The Souls genre is pretty much embedded into the gaming industry as one of the most prolific things you can experience – a dauntingly difficult game with tangible balance that rewards players time based on their ability to overcome. This genre’s fundamentals like build crafting, difficult boss encounters, exploring layered, linear paths riddled with secrets – all held true for more than 10 years; even if the multiplayer were unnecessarily convoluted. The promise with Elden Ring is to give that same experience but with an open world environment that’s filled with tangible content; couple that with co-op and it should be a one in a lifetime experience, right? Fortunately, it is – but with some incredibly dubious caveats that leaves me as a player, Tarnished.
The World Between
Much like its predecessors, Elden Ring’s focus is having the player explore its world to unravel its secrets as you progress. The NPCs you’ll encounter will leave subtle hints to the overarching plot and leave you guessing whether or not to help them. The dialogue and acting are very familiar to the previous Souls games with its shallow tone of disparity; even though it’s written by George R. R. Martin, Elden Ring’s plot feels nothing like his writing, like at all; I’m fine with it, I just been playing the game assuming he just did the world building aspect of the lore, rather than the pacing. It just feels like a Miyazaki game through and through.
You will explore The Land’s Between, a place that faced a catastrophic event where the Elden Ring was destroyed by something or someone – the main source of energy that can “control the stars;” basically, have godly possessions. As a Tarnished, you’re tasked to bring balance to the world by facing unimaginable creatures of all scales – it’s a straightforward plot that serves well with interesting characters – who are portrayed entirely ominously.
But, as with all Souls games, the plot is hidden through carefully place dialogues, NPCs and choices, Bosses and hidden areas – which, just as the game is designed, not entirely easy to follow. You will scour the land and notice many ancient looking structures, caverns and caves with environmental storytelling – mixed with gargantuan creatures of all types roaming the world. They’re all out to kill you – as the main precipice of these Souls games is to survive against all. It’s a structure I’m all for and have been comfortable with since the dawn of the genre, but it’s not entirely intuitive for most players and seems entirely gated for those who are avid about the genre.
Build Crafting at its Core
Finally, a Souls game where it’s open-world and cooperative! While exploring, you will admire its vast landscapes of dilapidation and wonder. All manner of enemies roam the fields willing to take your Runes – a currency similar to Souls. The Lands Between is enormous, filled with wonder and items to loot. This time around, crafting plays a huge role for creating consumables, throwables, grease and so on – you will need to buy or find recipes to craft new things. There’s a ton of materials to gather for smithing your weapons as well, which benefits your playthrough if you want to survive in this world.
Naturally there’s merchants who sells specific items per region and of course, caverns, caves, temples and ruins to loot for secret weapons, armor set, magic and so on. All of these areas are guarded by mini bosses, hordes of enemies or giant moving structures. And pretty much that’s as far as it goes for Elden Ring when it comes to exploring. For the most part the environment is gorgeous to look at, but if there’s nothing really interesting happening, to me it becomes entirely stale, fast. You find a ruin that leads deep inside a cavern – expertly designed by the team, but all you do in it is walk a linear path to a boss room and fight a boss, kill it and take an item for use. Rinse and repeat 30 more times and you’re done exploring all of Lands Between.
Ultimately, it not too bad if you’re build crafting and playing with friends – not all open-world game needs to be sophisticated with environmental puzzles to solve, or world shifting elements, but it becomes a problem when co-op doesn’t function in its base fundamentals; how am I supposed to explore a world with friends where I have to constantly disconnect from my friends instance because every 15 steps there’s a fog wall? Why do we have to redo a dungeon for each of us, to count as a completion for all? Why is that interesting temple way out in the distance, blocked by a fog and we can’t just go in? Why do we have to disconnect, find the location in our world, then get re-summoned only to have to redo it again in 20mins? It’s a constant disruption to the experience and one I will never stand by.
I don’t mind gathering materials to summon people to my world – I wouldn’t mind redoing instances for all of us to count for completion – but to block us from almost ALL elements of the world in short distances is something akin to having 20 gnats smarming into your nostrils. It’s frustrating and an uncomfortable experience.
Despite those major gripes, Elden Ring plays like dream, even adding a mount to explore and a jump button! Except, sometimes it doesn’t play like a dream. Death is something I’ve come to accept a long time ago; I’ve played Souls games since the dawn, obtaining Platinum trophies on all. So, when I say some things don’t work, there are fundamental issues I think needs major fixing; tracking is far stronger in Elden Ring than any other Souls game – maybe it’s to mitigate the freedom of roaming past most enemies in the wild, but it becomes incredibly frustrating when you know an attack pattern of a boss, and you’re ready for it, dodge perfectly but then in mid attack (or lunge) corrects itself to follow you, beautifully – wipes you with one shot.
Additionally, the speed and grace periods are unnecessarily brutal to the point where enemies don’t stop. The game is already overbearing with its attack patterns and damage output, you have to give some grace period for players to learn the encounter – otherwise, it’s just monotonous, pointless deaths for the sake of death counts.
Elden Ring follows all of the principles of its predecessors; build your character with a base class and go wild with it. You can become a hybrid of all, or a focus of one and that’s really the beauty of the genre. However, if you focus on a build, say like Faith for example – all of the Faith skills you need to learn is deep within the world, hidden. Which forces the players to become a strength build until you find the skills, then you have to respec – which requires a slew of other bosses to kill and locations to unlock, then obtain another set of items to then initiate a respec. Difficult, very time consuming and one that is unanimously OK by the community.
Despite the game playing at its best – there are major issues I think needs tuning to refine the experience. I just can’t, in good conscious, agree that Elden Ring is flawless; I shouldn’t have to accept these flawed mechanics as a “git gud” thing – we shouldn’t be struggling by limitations to overcome obstacles that, if refined, would still be difficult to overcome – but in a functional way.
Often times, I die because I decided to bask in the beauty of The Lands Between. There are some really beautiful landscapes to take in and one I encourage greatly to explore. Character models are also equally well done, with a pretty deep character customization. All monsters and bosses are incredibly rich in design with imagination FromSoftware should be proud of achieving, even if the mechanics of most 80+ bosses are rehashed attack patterns – the character designers over there need a significant raise.
Just as equally impressive is the structures and interior designs – it’s ferociously fantasy with rich details that should leave the players in awe. I often take a second to look around and marvel in the design of the world, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I was jumped in-game for it. It’s brutal, but worth the risk.
The scope is similar to games like The Witcher 3 where its dense with details like foliage, debris and so on; problem is, at least on the PS5, the game frames would dip sporadically between the 30s and 50s, usually exclusive to open-world exploration – but for the most part it’s stable when against a boss.
Elden Ring shines in build crafting preparation for players that dares to face several challenges across The Lands Between; rich with lore mystery, 80+ monsters to battle and interesting ominous NPCs riddled with secrets, you’ll have a lot to play for a long time. FromSoftware shortcomings with its co-op infrastructure, minor performance issues, and a shallow world is a major disappointment and one I hope is rectified moving forward.
REVIEW SCORE: 8.5/10