by Mr Toffee in
Reviews

Platforms: Xbox Series (version played), Xbox One, PC, PS5, PS4
Genre: Action-adventure RPG that wants to make you its bitch

Playing a From Software game post-Ninja Blade and King’s Field is like eating the best-baked chocolate cake in the world with 40% of it chock full of Carolina Reaper peppers. You will feel loads of pain and will have your endurance tested, but the cake is beyond sublime and unlike any sensation you’ve felt before.

This is apparent with Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, two well-designed(?) action-adventure RPG titles with a bunch of tough gatekeeping sections that offer no quarter. Developer From Software basically repeated the process with its Dark Souls sequel, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While many folks like these sequels and entries, they somehow don’t gel with me. They seem nice, but I’m not going out of my way to punish myself with these purposely-made tough games when the first two Souls games were more than sufficient.

Now it’s back to the proverbial dark fantasy well again with Elden Ring. The game’s story is one involving you, The Tarnished hero, tasked with the slaying of demigods in The Lands Between and possibly serving a higher power called The Two Fingers, but with a tad more fantastical saturation to its aesthetic. Elden Ring also has a few new gameplay mechanics and an open-world setting to spice the hardcore action RPG flavour up. And if you think From Software is softening its stance on tough love gameplay -with a major emphasis on “tough”- you have another thing coming.

And it will blindside you while you least expect it. I sure as hell felt it, but the plot twist here is I didn’t think I would appreciate it more than I thought.

Bit Torrent

There are a few key additions in Elden Ring that elevates it beyond being a Dark Souls 4. True, it’s an action-adventure RPG game where you have to fight insurmountable odds big and very big. And its story is vague and mysterious, with you having to be proactive in figuring its lore out yourself in The Lands Between from pieces of writings and character conversations.

But here’s the thing: the regions and lands of The Lands Between are vast. Like, very big. 40+ hours huge. Each region in the game has at least one major dungeon, an overworld space to explore, and a couple of mini-dungeons featuring loot and extra bosses to challenge. It’s basically an open-world in a Dark Souls game, right down to the shenanigans like hidden traps and camping enemies.

You also get a magic steed called Torrent to bring you places, since walking from point A to B might take a while on foot. He/she is fast, can double-jump, and use special “wind boost pads” all across The Lands Between to jump super-high to get to higher places (without fall damage penalties). Speaking of which, fall damage penalties are lessened here; you can still die if you jump off a tall-ass castle spire, but you won’t get hurt jumping a few stories down. This means more exploration opportunities and taking chances jumping from rooftop to rooftop discovering secrets hidden above ground level.

Torrent also gives you a combat advantage: your steed is fast and maneuverable. Dealing with enemies on horseback is a godsend, given how slow your character can get if he/she is equipped with medium-to-heavy armour and weapons. You can’t bring your steed to some places like story dungeons and certain overworld areas, but these make the moments with Torrent all the more cherished.

Blades Of Glory

I did mention combat, right? Elden Ring has a lot of that, and it can get tough. In fact, some bosses you come across in the game’s main pathway can be literal gatekeepers. But while in past games you have to keep on trying, you can just take a break from said gatekeepers in Elden Ring and just explore the rest of the world.

I was stuck figuring out a boss that’s guarding Stormveil Castle, so I just explored the rest of Limgrave from its swamps to the castles down south and southeast, practising my melee and ranged combat potential while also getting the hang of some of Elden Ring’s new additions to the Dark Souls RPG formula. After a lot of exploring and powering-up, I came back to that boss and managed to persevere and get through it.

The usual action RPG fare of attacking, blocking, and dodging are present in Elden Ring, but a good number of additions in the game’s fighting give you a lot of options and customization to work with. These include Ashes of War, which adds new abilities like special melee moves like a storm-powered pushback attack and spirit summons ranging from attack wolves to arrow-shooting marionettes. You gain access to a guard counter that lets you immediately do a quick heavy attack right after blocking.

You also have a jump attack that lets you do surprise attacks from above or even just stagger enemies when needed. All these and some staples like the light/mid/heavy armour system, the left-hand/right-hand weapon & spellcasting system, and stamina usage are present here. They all complement well with these additions, making the fighting just as exhilarating as the exploring and adventuring.

And you’ll want to explore Elden Ring’s world when you can, since The Lands Between and plethora of dungeons & deathtrap locations are a huge step up from its past efforts. The entire setting is gorgeous, with full of mystery and wonders for the eyes and soul.

Visually, it’s a phenomenal tour-de-force for the eyes. From the plethora of swamps and its ugly-as-sin inhabitants, to the moonlit blue landscape of the submerged lake city with the magic school within, there’s a lot to love about the game’s stellar art direction.

It’s not just wallpaper either; the main dungeons do connect with one another and feature shortcuts for diligent explorers. These levels do have their troll moments and wicked traps, but they only punish those who do not pay attention and aren’t careful.

And without spoiling anything, there’s way more to explore beyond the trailer’s Limgrave and Liurnia of the Lakes regions, to the point that I’m surprised director Hidetaki Miyazaki and his team kept the whole 70% of the game a well-kept secret (at least before the launch trailer happened). You’ll explore plague-ridden landscapes, a golden-on-the-outside overworld akin to pop culture’s definition of the Elysium Fields, and a huge network of subterranean dungeons that feels like a brand-new interconnected bunch of levels to test yourself.

Some welcome gameplay additions do make your tough RPGing journey a bearable one. I dig the Stakes of Marika that act as one-time-only checkpoints if you’re far away from a Site of Grace (the game’s bonfire where you save and level up). I also appreciate the fact that you can teleport to any Site of Grace all over Elden Ring’s world (sans a few dungeons for balance reasons). If you’re outside of combat, running and jumping does not cost stamina at all, so you can use that to your heart’s content while you’re galivanting with Torrent.

If you kill a group of specific enemies, you can refill your healing and mana rejuvenating Flasks. Speaking of which, you get an extra Wondrous Potency Flask that lets you mix and match different elements to give you different combo benefits, like either health regen plus a dexterity boost, or magic defense plus an FP regen boost. That amounts to three Flasks (health, mana, and miscellaneous) to help you out.

Too bad you still can’t pause the game fully even when offline; guess some From Software traditions won’t die, unlike The Tarnished. Still, the above additions are wholly welcome in giving you a fighting chance and taking things your own pace when you’re stuck dealing with a giant boss king from the trailers.

Strictly For The Hardcore?

If you already are a From Software fan who needs another dose of masochism and the patented tough but fair combat you’ve already made up your mind and already pre-ordered it. Is it a gateway title for people who want to drink the Dark Souls-style RPG Kool-Aid? Yes, yes it is.

The million-dollar question is this : Is Elden Ring going to change your mind about Soulsborne title? Strangely enough, it might.

For all of its piling on and bullying of player expectations and testing of patience -and it really is to an extent that it’s built for masochists- Elden Ring rewards you well with new weapons, items, and answers to the game’s mysterious-slash-fantastical setting. And there are many opportunities for you to game the system set here; I have killed a number of seemingly tough encounters by exploiting their weaknesses and AI patterns.

If the game is designed to give its enemies quite an advantage with hitstun opportunities, damaging area-of-effect-attacks that come out fast, and invincible attack frames, I don’t feel bad outsmarting them and using whatever tricks and upgrades I have on my sleeve to get ahead.

And by golly, it feels damn good to defeat daunting giants and heavy hitters. These include the one giant gold knight riding a giant horse, a giant lizard who carries a flaming sword, the really giant red dog with the spells and the fire sword, the flying giant moon witch with the singing children, and the giant gatekeeper boss Marlit with his fast-for-his-size fighting style. That last one also made me use a bonus item from a merchant I talked to while exploring the esoteric parts of the world, making the fight bearable.

Hell, even the regular enemies are memorable enough on their own, from the legion of knights and serfs that dominate the landscape, to the projectile chucking mages who don From Software’s twisted version of the Burger King mascot’s head, right down to the giant “T-rex” proportionate demon dogs. You will not run out of things to fight, I can guarantee you. You might even find one of them being meme’d on Twitter for weeks to come post-launch.

Diligence, patience, and attention pay dividends in Elden Ring. If you put in the time and mental prowess in dealing with its challenges, you’ll feel all the better for it, whether it’s the exploration bit or the fighting sections.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Just because you respect something, doesn’t mean you have to like it. That used to be my relationship with From Software and its past games. Elden Ring made me fall in love with the company all over again like with Dark Souls back in 2011.

While the experience gets punctuated with bouts of frustration, Elden Ring is a triumph in game design. It’s tough while being fair, you have all the tools at your disposal from Ashes of War to Torrent the magic steed to deal with your escalating problems, the dungeons are memorable and are laid out well, and it doesn’t let up with its challenges and rewards.

I respect and like Elden Ring and From Software for sticking to its guns but also adding in much-welcome changes and additions to make it more “accessible”. At the same time, the Dark Souls trapping is ever-present; it’s just given new life with new gameplay additions and all-around exploring opportunities and secrets-discovering that will benefit you in the long run if you put the time into it. Most importantly, it does what a perfect video game does: it teaches you how to be good & skillful at it through its many harsh lessons & challenges, albeit over time.

Fair warning though: buy this full price if spending an hour or two figuring out a gatekeeping boss that’s clearly out of your depth sounds like actual fun to you.

Elden Ring is definitely not for everyone, but it delivers the absolute best version of what a hardcore action-adventure RPG with open world opportunities should be like. From Software basically followed their ambition and vision all the way through with this epic illyiad, and completely sticks the landing like a giant mutant crow thing ground stomp perfectly aimed atop the Tarnished. With critical damage.

Pros

  • Sublime aesthetics.
  • Great open world and dungeon design.
  • Tough but fair difficulty.
  • Additions like Torrent the steed and guard counters add more options & strategy.
  • Hours of content & places to explore & conquer.

Cons

  • From Software jank & difficulty curve still present in combat, controls, and boss fights.

Final Score: 100/100

Review copy provided by Bandai Namco Asia.

Mr Toffee is a writer, editor, & all-around video game words guy for 9 years, give or take. He also did some story for games like Chain Chronicle and some podcasting on the side. Likes: bacon, Metallica, jogging. Hates: raccoons, oblivion. Twitter: @MrToffee
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