Open worlds are all the rage. To draw on an old cliche, some games are born open world, while some such as Halo and Zelda, eventually have open worlds thrust upon them. It was only a matter of time before From Software would follow suit, and attempt to broaden the horizons of the infamously hardcore RPGs that put them on the map.
The result of this experiment is Elden Ring, a game that bears a great many similarities to Dark Souls, but is set in an entirely new universe conceived by George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. Established Soulsophiles need not worry; The Lands Between is very much realised in From’s trademark house style and tone. In fact, barring a few GOT-esque place names such as Dragonbarrow and The Weeping Peninsula (plus the odd reference here and there) Martin’s influence is surprisingly low key.
The Lands Between are generously proportioned and positively lousy with things to do, collect and see. Notably, Elden Ring lacks much of the excessive hand holding we’ve come to expect from modern open-worlders. There is a literal ‘golden path’ that guides you to the next mandatory location, but to fully appreciate what From have achieved here, you’ll have to forge your own path through the vast wilderness they’ve created.
Initially, most of the map is blank. When you enter a new area, it’ll remain blank except for a single totem containing a map fragment, which you’ll have to find in order to fill out the surrounding terrain. Once you’re able to survey the lay of the land, you’ve then got to use your map screen to scour the area for possible points of interest and actively seek them out. In short , it actually feels like you’re exploring rather than simply travelling from point to point, vacuuming up experience points.
Your ethereal steed, Torrent, is an unexpected highlight. Not just a means to get around more quickly (and engage in hugely satisfying mounted combat), you can also jump safely up or down large chasms when on horseback by using Spirit Springs, saving you the tedium of trying to find a safe way down. In a further effort to reduce friction, when out in the open and not in combat, stamina is unlimited and fall damage vastly reduced. If you do engage a mob, should you emerge victorious, you’ll often be rewarded with healing flask charges, allowing you to stay off the beaten path for longer without having to retreat to a Site of Grace.
Putting a Ring On It
Almost every aspect of character progression follows the well-established From blueprint and veterans will feel right at home from the outset. Ashes of War allow you to alter how your weapon scales with your stats, but also add a special attack that varies depending on the Ash used. The sheer volume of items, equipment, Sorceries and Incantations on offer here is impressive. It’s even possible to change your character’s appearance on a whim, as often as you like. This is without a doubt From’s best game yet in terms of character customisation.
A huge variety of boss fights feature. Some are found roaming The Lands Between, some at the ends of the many, many mini-dungeons hidden away in ruins and coastal hideaways and more still in Legacy Dungeons, larger, more linear areas that could have been lifted from any of the Dark Souls titles.
That’s not to say that Elden Ring doesn’t incorporate influences from the wider From canon, however. The Western Caelid area is pure Bloodborne, as Lovecraft-inspired, otherworldly monstrosities stalk you menacingly under a blood red sky. In a nod to Sekiro, there’s also a somewhat greater emphasis on stealth this time around, with increased opportunities to ambush enemy patrols.
On the subject of difficulty, Elden Ring isn’t easier per se, but certainly offers some concessions to those struggling with its boss encounters. The single use item required to invite human cooperators into your world is in abundance, easily craftable and isn’t even needed at all if you enlist the baked in, CPU help. Spirit Ashes, spectral creatures of various types, can also be brought into the fray. If that weren’t enough, the peculiarly named Flask of Wondrous Physick allows you to mix cocktails of various buffs to be consumed at critical moments.
All things considered, it’s never been easier to tip the odds in your favour.
Performance from Elden Ring
Prior to release, Miyazaki himself commented that he and his team where feeling the pressure to deliver from a technical perspective with Elden Ring in the wake of Bluepoint’s excellent Demon’s Souls remake. Unfortunately, the finished product is not as technically accomplished as we’d hoped.
To be clear, it looks great; the problem is performance. On Series X, frame rates aren’t as stable as they should be. The game features Favour Performance and Favour Graphics modes, which fluctuate between 40 and 60 in the former and just over 30 in the latter. In From’s defence, Elden Ring feels more consistent and responsive than some of the in depth analysis you might have seen and heard would suggest and perfectly playable as is. Still, there’s much room for improvement and we hope updates are in the offing to bring performance more in line with expectations.
Elden Ring Summary
Elden Ring is everything we’d hoped it would be and more. It’s everything that’s ever been appealing about Dark Souls writ large, expanded upon and (whisper it) made just a little bit more forgiving.
In short, it’s utterly essential.