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REVIEW: ‘Elden Ring’ is a staggering progression of the Soulslike genre

Elden Ring is a natural, yet staggeringly impressive, progression of FromSoftware’s Soulsborne ethos. And despite enormous hype, it delivers in such a way that it’s immediately a GOTY frontrunner.

Elden Ring has finally arrived. Say it out loud and let the warmth slowly sink into your hollowed husk. After years of teasers, cancellation rumours, and borderline psychotic ranting on Reddit, the promised game has been delivered.

At this stage, it would be pointless to hide the fact I’ve been holding out for Elden Ring for quite some time. The Dark Souls trilogy, along with Bloodborne and Sekiro, comprise some of my most cherished gaming memories. Yet, there is always the risk of anti-climax with this much build-up.

Aside from the immense hype and delayed-release, there were other reasons to be wary of FromSoftware’s spiritual successor to the Dark Souls throne.

Elden Ring is the Japanese developer’s first real foray into the realm of open-world game design. It is a very different paradigm to the intricate interlocking level design that initially won their games favour with critics and fans alike. And the double-edged sword of ambition cuts both ways, as we all know.

elden ring
Image: Elden Ring / FromSoftware

A brave new world

So, the first thing that needs to be addressed is simple: does Elden Ring’s open-world work, or do FromSoftware end up tripping over their tail? The answer is almost as simple.

The world of Elden Ring is an absolute triumph of world-building, environmental storytelling, and, yes, gameplay. By opening up the game’s world, the developers have managed to have their cake and eat it too.

There are still intricately designed dungeons and castles that rank amongst FromSoftware’s best. Castle Stormveil is an obvious example, but rather than forcing players through a series of cramped hallways and hidden passages, the developers give you a second option; a frontal assault.

elden ring castle
Image: Elden Ring / FromSoftware

Both are valid, yet one is likely to result in a much higher death count. To be clear, the back door entrance is encouraged and how the developers likely want players to first experience Elden Ring. But the fact there are alternatives increases replayability whilst also contributing to at least the perception of greater player agency.

On top of this, it’s a joy to journey through the game’s enchanting world on your noble steed, discovering landmarks and points of interest that subtly hint at the true nature of the world.

There is honestly so much content here that I feel the only way to describe it is generous. And perhaps the greatest indicator of how well it all works is that after 20 hours, I still can’t wait to dive back in and continue scratching at the game’s surface. Trust me; the lore runs deep in this one.

margit the fell omen
Image: Elden Ring / FromSoftware

Combat and gameplay in Elden Ring

Much has been made about the difficulty of Soulslike games, yet it’s my personal opinion that Elden Ring goes some way in addressing this criticism. While undeniably still challenging, new mechanics aid players of lesser ability or experience.

Summons, powerful magic and a more generous stamina/stagger system all make the game feel less daunting. Equally relevant is the fact that you can just bugger off to a new challenge when faced with one that seems insurmountable.

Levelling up your character is critical here, and the open world means you won’t feel like you have to grind the same enemies in the same corridor over and over again to get stronger.

Conversely, those that want Elden Ring to whoop their ass should refrain from over-levelling their stats and weapons. It’s literally that easy, and experienced souls players should already be well acquainted with this concept.

Essentially, the game’s difficulty is determined by how you want to play it – and the way that Elden Ring pulls off that conceit is masterful.

Closing thoughts

Elden Ring won’t be to every gamer’s taste, as no game really is, but I would argue anyone who’s serious about this art form should endeavour to give it a go. It is a richly imagined experience put together with care, integrity and ambition, and it’s been executed to perfection.

And while I should probably reserve my judgement until I finish the game, The Lands Between are everything I dreamed they’d be – as is Elden Ring.

This is the macabre masterpiece of eldritch terror, and dark fantasy Hidetaka Miyazaki has been edging towards since Demon’s Souls first hit shelves in 2009. It is the culmination of FromSoftware’s experience as a developer and quite possibly their greatest achievement yet.