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Elden Ring for Xbox review: FromSoftware's magnum opus

I never want to leave The Lands Between.

Elden Ring Erdtree
(Image: © Windows Central)

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.

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

Elden Ring Margit

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

CategoryGameNameXXX
TitleElden Ring
DeveloperFromSoftware
PublisherBandai Namco
GenreRPG
Xbox VersionXbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Game Size49GB
Play Time70+ hours
PlayersMultiplayer 1 - 4
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch Price$60

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.

Elden Ring Horse Jump

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

The stunningly dense locations encourage exploration in a way that other open-world RPGs can only dream of.

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

Elden Ring Moonlight

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

The immaculate implementation of color and lighting throughout Elden Ring is nothing short of praiseworthy.

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

Elden Ring Summons

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

It's not every day you see a spider-like hand monster crawling towards you at lightning speeds in a tight sewer corridor.

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.

Elden Ring Scenery

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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 you want to pretend you're Simon Belmont and attack with a massive whip while throwing firebombs, the power is yours.

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

Elden Ring Site Of Grace

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

Even as a Souls-veteran, some of these fights took me over 20 tries to complete.

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?

Elden Ring Stormveil

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

30 Comments
  • Good review, I'm thinking of going with Prophet as my starting class, too. How is Beast Claw at the start? Sounds like it was pretty insane in the network test so I'm curious whether they nerfed it.
  • So, as someone who is admittedly not very familiar with the Dark Souls genre (and I think of them as more combat-focused action games than "true" RPG games), how does a game like this compare to "traditional" RPGs like those from CDPR and Bethesda? I'm concerned that in the whole review, there wasn't a single mention of dialog, story, or characters you'll care about, which are, for me, often the most important features in an RPG. Should I assume that those are just not prominent features in this Souls-like genre? (And that's entirely fair -- a game should never try to be all things to all people, but rather should know what it is and do that well.) Maybe I could summarize my question: is this an action/combat game first with some RPG elements and a background story, or is this a character-and-story focused RPG first with great action, or something else entirely? Thanks for any education on this.
  • Souls games, Sekiro, and Bloodborne, which is my favorite in the series, are not "traditional" as you described. They are action RPGs focused on combat. The mechanics are very deep and gameplay can be unforgiving. Success depends on you learning attack patterns and marrying your character's skills and gear with your play style. It's not simply "level up X stat" and mash a button. The story/lore is also deep but it's not straightforward and there's not a single thing to read that explains everything or an NPC who connects all the dots for you. It's intentionally opaque and it requires reading a lot of stuff and talking to a lot of NPCs to get even half the story.
  • Sounds like the combat elements are the real standout feature. I think I'll try this one as time permits. At the very least, I should make myself more familiar with the genre. I'm not sure I'll like it -- if every puzzle is solved by fighting, that may not be interesting to me (I think even less combat-heavy games like Fallout and the Witcher rely on combat too heavily to advance the game because they couldn't be bothered to build other kinds of challenges), but I like a good, tough fight that requires strategy, proper equipment, and dexterity skills as much as the next guy. I tend to prefer the FPS model for combat over third person (maybe Immersive Sim + RPG = my dream game), but that's not remotely a deal breaker. My ideal RPG would have punishingly difficult combat (at least if set to Hard mode), as you've described, but that would only be about 1/3 to 2/3 of the challenges in the game, the rest being a mix of item and environment puzzles, heavy exploration (both geographic and meeting lots of people with unique personalities without them feeling like they're only there to provide quests), and political or character intrigue "beaten" through dialog choices, with all of that telling an amazing story with surprising plot twists. The player should at least FEEL like he or she is in control of the story, even if that's not actually the case. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic is a great example of a third-person game (one of the best RPGs of all time) that gave this impression really well. Sounds like this game has really, really great combat and good exploration opportunities, but not really any other puzzles or challenges to speak of.
  • Yeah Dark Souls doesn't have a story when you are playing the game, the story has already happened, what you get is lore. From the multitude of items, spells, and snippets of dialogue from NPC's. But story wise you are cursed and you are given the task to link the flame to allow the world to continue trudging along as it is and that's it, that's your sole purpose in life. If you want to help people asking the way, that's an option, but it's never changing your one task. Probably the only shift is in Dark Souls 1 when you meet Kaarth, and you are given the option to not kindle the flame and instead allow the world to enter the Age of Dark (or Age of Man). Which then becomes an option throughout all three games. Sekiro actually has much more of a story, and a rather good one at that. Bloodborne is much like Dark Souls. So, what I'm getting at from that is based on what you enjoy in an RPG, I don't think you will enjoy Dark Souls that much. But if you want to see if it is for you maybe get one of the games cheap and see how you go at worst you might be out $10 if you don't enjoy it.
  • Sin Ogaris, thanks for the great explanation. I definitely want to better understand the genre, so I probably will play one. Unless people advise against it, I'll probably start with Elden Ring for the best visuals on my Series X.
  • Afraid with no 21:9 support this is on the "maybe bother when it's half off" list.
  • I would like to see this game reviewed by someone who isn't a souls fan. Can't find that review anywhere. What impact did GRRM have on the story? Is there a proper story in which I can play a role in this roleplaying game? Are there actual quests with goals, or is it just combat, aside from the macguffin main quest which sounds like just combat? Because I've read there is no quest log, which doesn't sound fun in an open world game with 100 hours of content. How do my decisions and interactions impact the open world environment? Is there any interaction with the environment beyond killing things? I've seen people mentioning performance issues (some sites are saying review in progress, digital foundry is waiting for a patch), like bad frame rate, pop in, etc, yet the reviews don't mention any of that. These are things reviewers had no problem holding against games like CP2077, and deservedly so. If true, how is poor performance not factored into the evaluation of this game? When it's being billed by professional reviewers, who are also fans, as the best rpg ever, these are questions that I, who is a fan of other open world rpgs, but not a souls fan, would like to know the answer to before I decide if I will purchase. Souls fans know they will like the game, I've seen more than a few already calling this the best game ever made before they've even played it. What would be helpful is an objective review that lets people like me, who like open world rpgs and GRRM's intricate, character driven storytelling know what to expect vs the hype that was built up around his name for months.
  • I'll be honest, I'm curious about the GRRM thing as well (his inclusion has always felt really bizarre to me), because everything I have seen implies it follows Soulsborne storytelling which is to say, there is basically none during the game and it's all lore you discover along the way. But I've only read this review so far so I'm hoping someone else brings up that aspect. That being said it's also important to remember that FromSoft do action RPG's with a heavier emphasis on action. I'm not really expecting them to break from the mold all that much, Sekiro was already a significant departure from Soulsborne and this looks like it takes a step back from the innovations Sekiro brought to the table.
  • Okay. I played the first two Dark Souls games and I didn't really care for them. The difficulty wasn't the issue, just there wasn't much going on with the story to keep me engaged enough to trudge through what I felt was an ugly, clunky game. Elden Ring seems to have a lot more going on, and looks way more polished, but I was hoping that it was more of a proper RPG with more emphasis on the RP.
  • Sounds like you and I have same questions. By the way Cyberpunk 2077 is currently my main game.
  • Yeah I sort of ranted before reading the comments lol. I just started the CP2077 trial. I'm still probably going to wait for the DLC to launch and buy the complete edition.
  • I bet the big new content CP2077 (paid) DLC's will be amazing. There should be 2 of them. So much effort in the first game went into building the world, I think the main story is a little light (at least compared to the Witcher 3, which shares many of the mechanics). But now that they've finally fixed everything up night and tight, I think they can focus on pure story. I'm excited for those.
  • Here's a decent summary of GRRM's role. TL;DR = he helped develop the world and he provided ideas for the lore and characters. https://www.ign.com/articles/miyazaki-george-rr-martin-elden-ring-speaki...
  • Thanks, I visit IGN sometimes but I missed that article. I'll check it out. Edit: Okay I've read the article and that's sort of disappointing based on my interpretation of the marketing over the last couple years.
  • I was never into souls games, DS seemed rather repetitive and so i didn't bother buying the others.
    ER is mostly about the combat and quests so far are simple, just go here and clear an area of enemies and get your reward. No choices or story.
    However with the open world aspect it has been surprisingly engaging to just ride around, sneak around enemies that are too strong, discover stuff, try to take on various bosses, but know you aren't stuck and unable to go no where else unless you beat it.
    I wouldn't have spent $60 on it, but i used some ms rewards and got it for $10 and it's been fun.
  • There's no way this is a better over all game than Witcher 3
  • Really? So no one can possibly have a different opinion? The Witcher 3 is great but the combat is meh. Many agree and value it significantly more than things The Witcher 3 does better. Based on the combat alone, many will probably like Elden Ring better. See, to each his/her own.
  • i'm sure it's the best souls type game ever, but as far as best over all game that most people would pick up and enjoy?
  • I'm unsure what you're saying other than you're trying to move the goalposts. The Witcher 3 is "easier" as far as combat difficulty and the story is simpler to get into and follow, but that doesn't make it "better". You're comparing very different games, and saying one is better than the other is simply preference.
  • As a huge Witcher 3 fan, I agree with spicypadthai on this. I actually don't think I will like this game as much as Witcher 3 either (or other open world RPG's of that ilk, including Fallout and Cyberpunk 2077), but if I understand correctly, these Souls-like games appeal to a different audience. They are more about precise action and tactics than story and character. Neither is right or wrong, just appeal to different people (or the same person at different times). E.g., I like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies too, but those are nothing like the Witcher games nor are either of them like Forza or Flight Simulator. They're not really comparable. Having said that, the descriptions I've read of Souls-like games don't sound like what I would consider an RPG, which these days implies something with a plot driven by interactions with characters in the game. This seems like an action game, not an RPG, but I admit that's a pretty subjective term. Back in the 1980s, many RPGs (that were clearly and indisputably RPGs) had virtually no dialog or meaningful characters, and were just a series of weakly considered quests to justify combat. If you separate the technology of the day from the game, I think the greatest RPG ever made was Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.
  • I'm just saying type of game compared to over all of all types of games.
    Elden ring is seeming to be the best of its kind.
    But witcher 3 better over all in the scale of all gaming that majority of gamers would get into
  • The only aspect of this game I do not like is the invasion part. This could ruin the fun you are just trying to have with your friends, and most likely force players to play solo rather than multiplayer with friends. Otherwise I look forward to playing this game. I just wish they would have added a private setting when playing with friends.
  • invasion? like others online just pop into your game unexepected to ruin what you're doing?
  • From the YouTube videos I've seen yes, however I not found any video where they show an invasion happening. Invasion reminds me of what Watch Dogs did where randoms could jump into your game and hack you. From what those YouTuber's were describing there is not a private friends only setting. I believe Miles mentions this briefly but doesn't go into much detail about it.
  • Oh wow, so you can't turn that off. Seems like that would get annoying.
  • If it's like the Souls games you can set yourself to offline, which means you won't get invaded. Although I did read that in this game people can't invade you unless you already have a co op summon, but until I play it I cannot confirm whether this is true or not.
  • Sorry, I should have be more clear earlier, but the only way you can be invaded is if you are in a COOP session with a friend or random. If you are playing SOLO you do not have to be offline and you will NOT be invaded. No clue what happens when you are invaded, but you can get an item that will call hunters to help with the invasions. I need to research more about it.
  • Turns out there is ai npc invasion.. even if you are offline. crazy.
  • Yeah, AI invasions are just NPC enemies, so it's basically like fighting any other enemy although they utilise some of the same tricks as the player, they're nowhere near as hard as fighting an actual other player though.