It feels like an eternity since fans were treated to Elden Ring's reveal trailer back at E3 2019. This brief video provided a glimpse into its mysterious world, and it set the internet ablaze with excitement over this bold new collaboration between Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin and legendary game director Hidetaka Miyazaki. Considering FromSoftware is known for impressive consistency with its titles, which include 2019 Game of the Year Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, expectations from players like myself were justifiably astronomical.
What none of us knew was that the following year would bring a devastating pandemic that would not only dramatically impact our lives but would also disrupt the video games industry. As development teams frantically adjusted to remote work, it became more apparent with each passing month that titles like Elden Ring would be launching much later than initially planned.
Thankfully, our era of suspense is now at an end. I've spent close to 70 hours throwing myself into the grandeur of Elden Ring, and the more I play, the more I find myself in awe of the sheer scope of FromSoftware's latest offering. There's no shortage of content for players looking to get engrossed in a land of beauty, horror, mystery, and adventure. This gargantuan RPG not only met my most outlandish expectations, but repeatedly exceeded them. Miyazaki and company have delivered a fantasy epic that viciously scrapes and claws its way into the pantheon of unforgettably important video games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Elden Ring is FromSoftware's most remarkable work so far and stands confidently as one of the greatest RPGs of all time.
Bottom line: Elden Ring is a masterclass in open-world game design. FromSoftware has poetically fashioned a gorgeously haunting universe that begs to be explored. It's a quintessential action RPG and an obvious contender for game of the year.
- Compelling open-world gameplay
- Artfully crafted environments
- Distinct and varied enemy design
- Immense amounts of character customization
- Optional side dungeons feel too formulaic
- Certain boss fights will kick your assk
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Bandai Namco. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Elden Ring: The open-world setting can take you far
Players in Elden Ring take the role of a chosen Tarnished. These outcast individuals and their ancestors lost their grace and were banished from The Lands Between. Following the Shattering of the Elden Ring, the Greater Will has summoned our chosen Tarnished out of desperation to help reestablish the Golden Order. Your main objective is to hunt down the demi-god children of Queen Marika the Eternal to gather the Great Runes in hopes of garnering the power required to become the next Elden Lord. As you might imagine, these demi-gods won't give up their newfound power willingly. This conflict is the catalyst for your time in The Lands Between.
|Xbox Version||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S|
|Play Time||70+ hours|
|Players||Multiplayer 1 - 4|
Players familiar with FromSoftware's previous Souls-likes will immediately feel a sense of comfort upon opening Elden Ring. The control scheme, the flow of combat, and character progression are quite similar to Dark Souls 3 in many ways, but it's also immediately apparent that this isn't a Dark Souls game.
After emerging from a brief tutorial cave, you're bathed in the stunning view of Elden Ring's starting area Limgrave and given your first taste of the true scale of this new adventure. As a Dark Souls veteran, it was clear I wasn't in Lordran anymore.
The next 60+ hours of playtime with Elden Ring were a constant feast for the senses. The transition to open-world game design enriched the dynamics of moment-to-moment gameplay and supplied a steady stream of captivating environments and memorable set pieces. Inhabiting these unparalleled locations are a host of fascinating and often disgusting enemies and larger-than-life boss encounters. While long-time fans of FromSoftware will recognize some familiar faces, there are plenty of creatures and characters in Elden Ring you definitely won't see anywhere else.
Elden Ring also turbo-charges the player freedom and customization of titles like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. With 10 starting classes, each with specific starting items and abilities, you're given the flexibility to play almost any way you see fit. The tuning applied to weapons, magic, and even consumable items allows you to immerse yourself in the class fantasy of your choosing. Much like the tabletop RPGs that inspired so many iconic video games, every stat point, piece of gear, and gadget you bring acquire matters. And depending on your playstyle will likely be the difference between life and death.
Despite my anticipation for Elden Ring, I was admittedly worried that FromSoftware's transition to a traditional open-world style RPG would negatively impact the attention to detail many fans have grown to love. One of the reasons I hold Dark Souls 3 to such a high regard is because of how meticulously crafted every location feels. From the iconic towers of Anor Lando to the wooded swamp of the Road of Sacrifices, Dark Souls 3 never backs down when it comes to unforgettable scenery. Even benign background objects like bookshelves or weapon racks have their specific purpose in that world. Some of these concerns were slightly amplified after the slight taste of the Network Test due to what I assumed was a lack of biome diversity. Thankfully, I can confirm this wasn't a problem in Elden Ring.
What consistently surprised me about Elden Ring is how it managed to take all the core elements I love about Dark Souls 3 and expand upon their scale in meaningful ways. Nothing is lost with the dramatically increased map size. In fact, the stunningly dense locations encourage exploration in a way that other open-world RPGs can only dream of. Every structure or strange creature in the distance becomes a new mission. Subtle yet deliberate environmental details entice the player, and I almost always felt rewarded for venturing off the beaten path.
FromSoftware understands its audience's proclivities for uncovering hidden secrets. Seasoned players know that not everything is quite what it seems in a FromSoftware RPG, from invisible walls to entire regions locked behind specific gameplay mechanics. Elden Ring beckons you around each and every corner, and by providing a steady stream of weapons, upgrade materials, and even secret alternate paths, I never felt as though I was wasting my time by chasing after a curious hunch. This sense of accomplishment encouraged me to allow myself to get distracted in the best possible ways. So many of my favorite pieces of equipment were discovered entirely by accident.
With the broader scope of The Lands Between comes new methods of traversal. First is the ability to jump at will. This might sound like a relatively trivial feature for players unfamiliar with Dark Souls, but there's no denying how much more satisfying platforming becomes because of it. Your Spectral Steed, a mystical horse you can summon at will, is another noteworthy addition to the open-world formula that provides a consistent way to quickly traverse the map without an over-reliance on fast travel locations. Much like Breath of the Wild or Skyrim, these gameplay tools are crucial when maneuvering across Elden Ring's sprawling landscapes.
Elden Ring: Graphics, environment, and presentation
Over the last few decades, FromSoftware has crafted some of the most beloved locations in video game history. In particular, Miyazaki and the Souls team have a methodical approach to environmental design and storytelling. Whether it be cult-like structure in the distance or a pile of seared, decaying bodies, everything serves its purpose. While it's probably hard for some fans to imagine scenery more enigmatic than Dark Souls staples like Firelink Shrine or Kiln of the First Flame, Elden Ring manages to regularly bestow just that.
Elden Ring has the best color balance I've ever seen in a video game. The environments scattered throughout The Lands Between all serve as testaments to this team's attention to the importance of color. Areas like Limgrave delicately display hues of green and amber, while other locations like Liurnia Lake feature deep blue skies with speckles of good trickling on the horizon. Elden Ring isn't afraid to show this scenery, either. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the gorgeous views and jaw-dropping vistas for each of the varied biomes in the game.
The visual excellence of Elden Ring also extends to its interior locations. Dark caves and catacombs serve as playgrounds for the excellent lighting and particle effects. It's exhilarating watching blue glimmers from magic attacks or the distinct orange glow of a torch dance off tunnel walls. This emphasis on lighting is amplified by an impressive dynamic day/night cycle, which fundamentally changes the atmosphere of the game's dozens of locations. The immaculate implementation of color and lighting throughout Elden Ring is nothing short of praiseworthy. I confidently took 100 screenshots during my time with the game just based on presentation alone.
Elden Ring: Gameplay, enemies, and combat
The number of enemies and bosses in Elden Ring is outrageous. Every few hours, you're introduced to fresh breeds of curious creatures or malicious monstrosities. As someone who's played every other FromSoftware RPG, I recognized my fair share of returning favorites, like gigantic crabs and ravenous hounds missing heaps of fur. However, I was genuinely taken aback by how many new enemy types were introduced, especially because so many of them are things I've never seen in a video game before.
I won't divulge any specifics to avoid venturing into spoiler territory. The most important thing to know about Elden Ring and its creature design is that FromSoftware wasn't afraid to get weird. From body-horror beasts that I couldn't even conjure in my darkest nightmares to whimsical and almost even cute citizens of fantastical cities, the inhabitants of The Lands Between are wildly diverse and endlessly fascinating. It's not every day you see a spider-like hand monster crawling towards you at lightning speeds in a tight sewer corridor, and if I'm being honest, it's not something I ever want to see again.
And no FromSoftware RPG is complete without over-the-top boss battles in grandiose locations set to fierce orchestral music. Thankfully, this is another area Elden Ring delivers in spades. The animation details during boss encounters throughout the game are remarkable. Terrifying foes like Margit the Fell Omen carefully bait players into attacking or dodging, only to follow up with devastating counterattacks. Witnessing these epic foes deliberately false-swipe or backstep before lunging forward forces you to remain engaged in ways we haven't even seen in other FromSoftware titles. If you're hoping for some sweaty, heart-pounding battles in Elden Ring, you will not be disappointed.
One of Dark Souls' greatest strengths is how it empowers players through gameplay and equipment. You've always been given the freedom to choose what weapons you wield and which powers to summon, and this inherently determines how you'll engage in combat. Whether you're a thick tank carrying the heaviest club you can find or a sorcerer casting devastating magic from a distance, the ability for players to embrace precisely how they want to play has consistently been celebrated, and Elden Ring takes those principles to an entirely new level.
With more magic, weapons, equipment, and tools than ever before, FromSoftware's open-world RPG provides a variable sandbox of destruction. I chose The Prophet class in my primary playthrough, which serves as a fascinating blend of the Cleric and Pyromancer from Dark Souls. With nature-drive incantations, I was able to hurl enormous balls of fire and even rend the earth with mystical claws. I also unlocked the ability to imbue my weapons with holy magic to help quickly defeat the undead. These unique powers fed into the power fantasy of my specific playthrough.
If casting magic isn't your thing, don't worry; almost any weapon is viable in Elden Ring. If you want to pretend you're Simon Belmont and attack with a massive whip while throwing firebombs, the power is yours. If you want to put on some spiked knuckles and punch enemies into dust, that's entirely doable as well. Even with nearly 70 hours of playtime and likely many more to go before I officially complete my first run, I'm already planning my next starting class and my first level of New Game+. Just thinking about all the possibilities within Elden Ring is staggering.
This immense customization and character flexibility are amplified by some of the best action-oriented combat in the genre. Players allocate an assortment of left and right-handed weapons, up to three per arm, that can be seamlessly interchanged by pressing the d-pad in the direction associated with that armament. Different weapon types will prove to be more effective against specific enemies. Blunt instruments like maces are exceptional at taking down armored foes, and fire wreaks havoc on any enemy with flesh or fur. An elegant ballet perfected in Elden Ring is understanding your opponents and the proper gear for an encounter.
Elden Ring: What you won't like
While much of my time with this ambitious RPG has legitimately been some of the best in my experience playing video games, there are a few key points to discuss regarding disappointing design elements and causes of likely frustration, especially for players who've never attempted a FromSoftware RPG before in Elden Ring.
First up, many of the hidden dungeons located throughout The Lands Between are formulaic. There are essentially three main biomes for these optional dungeons: caves, catacombs, and mines. Almost all of them adhere to one of these three themes, and often they repeat corridors or even boss encounters. As these are entirely supplemental to the more ornate and elaborate dungeons where many of the game's main story beats occur, I didn't have a significant issue with the repetition. Unfortunately, they felt markedly less exciting compared to the extraordinary mainline locations.
And this wouldn't be a FromSoftware RPG review if we didn't talk about difficulty. Quality-of-life changes like increased checkpoint frequency and the ability to summon spirit companions to assist with more brutal encounters dramatically softens the overall challenge. However, there are still several critical boss encounters that will absolutely kick your ass. Even as a Souls veteran, some of these fights took me over 20 tries to complete. Although I thoroughly enjoyed many of these grueling bosses, I totally understand that not everyone has the patience for that level of stress. So, as you prepare for your upcoming Elden Ring adventure, just remember the timeless adage: Prepare to die.
Elden Ring: Should you play it?
Like the RPGs that came before it, Elden Ring will likely be a divisive video game. On the one hand, there's no denying how incredibly designed this open-world epic is. Elden Ring takes the best elements of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and gorgeously presents them to an entirely new audience. On the other hand, the difficulty during several boss battles will undoubtedly be too intense for casual RPG enthusiasts to overcome.
For players willing to embrace the challenge and defeat seemingly insurmountable foes, Elden Ring is, without question, one of the greatest RPGs ever made. From rich exploration to constantly engaging combat, you're always rewarded for your efforts. The Lands Between instantly became one of my favorite video game worlds.
If you want an RPG that promotes experimentation, provides dozens and dozens of unforgettable enemies and bosses, and celebrates the legacy of one of the most talented teams in game development, Elden Ring is a must-play.
Miles Dompier is a Freelance Video Producer for Windows Central, focusing on video content for Windows Central Gaming. In addition to writing or producing news, reviews, and gaming guides, Miles delivers fun, community-focused videos for the Windows Central Gaming YouTube channel. Miles also hosts Xbox Chaturdays every Saturday, which serves as the Windows Central Gaming weekly podcast.