Well, it’s finally here, the game I have been itching to play ever since I got my hands on it via a network test a while back; anticipation was high. Promising to match the gameplay of Dark Souls with the storytelling skills of George R. R. Martin, on paper at least this sounds like it should be the perfect game. At least if you finish the story this time, eh George? So, can Elden Ring live up to the lofty expectations, or would we be better off playing Dark Souls again? Come with me, Tarnished, and let’s find out.
Story is a big part of these games, and in traditional FromSoftware style, it is not totally straightforward to figure out what is going on in Elden Ring. It appears that someone by the name of Queen Marika has a ring, an Elden one at that, and it got broken. Her offspring, demigods all, each received a fragment of the ring, and in order to bring about the restoration of truth, justice and the saving of the world as a whole, someone needs to get these fragments, glue them back together and remake the ring. I think. Now, obviously these shard bearers are not going to give the fragments up just because we say pretty please; they are going to need some persuasion. And by persuasion, I mean application of a pointy bit of metal to the face.
With the scene set, Elden Ring is looking good; visually too. Now, with the best will in the world, Dark Souls titles haven’t really been lookers. The vibe they had was that of a world trembling on the edge of destruction, and so the graphics reflected that; all sombre greys and browns. Elden Ring breaks with this tradition, with the world being a beautiful place to look at, green and verdant, with the glorious golden Erdtree overlooking everything. Never before in a Souls type game have I taken so many screenshots, unless it was when fighting a massive boss. The scenery here is just gorgeous.
The enemies are also a very imaginative bunch, ranging as they do from sheep and turtles (that seem to have got something of a cult following already) up to the bosses – room filling horrors that need a good dose of luck to survive. Sound wise and Elden Ring is absolutely on point as well, with the usual swishy swords and crunching impacts when you manage to sneak up on a baddie, right through to some very good voice acting throughout. All in all, there is a big gold star heading the way of FromSoftware.
Now, as anyone who has played one of these types of games before, it’s in the combat that the game truly comes alive. And I’m pleased to say that the same applies here. It is lovely to wander around the place, finding Sites of Lost Grace (the equivalent of Dark Souls’ bonfires), and in a nice touch, you can fast travel to a Lost Grace from anywhere on the map at any time; something which is always handy if you are getting your head kicked in. Which, lets face it, will be most of the time.
Anyway, wandering around, exploring likely looking caves and dungeons is very involving, especially with the clear and present feeling of danger, knowing that at any moment you may come across a foe that will completely ruin your day. Having a large collection of runes in your pocket (gained from defeating enemies, and used as currency with merchants and to level up at Lost Graces) just adds to the jeopardy; if you die, you will lose them all and have to retrace your steps. Helpfully, if the worst does happen, your lost runes are marked on the compass, so you can always find your way back. Whether you can get there without dying is another matter, however.
The combat then is, simply put, glorious in Elden Ring. There is a flow, a rhythm that you can tap into, and in a nice touch, the rhythm for each different type of weapon is slightly different, forcing you to adapt to a new way of fighting if you swap from a sword to an axe, for instance. Even the different types of armour you can equip can make a big difference. Take just the second sort of major area and you’ll find that there are a lot of magic using foes, so armour that is good against magic is better than using metal plate armour.
Running through areas, blocking, parrying (I still struggle with that) and fighting the enemies is awesome fun as always, but this time there are a couple of new features. One is stealth, allowing you to crouch and sneak up on an opponent before delivering a devastating backstab which can kill weaker foes in a single hit. The second revolves around Torrent, the magic horse that you keep in your pocket that can be summoned anywhere outside, basically. Obviously, galloping across a vast plain is quicker than walking, and you can even fight foes from horseback if you like. One word of warning though, if you do get knocked off the horse, you are left completely vulnerable and death is almost inevitable. Ask me how I know…
Bosses are the big draw for Elden Ring, and even from the first moment, you are put into combat with things that are almost completely overwhelming. There is, however, a kind of tutorial level this time around, but don’t think FromSoftware has gone soft: you may well get through the tutorial dungeon, but as soon as you step outside, there’s a big golden enemy on a horse who will mess you up if he sees you. It is very much business as usual. The actual bosses are so, so hard that practice is almost mandatory, as is asking for help from the wider player pool.
Yet it is here where I’ve encountered the only real issue with the whole of Elden Ring: that of getting people in to help with bosses. The number of times I’ve stood on a golden summon sign and tried to pull someone in, only to be told that the cooperator couldn’t be summoned has driven me up the wall. I didn’t have this issue in the Network Test, and so I’m really hoping that it can be patched, as having a few warm bodies to help split the bosses focus is incredibly helpful. There is a way of summoning helpful spirits to help, but as per the norm, the AI can’t compete with real people when it comes to helping out.
Apart from the summoning issue that is found when attempting to play with others, Elden Ring is a triumph. It looks great, it plays like a dream and it provides a world in which you can spend hours, just wandering about, picking fights. It’s a testament to a game that when you are away from it, it’s the only thing you will think of; working out the strategies required to take down the boss that you are stuck on. This is the hold that Elden Ring has.
If you like Dark Souls, this is a no brainer, but even if you don’t then Elden Ring is still more than worth a try; if only as it is a tiny bit friendlier.
Elden Ring can be picked up on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store