Last year, I reviewed Far Cry 6 for us, and I found myself so bored, I almost wanted to quit game reviewing entirely. I wrote in my review about how I'd become fatigued by the Ubisoft open-world formula, which is big on copy and paste and light on soul. The fact I also worked on Watch Dogs: Legion, previous recent Assassin's Creed games, and other Ubisoft-style open worlds contributed to the way I've started to feel about their format and made me wonder whether I haven't just started despising open-world games altogether. Thankfully, Elden Ring showed me that this needn't be the case.
Elden Ring is a truly incredible game, and will be held up as a seminal moment in the industry, much like games like Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, and The Witcher 3 before it. FromSoftware's absolute mastery of RPG depth soars to incredible new heights in Elden Ring, but for me, the star of the show has been the open world itself.
I find myself truly aghast at Elden Ring. In the prologue area alone, I found at least 15 hours of raw, handcrafted, meaningful gameplay, with dozens of unique monsters, boss battles, loot, and dungeon areas. Dozens of weapon types, skills, abilities, and armor give you a truly insane amount of control over how you will curate and tailor your character's playstyle. Even the most basic tombs and mineshafts felt like they had something interesting to discover at the end, even if they didn't provide anything specifically decent for my class build. That sense of wonderment and discovery is present at every corner of Elden Ring, and bristling with detail, and unique events.
Critically for me, after playing Elden Ring, I expect it will change my personal standards for what constitutes quality open-world gaming forever. Elden Ring is one of the best Xbox and PC games ever made.
Mastering the fine line between fun and fatigue
Open-world games often run this fine line between being epic, grand, and amazing, and being dull, lifeless, and work-like. I pick on Ubisoft a lot for this, given that their games often sort of blend together into this homogeny of repeated themes and mechanics. Ghost Recon plays like Far Cry plays like The Division plays like Watch Dogs plays like Assassin's Creed, and so on. Other games see how these titles end up being popular and try to emulate them to mixed success. I found the Batman: Arkham open worlds to be similarly dull, thankfully saved by some great story writing. I also got tired fairly quickly of Metal Gear Solid V's flat open world, and barely remember it as I write this down, despite having spent dozens of hours writing the review for it.
Much like The Witcher 3, Breath of the Wild, and Skyrim before it, Elden Ring's open world is meticulously hand-crafted, and you can feel it in every corner of the game. In some ways, it's almost like two games, with the open-world connecting more intimate Dark Souls-like dungeons and castles, with classic complexity, absolutely crammed with secrets and restlessly nail-biting boss battle setpieces. You spend the majority of your time in Elden Ring inside the open-world areas, and much like previous FromSoftware RPGs, the volume of tools to uncover and unlock is somewhat staggering.
If rewards weren't enough, much like Halo Infinite to some degree, the combat system is so immaculate in Elden Ring that simply exploring and defeating bosses is reward enough. Elden Ring also puts a large emphasis on the ease of traversal. Much like Halo Infinite's vehicles, Elden Ring's Torrent steed is incredibly fun and easy to ride.
There's been a focus in the post-Skyrim era among some AAA studios that size alone is the selling point. You can have the biggest open world in the universe, but if it's full of dull content, with dull traversal, and dull combat, it creates layers of irritation that don't make the journey worth the effort. The guise of "more = better value" thankfully is waning as a concept, with more users than ever seeking a high-quality, memorable experience, rather than something that is vast for the sake of vast.
Somehow, and despite all the odds, Elden Ring manages to build a world that is uniquely colossal, while simultaneously ensuring consistently cutting-edge worthwhile content. Every layer of Elden Ring is expansively varied, and wholly devoid of anything that could be considered "filler." That sense of wonderment and unknowing that is very typical of FromSoftware's unique RPGs has become an utterly perfect stage for an open-world format that some AAA publishers have abused to the point of absurdity.
A seminal moment for open-world games
For the big publishers with mountains of resources building these types of games, Elden Ring should serve as a firm wake-up call. It's not going to be enough to constantly re-use the same themes, with flat and repetitive gameplay wholly devoid of creativity. Elden Ring has singlehandedly raised my standards for how an open-world game should be. And this has nothing to do with the difficulty debate, because yes, in typical FromSoftware fashion, Elden Ring can be incredibly demanding. However, that's beside the point I'm trying to make here.
Even without the challenge, Elden Ring's open world is just beyond the competition in ways that are hard to fully describe without listing out a trove of spoilers. The passion and artistry oozes out of this game in such abundance that it simply makes me wonder just what the heck are other AAA studios doing wrong? It's certainly not for lack of money.
I have no idea how FromSoftware does it, in an age dominated by microtransactions, cheap monetization gimmicks, and cut-corners design. They've managed to create a AAA game that defies industry trends and represents the zenith of interactive art. And I'm so grateful I got to experience it. Hopefully, other studios take a little peek at Elden Ring, and discover that it isn't Hollywood celebrity casting or size for the sake of size that makes a game brilliant.
I want more games like this.
The next adventure
An incredible journey
Elden Ring is the next game from the makers of Dark Souls, FromSoftware. Set in a truly mind-blowing open world, Elden Ring bares instant-classic status.
Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
i was really surprised with AC Vahalla that every area "arc" you do isn't exactly the same with just the same objectives and the same ending battle copied and pasted.
sounds like this game will be even better than that. sounds great.
How does it compare to rdr2?
I have to be VERY selective in the open world games I play. I've tried several but have only so much time. Far Cry, Just Cause, Skyrim, RDR2, GTA, Assassin's Creed and The Witcher are the ones that first come to mind. Knowing that these games can take over 100 hrs is a big commitment. For example, at about 40 hours into Far Cry 3 I committed to finishing it. I didn't realize that was going to be an 80 hour commitment to complete it! For me to commit to one of these games it has to be stellar. Based on your review it appears to be in that category. If it's 120 hours like Far Cry 3....it may take me 6 months to finish it.
A hundred hours, it takes that long to get the mods setup just right in Skyrim. Then the game time on top of that.
Is that clip above really representative of what the combat is like? You just ride around on your horse in a circle shooting at the enemy while it swings wildly in your general direction?
For a gold standard it has too many frame-rate and stuttering issues for my taste
That's a completely separate subject to the open world. Those issues will be fixed soon enough and the open world that is now will still be then. Not suggesting that those issues are not issues, but they have nothing to do with whether the open world created for the game is the gold standard for open worlds or not.
This game appears to be great. Reading your remarks about open world games, you should try Breath of the Wild, as many of these problems were addressed there.
You have OW burnout because you have to work when playing games. And you have to finish as much of them as possible before X date. I do not. I solved OW burnout by realizing much of it was optional, and by spreading my virgin playthroughs of games over months and YEARS. (I'm still doing BOTW and Witcher 3). As a result, I doubt I will be in awe as much as you have been.
Elden Ring does suffer from the OW issue of so many crafting materials that are just completely useless. Also the world is definitely not the best open world I've experienced, the dungeons get very samey.
Great review, Jez! I can't speak to the accuracy or if I agree, because I've not played yet. But your review certainly makes me want to play it. It's downright inspiring! :-) As some have noted in other pages on this, it would be nice to have something that helps those of us who may be familiar with other open-world RPGs, but not the Souls-like genre, to understand how to think about this kind of game. I was never interested in those before, but now that there is one that's considered an open world RPG, I suddenly find this new genre in my sweet spot of games. I suspect it's very different from what I traditionally think of with Skyrim/Fallout, Red Dead Redemption, and The Witcher/Cyberpunk.
So, "Elden Ring" is what you think the "Gold Standard" should be? Remind me to never play any game that you like. Ever.
That has to be the single most insipid statement I've ever read on a click-bait piece of **** article. The "OW" in Elden Ring that is so awesome, that you speak of is; devoid of all life, except for periodic animals, which have no bearing on your character at all, "Wanderers" of which there are about a dozen, that... sit still, or everything else that basically wants to kill you.
The "role-playing" elements are non-existent in this game. Basically, you can role-play two different things, either you give up and don't finish the game, or you finish the game. That's it. No choice in the entire game makes any difference to the world or outcome of the game. How in the f*ck is that role-playing?
I have defeated 2 of the 5 "end-game bosses", there is almost no story, to speak of. I've done every single side-quest I've come upon, all two of them and I still have no idea what in the hell this game is about.
Is the combat fun? Sure. Is the game entertaining? In its own weird kind of way. Would I recommend it to anyone looking for an OW game? Not in 100 billion eons.
I'll give this article an F-.
Metro Exodus is the only open world game I've ever had this experience with. It's crafted just as well as the previous linear games before it. I was worried when I first heard they were taking the series open-world but they simply nailed it. Feels lived in and alive, and exploration offers plenty of lore and world building. Give it a shot.
Yeah, this kinda sucks. Just when I thought the "open world" gimmick is dying this game comes along and revives it.
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