The long-awaited, highly-anticipated FromSoftware open-world game Elden Ring is finally out. Due to how vast this game is, we’ve decided to take our time and review this game throughout our playthrough. We’ll start with first impressions, followed by updates on new discoveries and takeaways, before ending with a final review score upon completing the game.
I feel it’s important to give you a little background on me and my experience with Souls-like games, such as Elden Ring. I have played Dark Souls III and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice; two games I eventually had to put down and walk away due to sheer frustration. I am by no means a Souls expert like many reviewing/playing this game. However, I wanted to give Elden Ring a try, mainly because the world intrigued me more than any other Souls game had previously.
I write all of this to explain this review will be in the perspective of someone who isn’t a fan, but a gamer interested in getting to know this genre better within the confines of the Lands Between.
The Seemingly Limitless Lands Take Center Stage
The Lands Between is simply a magical place. From the moment you step out of the caverns in the first area, you immediately find yourself in a resplendent landscape of gothic art style and medieval architecture. No matter where you look, there’s always something breathtaking to behold. Granted, within these views are terrors that appear in frequency and variety; but it’s still breathtaking when you’re in safe spaces.
The beauty of Elden Ring extends beyond its art style, though. The game wants to be explored. It yearns for you to look and experience every nook and cranny to find new areas, equipment, and terrifying enemies (of which there is no shortage of unique ones). That’s one of the biggest reasons FromSoftware doesn’t have much of a tracker or quest log. The game only points you in directions at points of Grace, but those can easily be ignored in favor of exploration. Besides, you really shouldn’t go where the Grace is pointing you towards, because you’re likely to get destroyed by a boss if you aren’t ready.
What makes this game so amazing is that you’re never likely to see the same thing in each playthrough. Enemies will spawn in the same regions they’re native to but the time of day dictates what appears. While there isn’t really a ton of gatekeeping, there are certain regions you can explore but won’t be ready for.
In my journeys, I encountered several soldiers, ghouls, goblin-looking things, imps, giant crabs, a Dragon I immediately said “Nope!” to, a ball of snakes, humanoid bats, wolves, a golden knight on horseback that I killed on the first try *dust off shoulders*, giants, a pissed off ram I didn’t think would attack me, bears, eagles with swords for feet, and a silver knight in a dark room. There was even an instance where I opened a chest and was teleported to a distant woods with gigantic bears who were strong enough and fast enough to catch up to my steed and kill me.
The point is, a majority of these encounters were before I ever even got to the first main boss – who absolutely wrecked me about 8 times before I went exploring and found an item that would solely work against him. That just goes to show how much this world plays a part in the overall experience of this world. It’s not just a setting. It’s a living, breathing environment that both tries to kill and help you. It’s incredible.
I even tried to get a good idea of how big the Lands Between are by traversing the landscape from coast to coast. At one point, I found a secret path at the castle that took me all the way around to the back of the castle. That’s where I saw an entirely different landscape. There’s been a lot of talk about how Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s Breath of the Wild, but somehow it feels bigger; more limitless than that.
Minor Frustration Level
Perhaps it’s because I’m older and wiser than I was when I last tried to play a FromSoftware game, or it could be that there’s enough out there to distract me from the repeated failures, but I haven’t found myself becoming frustrated or angry with Elden Ring. Previously, when I would die from an enemy repeatedly in Dark Souls III or Sekiro, I would try my best to adapt and “git gud.” But it felt insurmountable—impossible—and I’d wind up walking away from the game in favor of something more relaxing and that would fill me with joy.
I haven’t felt that fatigue from Elden Ring. If anything, I get motivated with each defeat. Understanding where I went wrong, how I can get better, grinding a bit more, finding different items, changing my playstyle, and then trying again. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t have to do something if I’m not ready to do it. Elden Ring is all about patience and exploration, then getting back to the story when you’re ready. Sure, you don’t progress the story as quickly, but open-world games are as much about exploration as they are about the story.
When you eventually do acquire everything you need to take on a particular encounter, the victory is all the sweeter for it. When I felled the first main boss, I was so overwhelmed with excitement and energy I almost didn’t want to proceed. I did and wound up getting destroyed by the aforementioned silver knight, but despite that my endorphins ran high. That’s one of the most gratifying moments of the game and a reason why Elden Ring is as special as your Souls-fan friends are saying it is.
Still Unclear on the Whole Story
Aside from Sekiro, which has a very clear story, most Souls-type games have a story that’s a bit more on the ambiguous, self-interpreting side. It doesn’t just come out and say what’s going on and what you have to do. Elden Ring, for the most part, is like that.
They do a lot of exposition in the beginning where they give you the history of the Lands Between before thrusting you out into the world with the objective to find the Elden Ring and become the Elden Lord…But that’s about it. What happens when you become Elden Lord? Do you then rule over and restore this Valhalla? Do you go back to the lands in which you came from? Will all Tarnished go home?
As of this writing, I’ve only beaten the first main boss and am currently sneaking my way through Godrick’s Castle. So, despite the 20+ hours I’ve put into the game, I still feel as if I’m in the beginning. Obviously, the more I follow the main story, the more it all could get explained, but these are the questions I have at the moment. It’s evident that I need to become the Elden Lord to at least make this world a better place, because things aren’t going well in its current state.
It could be that these answers don’t all get answered, either. FromSoftware doesn’t have any obligation to do so. As this genre is more about the journey than it is the destination and Elden Ring appears to be one hell of a journey.
A Few Fumbles
Elden Ring is an incredible gameplay experience so far, and is as accessible as you’ve been led to believe if you are patient. However, it’s not perfect. There have been a few errors reported since its release. One being that PC versions don’t appear to be of good quality and online multiplayer capability doesn’t seem to work on Xbox. However, that’ll likely get fixed.
Another issue with Elden Ring has to do with customization. The customization system is top tier and allows for players to create characters to whatever they like. However, there’s a distinct lack of customization when it comes to black characters, i.e. hairstyles for black characters. As of now there is only an afro and a fade, which understandably has caused issues with players within the black community about representation.
This issue isn’t just with Elden Ring, though, but with all video games. There needs to be better representation with character models and any character creator system to allow all races to be represented equally and justifiably.
Final Thoughts on First Impressions
I didn’t think I would enjoy my time in Elden Ring as much as I have. The world is beautiful and feels limitless. I’m not bogged down by failure. Instead, this world motivates me to work harder and do better to progress further. Because of this, I feel like I’ve improved much more than I have in previous games. I’ve already beaten 5 bosses, including Magrit the first main boss, which is a major improvement.
Plus, the different weapon and magic styles are so unique. It allows you to change up how you play whenever you want, making every experience new and exciting, while reducing potential fatigue of the hack-dodge-hack model. I started as a Confessor for the high strength and incantation ability and have not been disappointed by how interchangeable it’s been.
It’s weird too because all I’ve thought about playing recently is Elden Ring, which I guess makes me a bit obsessed. You know a game is good when you spend hours playing and it doesn’t feel like much time has passed and when you walk away from it to be productive…all you want to do is jump back in and explore some more.
Elden Ring is a special game. I can’t say for sure if it’s the best game I’ve ever played – there’s a lot of stiff competition – but I can say that I’m thrilled about what I’ve experienced so far and I can’t wait for more.