When Elden Ring was revealed, it was a very short teaser. But, seeing FromSoftware slapped on that teaser was all I needed to get hyped. If you’re a lover of Souls games, you know this exact sentiment. When it was announced that Elden Ring would be an open world game, I had high expectations. Let’s not pretend an open world Souls game doesn’t sound super cool. Yet, somehow this game exceeded my already high expectations by a long shot. I had no idea Elden Ring would quickly become my favorite game of all time…
I wanted to live in this game forever. I wanted to see every corner, fight every boss, pick up every shiny item, complete every quest, discover all the secrets, and stare at all the vistas. I’m generally a completionist, but often times when I platinum a game, I’ll be ready to move on. It’s been so long since I wanted to go above and beyond in doing everything a game has to offer me. Maybe my relationship with Elden Ring was a little unhealthy because I couldn’t bring myself to truly enjoy another game, get genuinely hype for a new game announcement, or really do anything. This game lived in my mind more than I’m willing to admit. Let’s just say there were many times I woke up at 3 a.m. remembering an area I wanted to go back to and explore.
Video games in general were coming to a time and place where open world was becoming the norm. The oversaturation of open world games burned me out with few exceptions. During a time when I was experiencing open world fatigue, Elden Ring‘s offering felt refreshing. It didn’t overwhelm me with markers, tasks, and quests. Instead, it put me in the world and let my curiosity pave the path. This sometimes meant running into a region with enemies way above my level, but the only way to find out is by getting the “You Died” screen way too quickly. I didn’t need an enemy to have a level above their head or a map telling me a region is too advanced. Instead, my health bar was my compass.
This also meant that I could move on when I felt underpowered. There is more opportunity to leave an area when its too challenging and come back when you’re stronger. I ended Elden Ring at level 172, and I did it without farming at all. There’s so many different enemies and mini dungeons tucked away and ready to be discovered. Elden Ring gives more freedom than any other Souls game to approach things at your own pace. It gives you more freedom than any other game, period.
This is the first time FromSoftware implemented a map into a Souls game and they somehow perfected it. You don’t get a big map full of fog and markers, leaving you overwhelmed at how far you need to go to discover it all. Instead, it begins zoomed into the section you’re in and as you progress through the game, it gradually zooms out. I couldn’t believe how far the map went, and the map structure was somehow motivating instead of overwhelming.
Each region of the map has different biomes, unique enemies, and different music. The starting region Limgrave has a fairly relaxing music score, with blue skies and green grass. When you stumble into Caelid, the sky turns a deep orange, the music gets unsettling, and the enemies look rotten. Other biomes consist of a blue lake filled with mages, an autumn kissed land of demons and what seemed like cultists from Midsommar, and of course a snowy landscape where a snow storm was as heavy as the fog in Silent Hill. There’s even an underground map full of majestic cities, blood-soaked palace’s, and volcanoes. I’ve parkoured through tall tree branches, dropped deep into caves, mined tunnels, avoided traps in tombs, solved environmental puzzles in catacombs, and pushed my way through strongholds and castles.
Within regions there’s legacy dungeons that will give you the classic Souls style of exploration with no map and a handful of shortcuts. These dungeons could be a stronghold, a Castlevania-like manor, or a magic school that feels like Harry Potter with horror. Every region has a unique aesthetic, making every step of the way feel refreshing. Elden Ring may not be graphically advanced but its artistic design makes the environments all the more interesting. Every single inch of the vast map is like a painting.
FromSoftware has always excelled in enemy design and Elden Ring offers an entirely new load of odd, creepy, grotesque and fever-dream like enemies. If these games had bestiaries, the log would be thick. There’s also a bunch of optional mini dungeons that re-use level assets and repeat bosses. Yet, they still manage to mix up the formula to keep it fresh. The repetitive enemies aren’t simply re-used assets; they’re relevant to the lore. Some regular enemies eventually show up much bigger as bosses. Sometimes bosses show up in the open world as regular enemies. Sometimes the repeat boss will show up with a sickle instead of a staff. Sometimes FromSoftware will fuck around with you and throw three of the same boss into one room with you. There’s even some bosses that only spawn at night. Every single enemy has a unique attack pattern, size, weapon weakness, and design. The enemies being so dynamic is why I never get tired of Souls combat and why I often crave it.
Theyshould just call Elden Ring FREEDOM: THE GAME, since there’s so much freedom to experiment with different character builds — more so than any other Souls game. The divine opportunity to respect your character easily and the sheer amount of arsenal to try out different tactics is so damn vast. Players are going to be discovering different OP builds or goofy things to try in this game, for many years to come.
I never thought talking about the story in a Souls game would be worth mentioning. These types of games always have interesting lore and world building, but it’s not primarily why people enjoy these games. There’s so many interesting quests in Elden Ring that are easy to understand and a lot more memorable than the usual cryptic dialogue we get from most NPC’s in these games. Through my journey I always kept in the back of my head to help one Maiden fix her vision with grapes, or to help another get rid of a deadly rot infection, or simply help a pot man get wacked out of the ground. There were moments of betrayals, familial turbulence, and honorable battles, and themes of isolation, despair, self-hate, revenge, and resolve. I even felt empathy for some bosses I was forced to slay.
There is no levity in the world of Elden Ring, just minor glimmers of hope in companionship. My only complaint of the story: I wish there was a bit more direction with the quest lines. At the very least, having a dialogue indicate the general direction of where an NPC would migrate to next would’ve helped. I get the charm of these games involves the community coming together to share discoveries and I love that so much, but I still needed guides to ensure I didn’t miss out on quests.
I don’t think you’ll like Elden Ring if you haven’t enjoyed previous FromSoftware Souls games. It has DNA from all the other games and somehow perfected its own formula. Jumping and stealth attacking like you could in Sekiro is such a necessary quality of life addition versus the usual stuck to the ground gameplay of Dark Souls. This helped in combat with cool jump attacks but also in exploring the verticality offering in Elden Ring. The build structure is very similar to Dark Souls except now there’s more freedom to mix and match builds with room for experimentation and mistakes.
Unlike its predecessors, there’s very few areas in Elden Ring where you’ll be waiting long stretches of time before you get a save point called a Site of Grace because they’re everywhere. It’s for all these reasons that I think Elden Ring is the perfect introductory Souls game and the most forgiving of them all. When I say forgiving, I don’t mean easy. It just adds more quality of life to the gameplay structure and managing the deep RPG systems.
My experience of Elden Ring on the PS5 has minimal performance issues. When the game released, there were occasional dips in frame rate and lots of texture pop-ins. None of these issues significantly impacted my time with Elden Ring, and recent patches have polished it up. It’s crazy to think that my only real criticism of this game is the texture pop-ins and lack of quest direction. Even then, FromSoftware has made improvements via patches where the pop-ins happen less frequently and we at least have markers for discovered NPCs. Well, at least until they migrate again.
I’m also a bit sad about the lack of photo mode because there are some really amazing visuals I wanted to capture like I did in the Demons Souls remake. Photo mode wouldn’t just be helpful for capturing the games beauty but also for a makeshift pause button. There were far too many times I died to bosses because my cat decided to stand in front of my monitor, but I couldn’t just put down my controller to get him down. Bad Kitty!
Everything else about this game is perfect. I can’t believe a game of this caliber exists and from a developer I already adore. I can’t believe Elden Ring has surpassed The Last of Us from being my favorite game of all time. I can’t believe I sunk hundreds of hours into this game, and I still want more. I never felt this way about a game and I don’t know if I ever will again anytime soon. Elden Ring isn’t just game of the year worthy; it’s a game of the generation title. 5/5 Whiskeys.