The greatest joys of Elden Ring lie in its ability to surprise you. After years of pent up expectation, of FromSoftware’s most ardent followers poring over even the tiniest morsels of new information, and my own anticipation shooting through the roof, Elden Ring somehow exceeds everything I was expecting. The game masterfully flits between awe-inspiring and horrifying in a way that would be agonising if you weren’t so caught up in it all. For every stunning new vista, there will be a new horror, and for every new life-threatening foe, there will be the promise of treasure that compels you to try again. This is our Elden Ring review.
A whole new world
I’ve not seen everything there is to see in Elden Ring yet, because it offers up a world so painfully fascinating that it feels as though your attention is being drawn in thirty directions at once, and all I want is to spend more time with it to see all the different permutations and outcomes it offers. The open-world feels as though it’s been pulled from a different dimension compared to those that are littered with question marks and 0.1% stat increases.
Instead, you’re encouraged to explore because every ruin, cave, and corner could hide the weapon you’ll fall in love with, a skill you’ll use to fell the demi-gods, or a mighty battle with some ancient evil or legendary creature that you’ll battle against. It’s astounding in both scale and density, and while there are some moments where you’ll see a familiar foe once more, there’s always some new wrinkle that changes the way the ensuing fight feels.
Catacombs are filled with the dead and ever-watching gargoyles, but also hide incredibly treasures, and often illusory walls. Mines are laden with essential materials and the ancient beings that watch over them. Each new cave system promises some new form of wildlife that’s more than happy to show you just how weak you are.
A journey begins with a single step
You’ll be happy to know that Elden Ring kicks off with a classic FromSoftware encounter, and whether you win or lose, you’ll find yourself in The Lands Between. Your role is simply to explore, gradually uncovering more about this messed up world that’ll have you grimacing and pushing forward to the next revelation and fight. You’re a Tarnished, a descendant of exiles and one of many that are regularly used as fodder, even sometimes being stripped of their limbs in order to strengthen the begins of this world.
The opening moments of Elden Ring make it feel like you’re a tiny thing in a world filled with far bigger threats. Even the world itself is hard to grasp, and it only grows the more you explore. Each new region presents some horrifying mix of new enemies and environmental issues to deal with. You’ll constantly find yourself wondering if you’ve gone the right way, and the feeling of being lost, but still making progress, is delectable.
The main driving force for players is that NPCs will occasionally turn up, whether around the world in scripted cutscenes, or just as you find them relaxing by a fire or some other place, and they’ll help point you in the right direction. You can follow them if you wish, but Elden Ring is, at its core, about player agency above nearly everything else.
Make a move
Your first choice will be your starting class, but you’ll have to constantly figure out what to do from there onwards too. I went for the Prisoner; a dexterity and intelligence-based class that fights with an Estoc and a spell called Magic Glintblade, which forms a dagger in the air before shooting it at whatever you’re targeting. Each class brings different starting equipment, and the potential for build variety in Elden Ring massively overshadows any previous FromSoftware game.
Even just among the sorceries in the game, you can choose between spells that create bubbles, ones that use gravity as a weapon, close-range magical greatswords, and even ones that use your own blood. The incantations, which are mostly faith-based, are just as varied too, allowing you to shoot fire out of your eyes, embody different dragon body parts, or heal with the word of the gods. All of this combines with the plethora of weapons to allow for uncountable ways to beat any given boss.
This all extends to the moment-to-moment gameplay too. So many characters you meet offer you conflicting choices and ask different things of you, but it’s impossible to know who is actually trustworthy or what’s going on in the world, and that makes it impossible to put down. I don’t know how many endings and side quests there are in Elden Ring, but I’d be shocked if you’d need less than a handful of playthroughs to see it all.
Ashes of War allow you to fine-tune your weapon and change your weapon skill to suit your needs or preferences. You can find spirits all over the place to aid you from legendary warriors to a group of fumbling nobles, or even a jellyfish that spits out poisonous attacks. The new guard counter is immensely satisfying, allowing you to follow up any blocked attack with a heavy strike that can break an enemy’s poise, and leave them open for a mighty riposte.
You’ve then got the horse combat, which affords you not just more freedom to explore, but changes how you can approach the open-world boss fights. Torrent is a powerful ally, and being able to run away from a dragon on horseback while pinging them with spells is far more satisfying than it should be. I don’t know how many viable ways to fight there are, but I’m confident you could pick any weapon you get a liking for and finish the game with it if you wanted to.
You could fight through the bosses in nearly any order you’d like as well, and I’ve got no idea how much the story would change, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. Even the world itself can change in the right circumstances, and in truly incredible ways.
After reading all of that, it’s probably no great shock for me to say that I’m enamoured with Elden Ring. It’s somehow so much more than I was expecting from an open-world FromSoftware game. The fights are incredibly satisfying, the freedom is nearly overwhelming, and the world is so consistently compelling that you’ll find yourself constantly forgetting what it was you were doing.
Elden Ring is the kind of game that doesn’t come around very often. It’s the kind of game that other games are going to try and emulate in the next few years, and if it leads to a new group of open-world games that follow along with the likes of Dragon’s Dogma, games that trust the player and their curiosity enough not to throw question marks at them on a map, then it’s going to be looked at as a turning point in the games industry. That’s probably a little hyperbolic, but hey, I’ll be playing this game for the next few years, so I’m standing by it.