Elden Ring came out on February 25th. As I write this, it’s currently June 19th. I purchased the game upon its release. Since then, it’s been 119 days. For a large portion of time, this article has been sitting in my drafts post, with just the following text.
“I have not beaten Elden Ring.”
As of today though, I can finally update that text. Instead, it can now read:
“I have beaten Elden Ring.”
So now what?
There are three separate tacts I feel I could take with reviewing Elden Ring. I’m going to try to stuff them all into this article, but I’m going to start with the most straightforward one. Having finished the game do I recommend it? Do I like Elden Ring? Is it fun? To which my answers are “It depends, yes (but not as much as Bloodborne), and sometimes.” Let’s expand those answers a bit, but first, let’s talk about what Elden Ring is mechanically.
Much like its predecessors, Elden Ring is an over the shoulder action game. You could also just call it a Soulslike, the genre From Software effectively invented. It shares many other traits with other From Software games. These range from how bosses are handled, to a large portion of older games’ equipment systems, to the most infamous: the fact that when you die, you drop all your unspent currency/experience, and get one chance to run back and pick it up. And if you fail, you kiss all your experience goodbye.
There are a massive number of differences as well, though. Unlike previous games, Elden Ring is open world, and when I say open world, I really mean it. There were three separate occasions in my playthrough where I thought I’d seen the entire world, only to then walk directly into a brand new zone. And because it’s so big, you get a horse (best value; Torrent legit looks more like a yak) to traverse the world. There’s also a brand new crafting system, which I never touched, and the ability to summon spirits, which I used a lot.
To my mind, the biggest ramification of how open the world is, is that there isn’t strictly speaking a single path to the end of the game. There are some required bosses, but the early game is open enough that it only requires you to beat two out of a fairly large set of bosses. Anyway, now that we’ve covered the game’s general mechanics at least slightly, let’s go back to those three questions I answered above.
Answer Ye These Questions Three
First off, do I recommend Elden Ring? Here’s why my recommendation is an “It depends.” Elden Ring is a Soulslike, and it’s a From Software game. This means the game is hard, not by being unfair, but by just being very punishing for mistakes. I talked about this sort of design in my Bloodborne writeup, if you want to read about this design philosophy in more detail.
Elden Ring could almost be taken as a synthesis of the games From Software has made. So if you enjoy those games, it’s an easy recommendation. At the same time, it’s a very unique experience. I’d argue that if you’ve never played a Soulslike, Elden Ring is currently the pinnacle of the genre, making it a good entry point.
With that said, if you’ve played them before, and didn’t like them, or simply don’t like action oriented combat games, Elden Ring is likely a bad fit. The ability to beat Elden Ring isn’t something reserved for only the most elite gamers, but it is a game that demands far more patience and tolerance then any other AAA title I can think of. There’s a reason the “Easy Mode” mod has 40,000 downloads.
Next, question two: do I like Elden Ring? Yes, I generally like Elden Ring, but, I still don’t like it as much as Bloodborne. The reasons for this can be grouped into a few big reasons: (A) weapons, (B) combat, and (C) “I just don’t like open world games.”
A. Weapons. I simply like Bloodborne’s weapons more, specifically their trick modes. The ability to spend resources on a single weapon, but to swap between modes based on the enemy you’ve encountered was something I enjoyed quite a lot. Elden Ring has a much greater number of weapons available, but none ever actually really clicked with me the way Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane did. In addition, although I found a lot more weapons, I simply didn’t have the stats for many of them, and thus ignored them.
B. Combat. In Bloodborne, when you get hit by an attack, if you can strike an enemy back fast enough, you can recover a portion of your health. This lends the game a very aggressive tone, encouraging offensive play. In Elden Ring, you do not. This simple difference sets an incredibly different tone, and frankly, I like fighting more than I like waiting. This brings us to the other thing I liked better about Bloodborne combat: parries.
In Bloodborne, your secondary weapon is almost always a gun. Guns are not really ranged weapons. Instead they’re used to perform parries/counters, and you almost always have access to them. Elden Ring doesn’t have guns, and while it does have parries, Parry is a single special attack option available only on shields, and using a shield means giving up two handed weapons, and also many other combat options. Look, I just liked my shotgun okay?
C. I just don’t like open world games. This one is pretty self explanatory. I just don’t. Elden Ring is an open world game, and it uses a lot of the common open world tropes, including various repeating objectives and structures, having to collect maps for new areas, and in the latter half of the game, a fair amount of re-used bosses. Also a crafting system.
I do not enjoy getting lost. I do not enjoy crafting shit. And I really don’t enjoy trying to find a specific reagent. Yes, I could use a wiki, but I didn’t for reasons we’ll cover later. I mentioned this in my earlier Elden Ring writeup, but it also made it feel much harder to figure out if I was just bad at a fight, or if my character’s stats weren’t high enough. Is skill too low, or is number too low?
Next, question 3, the most important question: Is Elden Ring fun? I had fun with Elden Ring. I was also frustrated, annoyed, bewildered, and pissed off. Those two sets of emotions aren’t necessarily exclusive. Elden Ring, and Soulslikes in general, are satisfying because of how obnoxious they can be, and how good it feels to finally dunk an enemy that’s been wiping the floor with you for several hours.
(We’re about to get into spoiler territory, so if for some reason you want to avoid spoilers, now would be the time to leave.)
With that said though, I would say I had less “Fun” in the second half of the game, and closer to the end. The environments are far more sparse, and bosses are heavily reused. In addition, the final section of the game is effectively a boss rush, where you have to face FIVE bosses with no other zones or content between them. Of these five bosses, I’d argue the first and third bosses you encounter are more impressive and interesting than four and five, which gives the game a weird tone.
Also, while I don’t want to be too direct, the “Final” boss of Elden Ring is one of the worst fights I’ve ever seen in a From Software game. This is for several reasons and I’ll cover them quickly. First off, the final boss is large, which would normally be fine, except they’re so big that getting close enough to attack them requires that you’re also so close that you can’t see the tells for their attacks. Second, they only have one lock-on point, directly in their chest. This makes it hard to stay focused on them, and hard to see their tells, which come from the head and arms. Finally, despite being an absolute chonky lad, they spend most of the fight just running around the arena, and getting close enough to them to hit them is the primary challenge. It’s incredibly annoying.
There are quite a few awesome bosses in the game, but the final boss is not one of them.
So now that we’ve answered the big important questions, let’s move on to the other thing I wanted to talk about, and perhaps the biggest issue coloring my experience with Elden Ring.
I’m pretty sure I played the game wrong.
I Played Elden Ring Wrong
That sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it? After all, arguing that someone is “playing it wrong” is usually used to perpetuate elitism. It smacks of explaining why someone you don’t like, usually because of gender, skin color, or both, isn’t a “Real Gamer.” So using it to describe yourself is weird.
So why do I think I played it wrong? Funnily enough, it actually has nothing to do with in-game behavior or mechanics.
My playthrough of Elden Ring was completed with as few spoilers as I could feasibly make it, and completely solo. I never once looked at a guide, wiki, or any form of information or tutorial. I also played in offline mode and never used an online summon. The extent of my exposure to information from outside the game was one or two offhanded comments from my friends (“Mimic tear is good”) and a few small memes that I encountered accidentally.
I did this for my pride. From Software games are hard, and I wanted to be able to say to know that “I beat Elden Ring without having to look anything up, by myself.” That’s literally the entire reason.
And in retrospect, it was a pretty stupid decision.
Everything about how Elden Ring works feels like it’s designed to be “experienced” as a game in some form of multiplayer. Not in-game multiplayer, but exchange of information multiplayer. You find something cool about how various mechanics work, and share it with your friend. They tell you how a certain symbol on the map always indicates it’s an area where you get resources to upgrade your weapons. It’s a virtuous cycle of phased discovery within a group.
The game is built of a million small riddles and puzzles, but once you solve them, you can share them with someone else. This is true of many From Software games, but Elden Ring being open world takes this to a whole new level. There’s just so much stuff, and a massive amount of it is easy to miss.
I kind of regret doing everything completely on my own, and I think I would have had more fun if I played more earlier, and chatted with friends about stuff, rather than the grinding slog I took to do it all myself.
There’s probably a lesson there, but let’s pretend this was a one-off thing, and wrap this article up. There are a few other issues I have with the game, including the crashes and boss re-use, but I already wrote about those a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure it’s worth re-hashing.
Elden Ring is an advancement of the Soulslike genre, and synthesizes many of the mechanics and environments from previous From Software games. Even so, there are several weak portions of the game. While it deserves the acclaim and praise it gets, I wouldn’t call it perfect by any means. If this article has inspired you, and you’ve now decided you want to become Elden Lord, it’s available for the current gen consoles, and also PC.
But you’re gonna have to beat me for it.