated by the many Martyr Effigy's located around The Lands Between. Activating these stone carvings will reveal glyphs on the ground where you can initate co-operative or competitive gameplay. The Effigies centralize the multiplayer glyphs making faster than ever to find player matches.

It's also easier than ever to join multiplayer co-op sessions because the item you need to use, a Furlcalling Finger Remedy, can be crafted using readily available flowers found throughout The Lands Between. I acquired hundreds of the flowers during my 50+ hour playthrough and always had enough to craft as many multiplayer items as needed.

What's neat is, at least in the Overworld, you can also summon Ashes during multiplayer sessions and lead an army into battle. I've had as many as five Ashe helpers and two co-op partners at once, for a deadly eight-person squad that was no match for enemies in sight. I love how co-op friendly Elden Ring is and I'm fully expecting a vibrant and healthy online community for this game for years to come.

Didn't Like: Arcane Stat

Quite frankly, there's almost nothing to complain about in Elden Ring. Graphics, gameplay, performance, lore/story, and boss battles are all best in class. The only even modest complain I have is how some incantations you'll acquire later in the game have minimum level requirements for the Arcane stat, a stat akin to 'Luck' and one I'm sure most players will initially ignore. All the early spells are tied to Intelligence (most offensive spells) and Faith (mostly healing spells and buffs) so that's what I upgraded. But about a dozen hours in I got my first Arcane spell, which required a minimum Intelligence and Arcane stat. Other spells might have minimum Faith and Arcane requirements. I'm one that wants access to all my spells, so I had to spend 10+ level ups to boost my Arcane stat. So my advice to fellow spellcasters: Don't ignore Arcane as some of the best spells depend on this vital stat.

The Verdict

Elden Ring is a triumph. It's the best game FromSoftware has ever made, easily, and sets a new benchmark for the Soulslike genre. Everything about this game is perfectly polished and after 50 hours of logged game time I feel like I still have so much side content to explore. I'm easily going to put 150 hours into the game, and possibly even more. Not only is this the best Soulslike game ever, it's one of the best games of all time. An easy GOTY contender, Elden Ring is going to be talked about for decades to come. It's so damn good.

Final Score: 10/10 - Masterpiece

Elden Ring details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Genre: Action role-playing
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.