Video game review: “Elden Ring”

Elden Ring proves that the hardest to reach destinations always offer the best views.

I walked through the mist, a magic katana in one hand and a silver shield in the other. The steep path through the Forbidden Lands was shrouded in dead trees, snowdrifts, and an eerie fog; its navigation made even more difficult by the dangerous and acrobatic enemies. At the end of the path, I was greeted by the welcoming sight of a massive demonic gargoyle wielding a colossal double-bladed sword. The ominous red health bar at the bottom of my screen presented it as Black Blade Kindred, accompanied by a soaring orchestral score. With an arsenal of magic spells and weapons, I had never felt so prepared for a boss battle. That was, of course, until I noticed he also had a 10ft shockwave axe. Needless to say, I died within seconds, then died 11 more times before finally quenching my thirst for victory. After 95 hours and 111 levels, “Elden Ring” still challenged me like no game before, one of the many qualities that make it such an amazing game.

“Ring of Elden, the latest title from Japanese developer FromSoftware, is an open-world action role-playing game set in the dark fantasy world of Lands Between. Players control a customizable character who is tasked with reforging the titular Elden Ring, a magical artifact shattered into six pieces that each grant immense powers. The six demigods who rule the midlands each use a piece of the ring to cement their powers. In order to reforge the Ring, the player must defeat the demigods one by one.

It’s a somewhat simplistic premise, but the story is made much more complex by the vast lore and backstory behind the world. Much like previous FromSoftware games such as “Dark Souls”, the story is somewhat vague and ambiguous at first. Your character is launched into the world with little explanation of its origins and little direction other than a golden arrow on the map. The following story cutscene, which begins to introduce the player’s premise and mission, requires the player to explore the forest surrounding the starting area. Additionally, the vagueness and depth of the world and story require careful attention to side quests and item descriptions. It’s a unique approach to storytelling, akin to putting the pieces of a puzzle together, which I felt made the world and the story cohesive. However, this is made slightly frustrating at times due to the lack of a quest log, making it difficult to keep track of key characters and events. Either way, the plot and lore are compelling and inspire the player to explore the world for answers, an essential part of the experience.

The Lands Between is huge and rich in detail; never boring or repetitive. The world is divided into five regions, each with its own character and atmosphere. These ranged from the mysterious lake of Liurnia, shrouded in mist, to the hellish, festering red swamps of Caelid; its landscape scarred by the scourge known as Scarlet Rot. On an Xbox Series S, the graphics weren’t quite state-of-the-art, but certainly vivid and detailed enough to capture the incredible views and stunning landscapes. Console hardware limitations meant that I couldn’t appreciate the full graphical potential of “Elden Ring”. However, the games’ graphics still shine thanks in part to the fantastic styling and art direction.

Each region was littered with endless ruins, castles, and dungeons with unique enemies and loot. I was impressed by how my curiosity was often rewarded. In one instance early in my playthrough, I came across a mysterious little dome structure in a forest. Inside I found an elevator leading to an underground crevasse with crumbling stone ruins. As I slowly ventured inside, I came across a massive cavern containing a ruined underground city. Tall stone pillars stood beneath the gems of the ceiling which shimmered like stars. These discoveries fascinated me with the scope of the game and made me want to explore more.

The world is as friendly as it is empty, or in other words, almost all wants to kill you. The Lands Between is full of dangerous and powerful enemies around every corner. I’ve fought – or fled – everything from lightning-throwing knights and razor-clawed hawks to giant lobsters and grotesque dinosaur-dog hybrids. Make no mistake: “Elden Ring” is ruthless and punishes you for mistakes. You’ll die. Many. But you will learn to accept each death as another step towards finally conquering your enemy.

During their journey, players will have to master the fluid combat system, an intricate “dance of death”. Players can dodge and roll away from enemy attacks, but must be careful not to accidentally roll into a projectile or delayed attack. Parrying, blocking and counter-attacking is a must. Along with physical combat, the use of magic is essential; summons can be used to distract or overwhelm powerful bosses. Various sorceries can be acquired to deal ranged damage, and weapon enchantments give melee weapons new abilities. Consumable items can enhance your character or apply status effects to enemies. Each boss fight or dungeon requires a unique approach as you learn which attacks and strategies work and which don’t.

For example, dual wielding can hack bigger, clumsier enemies like golems and trolls, as long as you can dodge their attacks. Against more mobile enemies, such as knights and infantry, this will become much less effective than blocking with a shield and waiting patiently to counter. Character building is also very important; each attribute scales with different weapons, and players must refine their attributes to suit their playstyle, with limited attribute points available. A strength-based character can take more damage, wear heavy armor, and swing massive swords, but will have less abilities to deal ranged damage compared to an intelligence-based character, who can use sorceries. Intelligence-based characters have access to a wide range of magic, but not incantations that require the Faith attribute. This character system not only allows for balance but also replayability: different character builds will have different experiences.

When most enemies present a formidable challenge, every encounter becomes a thrilling, high-stakes affair. The difficulty balances out perfectly with the combat, as you have plenty of tools and options to tackle your enemies’ weaknesses. The result is an intoxicating, infuriating, and rewarding gameplay loop. After finally slaying a powerful boss, the joy of revenge is unlike any other. “Elden Ring” is one of the few games that truly makes you feel like a conqueror and makes your achievements all the more meaningful and fulfilling.

Looking back, I entered the world of “Elden Ring” on a whim, buying it after a recommendation from a friend. Not knowing what to expect, I found myself blown away. “Elden Ring” combines intense and exciting gameplay with an incredible and beautiful open world of gigantic proportions. The difficulty is certainly not for everyone, but I have found few games as rewarding or addictive. If you’re up for the challenge, the trip is worth it.

To note: A+
Developped by: From software
Published: February 25, 2022
Rated: M

Image courtesy of NPR.