Elden Ring review — A new benchmark for open-world games

Elden Ring review — A new benchmark for open-world games

Elden Ring is almost upon us. Made by FromSoftware, Souls series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, and Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, it offers an action-packed adventure set in an open-world environment that’s both wonderful and gruesome to behold.

My experience, as I’ll detail in our Elden Ring review, is based on a 60-hour playthrough. However, this was only for the single-player component. I wasn’t able to try out the multiplayer aspect due to level differences and mismatched schedules.

 

The Lands Between this and that

Elden Ring sticks to a tried and tested concept of which Souls, Soulsborne, and Souls-like fans are familiar — that of cryptic and weirdly vague plotlines. The exposition will give you a headache, as characters and tooltips start informing you of the “War of Kerfuffle” for the “Erdthing Graceland.”

So, let’s keep it simple. You play as a Tarnished, a nameless blank slate who could, one day, become lord of the Lands Between. You get to select from 10 distinct classes, each with its own starting stats, weapons, and items. The selection includes the strength-focused Hero, casters like the Confessor, and the Wretch (akin to the Deprived from the Souls games). In my case, I decided to play as the Samurai (since you get a bow). I primarily focused on Dexterity for fast melee weapons and bow usage.

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From there, you’ll meet a vibrant cast of characters. There’s the witch, Melina, who serves as your guide at the start of the campaign. There are also characters that live in the Roundtable, which acts as the central hub. Things also get stranger once you encounter the gigantic Two Fingers, a vendor that’s a total husk, and a wandering witch.

The goal is fairly straightforward: battle the five Shardbearers who hold Great Runes and become the Elden Lord. But, there are also some key twists along the way (which I won’t spoil in our Elden Ring review).

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What a wonderful world

From there, you set out to explore a massive, open-world landscape with several regions. You start in the countryside of Limgrave, with its lush fields and rolling hills. In a short while, you’ll gain a trusty companion, a horse named Torrent who’ll allow for faster movement and mounted combat.

The main path will, eventually, take you to Stormveil Castle, one of the game’s Legacy Dungeons. Now, to be clear, mini-dungeons already dot the map of Elden Ring. Legacy Dungeons, meanwhile, are sprawling complexes akin to castles or labyrinths that will take hours to complete. These are also punctuated by multiple boss encounters that are part of the narrative arc.

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Your exploits will lead to Liurnia of the Lakes, a swampy region with foes that emerge from the deep. You’ll then arrive in the Academy of Raya Lucaria, with its corrupted wizards who are experts in sorceries. And, past this point, well, we’re actually not allowed to say what happens next.

What I can say is that Elden Ring has one of the most intricately designed worlds that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Countless landmarks, ruins, forts, churches, hidden pathways, and secret items can be found along the way. The level design is top-notch, with interconnectivity fills you with awe as you traverse and discover new places. Moreover, the atmosphere and visuals at certain parts of the campaign will leave you breathless. The pitter-patter of raindrops on grassy meadows gives a sense of serenity. Meanwhile, foreboding music and macabre scenes in darker levels fill you with tension.

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Sword and board, and much more

The meat and potatoes of Elden Ring, as with Souls games, is its combat mechanics. Fortunately, it delivers in a number of ways. You can equip multiple weapon types, shields, talismans, spells, and armor pieces. And you’re going to need those, as even regular enemies will pose a challenge.

Nailing a perfect dodge for those sweet invincibility frames, or timing a parry for that bone-crunching hit, remains satisfying. Sneaking around to backstab or breaking an opponent’s guard leads to a vicious critical finisher. Casting spells for offense and defense are also a given.

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Likewise, enemy designs range from your typical medieval knights to grotesque horrors from dark fantasy tropes, such as the unbelievably creepy Scion or the hulking Guardian Golems. You might even come across the Baba Yaga Bell Turtle. That’s what I affectionately call the humongous walking “houses” with a tortoise shell and a clanging bell.

As for bosses, they are immense, towering figures, many of which have instakill abilities that need to be avoided. For instance, Godrick the Grafter, the boss in Stormveil Castle, can deflect spells and projectiles when he’s channeling a whirlwind. Then, during the second phase, he starts wielding a dead dragon’s head as a flamethrower. Now, you’ll have to watch out for whirlwinds that also cause your character to burn. Later, you’ll meet those that are able to transform, some which call upon spectral phantoms, and others that crash down like a devastating meteor.

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Accessibility for newcomers

One of the key facets of Souls and Souls-like games is that they’re often difficult and not for the faint of heart. Elden Ring also provides challenges as you progress, though there are features that facilitate a smoother transition for those who are just starting out.

Similar to past games, there are NPCs who can be summoned for certain fights. There are also spells that let you summon beasts or spirits to damage and distract foes. Torrent, as mentioned, makes traversal a lot faster, and you’ll find Spiritsprings that cause your mount to reach new heights. Dungeons, too, always have a Site of Grace (i.e., Bonfire), so that you’re never far from where you respawn in case of deaths (which will happen a lot).

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These Sites of Grace provide a plethora of functions. There’s your usual method of leveling up by spending runes (i.e., Souls) and flask upgrades. Likewise, you can memorize/equip spells or change the skills of your weapons on the fly.

Furthermore, though I wasn’t able to fully test most of the multiplayer functions, those who play solo online will still be able to see messages and warnings from other players. These can definitely help you out if you’re stuck or wondering where to go next. If you wish, you may also ask peeps for help or invade their realms for some PvP action.

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Masters of cheese and other issues

However, there are still a few issues with Elden Ring. The first is related to combat and difficulty or, rather, how the latter gets circumvented by cheesing. To be fair, past titles do have cheeses. Sadly, in Elden Ring‘s case, this is further exacerbated by its open-world nature. Because bosses have an aggro range and they don’t replenish their HP (unless you die or rest), it’s possible to just buy a lot of arrows and snipe targets from afar. Of course, you could just fight them normally, but there’s almost no need to avoid a hassle-free method.

Another issue comes in the form of weapon skills, or Ashes of War. While you’re able to assign a new skill to your weapons, this is limited by a system that only lets you use one skill (even with two different keybinds). For instance, if my sword can create magical blades and my shield can parry, only the parry can be activated with the keybinds. As of now, I still haven’t figured out a way to use two skills for a one-hander and shield setup, and I’m not even sure if that’s possible. Speaking of keybinds, the same button is used for your flasks/potions, summoning spells, lantern, and horse mount. It would’ve been better had these been separated for PC users.

Lastly, there are some notable performance problems. To be fair, I can achieve 50-60 fps with an Intel 10900K, Nvidia RTX 3080, and 32 GB RAM, all while playing on the highest settings at 4K resolution. Unfortunately, micro stutters and framerate drops can be fairly troublesome. They only last a split second, but they’re sometimes jarring when they occur as I’m crossing cliffside paths or fighting bosses. I’ve also encountered three-second freezes, though that’s mostly because of taking several screenshots via Steam. You can learn more in our technical review.

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Elden Ring sets the benchmark for future open-world games

In the end, Elden Ring still manages to triumph against all odds. Its campaign remains challenging for veterans of the series, while also being accessible to newcomers who are getting their feet wet.

Elden Ring sets the benchmark for future open-world games, with regions that you’ll delve into with fervor. You’ll gallop past majestic scenery, plumb the depths of crypts in search of secrets, and climb to the highest peaks to vanquish bosses. Not once did I feel that I was going through the motions or that the design is formulaic. FromSoftware truly has crafted something memorable and phenomenal.

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