We got to review Elden Ring, which might just be my favorite words out of my mouth this year aside from (hopefully) “COVID is finally over”. As GamerBraves resident Souls-addict, my excitement for Elden Ring can’t be understated- because damn it all, From Software knows how to make a good game.
If you’re of the uninitiated, Elden Ring is simply the next “Soulsborne” game made by Metal Wolf Chaos and Cookies and Cream studio From Software. It combines everything everyone loved about the Souls series and combines it with the big open worlds more popular games are well known for.
Does the new direction introduce flesh blood into the Souls formula? Or is it simply another case of fad chasing? Read on and find out.
So About The Lands Between
One thing I was scared about when I had to review Elden Ring was the open world. Open worlds are the biggest hit-or-misses in video games, since many studios are more obsessed with bragging about map size than actually making the worlds fun to explore.
With Elden Ring, From Software have traded a boring mega-map for an actually fun large map. The trick, interestingly enough, was that the thing you’re scouring the map for isn’t items. Instead, it’s experiences. There’s plenty of bosses just hanging out across the Lands Between, looking for a fight that you just so happen to be bringing to them.
I can’t understate just how clever this is because it’s From Software playing to their strengths. The same studio that made the Bed of Chaos, strangely enough, makes amazing bossfights and having these be the thing you’re scouring the maps for is a really clever idea.
It also brings up my highest praise for Elden Ring- that the game itself feels like the spiritual successor to Dark Souls 2 with how open it is. Pick a direction, ride off, you’re sure to find another settlement or keep with its own ongoing story for you to get involved in.
Heck, there’s so much to do and it’s all packed in a way that’s almost hard to believe. I’ve had multiple instances of deciding to not check a small nook and have it leading to one of the game’s Evergaols or even just a regular wandering bosses.
Even if you’re not fighting bosses, From Software has done an excellent job of keeping the world interesting. There’s roaming caravans of enemies that are actually headed somewhere, and do a lot to make the game feel more alive as a result.
One complaint I could easily see leveled against Elden Ring is that compared to other triple-A experiences, you might find it lacking. After all, where’s the puzzles? Even the beauty shot moments with the Erdtree in the background can feel kind of underwhelming, especially if you’ve just come off a title like Horizon Forbidden West.
But as a Souls-game lover that’s really not as big of a complaint as you’d think. Like I said, we’re just chasing the satisfying gameplay loop, and the open world is just another vehicle to deliver these experiences.
One other feature I like is that if you just wanna power through the game’s main story and hunt down the various Lords, the game totally gives you the tools to do this. Key sites of Grace are marked on the map, with arrows telling you the direction of where you’ll wanna go for progress. It works both ways, since you can either use this to push yourself through the story or also steer clear of it to keep exploring.
Prepare To Die
One thing I really appreciate about Elden Ring during my time preparing for the review was that it’s definitely brought back the more all-rounder Souls combat, compared to the more single-playstyle approach of titles like Sekiro and Bloodborne. It really feels like every build works in Elden Ring, be it divine Incantations, sorceries or even a good ol’fashioned Greatsword to the face.
It’s helped in part thanks to the Ashes of War system. This allows you way more freedom to mess with your builds, as your non-unique weapons can swap their weapon skills around and even infuse themselves with special attributes such as Magic damage or pumping up its strength scaling with the Heavy affix.
The actual Ash of War skills are also really good, solving a huge problem that non-unique weapons in previous souls games would have- simply losing out in terms of having a cool skill made a lot of weapons less desirable. Here, most weapons can have some sort of cool or utility skill, like a buff to your next attack or even a massive magical greatsword that only gets bigger the longer you charge it.
It really feels like From Software wanted you to feel less shoehorned with builds, and it pays off. While months from now the Souls Community will probably find way more optimal ways to build your character, you’re now free as a casual player to play any weapon you want and not feel like you were being locked out of cool things like tornado stomps or gravity wells.
On to the actual combat itself, I’m a big fan of the new Guard Counters. These let you get big damage for blocking attacks, while also going a long way towards staggering enemies for an even bigger critical hit. These were really good during the first beta for the game, but it also definitely feels like the developers took note of that and tuned them down. For one heavy weapons don’t seem to grant armor anymore if you two-hand them, meaning that you can still be hit out of your Guard Counter if it’s to the slower side. Worse still, enemies seem almost prepared for them as many of them will have multi hit attacks that if you recklessly try to counter will get you frame trapped.
There’s also the new jump attacks- these are also great for staggering bosses, largely in part due to the fact you can use them at any opening, It’s super accessible sine even late inputs will still activate them, so you’ll wanna make good use of this if you want to start dealing big damage.
It’s All In The Timing
That being said, the actual combat itself does feel a lot slower, especially if you’re like me and just coming off of Bloodborne. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing- Bloodborne’s big flaw was just how much the game could throw at you at once. Encounters can often feel much better to manage, since you won’t have to react too hard to openings.
Note that the phrase I used was “better” to manage, not “easier”. It feels like the combat language of Elden Ring is quite different from a lot of prior Souls games, since to compensate for the slower pace bosses instead employ way more guessing games. Godrick the Grafted, the first major Lord you fight has a whole startup animation that leads to multiple different moves, and then goes on to have multiple different anticipatory actions each with their own branching mixups.
Meanwhile it also never feels like you have to work too hard to learn these moves and how to counter them. With the Godrick example, he telegraphs the dodge timing for multiple of his attacks with his weapon- during an obvious color shift in his animation, that’s when you’ll wanna start dodging if you want to survive the blow.
It’s not an overly huge change, but I do like that it still makes the slower combat feel good to use. And this is a recurring theme in Elden Ring- as someone who’s had multiple hangups in previous Souls games about things like consumables, Elden Ring seems hell-bent on getting you over them.
One of these is through the new crafting system. Previously, things like firebombs or throwing knives were bought items, meaning if you used them wrongly you’d have to trek back to whichever old lady sold them to you and pray you had enough souls to top up. Now they’re easily craftable on the fly, meaning if you can survive the encounter you’ll have enough breathing room to top up.
There’s also the Spirit Summons, which let you summon NPC enemies as your friends. I really like this because in previous Souls games, I never liked being carried by multiplayer summons. The main function of them is more of a meatshield, as they can do a pretty good job of drawing aggro so you can get some potshots in on the boss.
One gripe I would have to bring up is the game’s mounted combat. I don’t even think it’s bad, all things considered, since it does the best with what it has. But considering the slower pace of Elden Ring, the fact that you’re suddenly zipping around on your horse certainly feels strange and at times sickening sine you’ll want to swing your camera around to make sure your quarry doesn’t get away while you’re turning around.
Considering the alternative was having to awkwardly dismount to start combat, what we got was a pretty good system after all.
Bear Seek Seek Lest
Despite the game being made in collaboration with George R.R Martin, Elden Ring does still stick to the Souls formula of not always being direct with you about what’s going on. The setup is simple enough- The Elden Ring has shattered, the Lords have the biggest pieces of it and if collect all of them, congrats! You’re the next Elden Lord.
At this point I know I’m going to sound like a psycho but I’m actually glad that they’ve stuck to the Souls style storytelling. You can definitely feel Martin’s influence in the game- bosses are way chattier than in previous games- but overall the game is still incredibly obtuse about what is going on. Why are their fire monks? What’s the deal with D, Hunter of the Dead? Why is that one NPC literally Guts from Berserk? There’s just so much interesting in the world and the quest system is so open that you don’t get to find out until you really sink your teeth into the game.
That being said this obtuseness very much works against it, too. For one, tracking NPC quests is really annoying since the world is so huge. Everyone’s telling you all sorts of stories. it can be really hard to keep track of where every character is and what you actually needed to do for their quests.
There’s no way to describe Elden Ring other than incredibly satisfying. Every concern I had about the changes was not only not a problem, they were incredibly enjoyable. From Software knows how to make their games, and even when faced with an open world they still managed to fit in their well designed closed encounters or satisfying bossfights that you accidentally trip and fall into.
That being said, I totally recognize that some people might have wanted a more drastic departure from the Souls formula, a la Sekiro. That’s a totally valid take, since any amount of time with Elden Ring certainly makes it feel like Dark Souls IV rather than a whole new game.
Here’s the thing though- As Dark Souls IV? This game’s amazing.
|Incredibly satisfying exploration||If you bought a game from the Souls studio and were hoping for something not Souls, prepare for disappointment|
|More of that Souls formula you love|
Game reviewed on PS5. Elden Ring Review copy provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment