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Elden Ring review: ‘Gitting Gud’ has never been easier

It is not normal for a video game, or rather, any form of media to start racking up awards long before it’s even out. For two running years, Elden Ring lifted The Game Awards trophy for being the most anticipated title, based on fan voting. And the only thing keeping the hype alive was a set of speculations dawning from a 2019 announcement. Writer George RR Martin was involved this time. Coupling that with developer FromSoftware’s trademark gameplay, known for its high difficulty and risky combat, was enough to get fans excited. The wait is finally over, bringing the fabled Elden Ring into our hands. Does it live up to the pre-launch craze? Let’s find out.

Elden Ring review: Story

“Rise, Tarnished.” These are the words that greet you into the treacherous domain of the Lands Between. In traditional FromSoftware fashion, the game begins with lore building as vignettes of beautiful, hand-painted concept art flash before your eyes. A grim voice cuts through the silence, speaking of the great Elden Ring, a powerful, sacred artefact that got shattered under mysterious events. Soon after, the ruler of the kingdom, Queen Marika The Eternal, is nowhere to be found, causing turmoil amongst the inhabitants.

The shattering of the Elden Ring has caused turmoil amongst its wretched inhabitants. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

The broken fragments, however, have been claimed by her demigod offsprings, corrupting their minds and body. Tainted by the new powers, these divine beings serve as the main antagonists, guarding the paths to the unfolding mystery. Similar to their Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, the narrative follows a disjointed style, where the player is tasked with connecting the dots.

And the newly introduced open-world design is well suited to that. It’s a system that puts you on this free, boundless plain and encourages you to go look for the story instead of waiting for it. Sure, the overarching premise hangs atop, but the direction and pacing are entirely yours to control.

You play as a descendant of the Tarnished, a group of heroes once banished from the lands. After centuries of exile, you’re resurrected and called upon to slay these vicious demigods, and ultimately find the broken shards, restore the ring, and become the Elden Lord.

It is worth noting that despite what the name implies, the Elden Ring is not an actual, physical ornament. Instead, it’s kind of a divine force that held together order and peace in the Lands Between. Which is why I keep referring to the fragments as (energy) shards, and not pieces. This is where Martin’s work comes to a close – setting the premise, world history, and finding ways to inject as many dragons as possible.

Elden Ring review, elden Ring George RR Martin, George RR Martin’s work mainly consisted of the initial premise and world history. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

Under Hidetaka Miyazaki’s direction, the story then flows in a format similar to the Oldboy, the 2003 Korean film. You wake up all jaded, unbeknownst to the danger and surrounding affairs, and set off on this treacherous journey to restore lost grace. The events transpire in present-continuous tense, where you have as much knowledge about this world as your character in-game does. By exploring the lands and meeting numerous wretched people, you slowly learn about the legends through dialogues or finding stowed letters containing secrets.

Denizens in conflict have different sides to their story, and it goes deep enough to create random fight sequences in the background. Your character grows and gains information the way you see fit, making him easy to relate to. Now granted, you will still come across plotlines that barely make any sense, but there’s just something so alluring about lore-hunting in these games.

FromSoftware is notorious for taking inspiration from books, real-life history, and other familiar sources to add loose hanging threads and references throughout – which upon being recognised, makes you feel a bit smarter. And even if you don’t understand it, we can always count on YouTuber VaatiVidya to upload an in-depth lore video in the coming weeks.

Elden Ring review: Gameplay

Hardship is the core identity of FromSoftware games, and Elden Ring delivers grandly. The open-world is sprawling with armoured knights and monsters, who work together to humble you. Every step feels more daunting this time, as the environment expands in erratic ways – almost as if it has a mind of its own. In past titles, it was easy to distinguish between hostile territories and safe ones, as they each had a distinct look to them. But now, every location feels the same and immersive, urging you to be on constant lookout to see which enemies get ticked off and start chasing after you.

Elden Ring review, Elden Ring open-world, The world of Lands Between is sprawling with armoured knights and monsters, waiting at every chance to get you. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

I was coming into this fresh from Sekiro, and therefore, in the character creation screen, picked a class that was closest to a ninja. As a Samurai, I was equipped with a sharp-edged katana, a wooden bow, and an increased ability to sneak past foes. As you would expect, the movement was fluid, and with the addition of a dedicated jump button, I felt right at home. But as I opened the gates to Limgrave, I was completely caught off-guard by the scale of this game. It took me a few seconds before I actually started walking on its surface, as I was enthralled by its vastness, the towering grey castles, and a shadowy figure riding a horse on the far left.

As FromSoftware’s foray into an open-world scenario, I was not expecting its approach to be fully refined. But the studio went all-in, offering a massive expanse that has a ton of variety, with dungeons and caves, mini-bosses scattered around, and unique characters that lead to quests.

The open-world in Elden Ring has so much to do besides just fighting bosses. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

Unlike most open-world titles, Elden Ring does not feature any mission logs or colour-coded indicators that highlight points of interest in the world. The idea is to create a grounded situation, where you pull out the map and place markers on important locations. The game forces you to recall the general layout and be somewhat invested in the realm, though fast travel via checkpoints is always an option.

The ingeniously designed boss fights are the prime selling point for any souls-like title. So much so, that most players prefer brute forcing through the game with no regard for world-building and narrative. In previous Souls games, these battle arenas would be indicated by a misty doorway, making it easy to separate from optional bosses. To counteract this, Elden Ring has tossed tenacious foes on random locations in the Lands Between, giving you ample freedom to engage or just run past them. The shadowy rider I noted earlier is just one of the many such “freeform” hurdles you face in-game.

Elden Ring review, Elden Ring Tree Sentinel, The golden-armoured Tree Sentinel is one of the first “freeform” bosses you face in-game. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

His name is Tree Sentinel, a gold-clad knight, wielding a long spear and trudging along. To test the waters, I thought it would be a “great” idea to take my fresh, under-levelled samurai for a spin. I died an embarrassing amount of times – lost count after 15, before my brain decided to move on from this repeated torture. His polearm prevented me from getting too close, while his horse would swiftly charge into my mangled body as I tried healing. And so, I got to exploring – combing through every nook and cranny, hunting and looting countless mobs, and bartering with merchants for better consumables and weapons.

The game gets easier the more you venture into new areas, as evidenced by the introduction of Melina, our pink-haired maiden. Manifesting out of thin air at checkpoints, she offers guidance in our journey and aids in upgrading skills for future encounters. You’re also gifted a special whistle that lets you summon a spectral horse called Torrent. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. Not that the developers were aiming for it, but what’s present here is miles better than Roach from Witcher 3. Once mounted, you can traverse the landscape with fluid mobility and double jump across broad valleys.

Elden Ring review, Elden Ring Torrent, Elden Ring horse, Your spectral steed, Torrent makes traversing through the landscape fun and engaging, with the added bonus of a double jump ability. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

After some fruitful dilly-dallying, I went back to fight the Sentinel. The brawl was still intense, though riding the horse put us on a more even playing field and paved the way for a satisfying victory. As I set course for Stormveil Castle, the world shifted to a bleaker aesthetic. Paths were laid with rotting corpses and immortal bloodshed, as mutated ravens pecked at their eyeballs.

Some of these areas were guarded by ashy giants, adept at shooting explosive arrows. Since these are ranged attacks, you need to be good at zig-zagging towards your destination. I’m not. So, I summoned Torrent, charged in between its legs, and kept hacking away at its ankles in repeated succession. The behemoth soon fell to its knees, letting me deliver that final blow. And the same strategy applies to most dumb giants in the game. So, don’t be afraid to play around a little.

Elden Ring review, Elden Ring giants, Mounting your horse makes it much easier to fight dumb giants. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

Nearly 30 hours in, and I have merely scratched the surface of the Lands Between. It’s impossible to get hard stuck in this game, yet I found myself struggling with story bosses. My first obstacle was Margit, the Fell Omen. A slender, cursed being who uses his giant staff and a scorpion tail, protruding from its hind to smack you around. The AI was smart enough to recognise my moves and would accordingly, change patterns and time its attacks, making for a taxing affair.

It even forced me to use the new Spirit Summon mechanic, where you ring a bell to call upon a ghostly pack of wolves. This is an ideal tool for newcomers in the genre, as it helps take the heat off by getting the boss to focus on the spirits. This provides an opening to heal up or get a few hits in.

A little later, I stood before Godrick The Grafted, who has one of the most insane designs in the game. This bulky, old demigod has about 7 to 8 deformed appendages growing out of his back. They don’t serve any purpose in the fight, but just seeing those ugly things jiggling about made me shudder. Dodging past his axe swinging and storm-based attacks, you wear his health down to 50 percent.

Elden Ring review, Elden Ring bosses, Elden Ring Godrick, Godrick the Grafted has one of the most ingenious designs in Elden Ring. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

Then, something beautiful happens. In a cutscene, Godrick utters a high-pitched scream and chops his left arm off. He then replaces it with a living dragon head that serves as a flamethrower, in a transformation that totally blew me away. I remember striking him twice before getting incinerated and sent to the nearest checkpoint – a painful, irritating occurrence that I loved every second of.

Elden Ring review: Graphics and Audio

Elden Ring is, by far, the prettiest looking FromSoftware game. And I don’t mean that in terms of just graphics quality, but the tone. Between all the gloominess and decay, stands the divine Erdtree, whose luminous branches reach out like neurons to imbue blessings to the world. It’s a pure spectacle to see, imparting elegance through long stretches of blossoming flowers, misty woods with ferocious beasts, and don’t even get me started on the Caelid region. Masked in gorgeous red skies, this biome is home to exotic mushroom-like vegetation, crimson swamps that cause rot, and oversized snarling mutts with T-rex arms. Simply put – astoundingly creative visuals.

Elden Ring, Elden Ring graphics, Elden Ring Erdtree, The Erdtree is a spectacle to look at, imparting its blessings to the Lands Between. (Image credit: FromSoftware)

Spooky hallways get darker the more you venture in, which is enhanced by the excellent sound design that brings in hostile echoes from the distance. Each locale welcomes you with new epic music, composed by an ensemble of great artists, including Tsukasa Saitoh and Yuka Kitamura – who had contributed to the previous Souls games. To keep in line with Elden Ring’s medieval theme, the score relies on string instruments that start sombre and swell in time. During boss fights, it crescendos to a thunderous note, raising your motivation to the peak; while the gruff, taunting voice lines act as the cherry on top.

Elden Ring review: Verdict

FromSoftware draws the greatest strengths from past Souls games and serves it on a colossal platter, that is Elden Ring. Miyazaki has struck gold yet again, exploring new lanes and building a solid open-world system that seems to grow in size, the further you delve in. It’s never tedious, and runs the fine line between accessible and punishing – preserving the dopamine hit you get upon killing a boss. The obscure narrative unfolds in a liberated style, making it more digestible, and cementing its place as my Game of the Year.

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