Fade in. A dark, damp cave greets your screen as a knight in royal blue armor rises from the ground, soot and dirt falling off their shoulders. Your shoulders. You move forward, exploring through the cave, passing hollow corpses and trees which glow an almost holy gold, until you arrive at a large stone slab. You lift the heavy rock with all your might as the infiltrating light of the outside world blinds you. A man in a friendly mask awaits you. You approach with naive optimism, in the hopes of learning more about this new world. He praises your efforts and dreams of success, to become the Elden Lord. However, there is just one small thing. “You are maidenless,” he says, “fated to die in obscurity.”
In collaboration with “Game of Thrones” writer George R. R. Martin, FromSoftware created a game whose world is tunneling towards collapse. Foreshadowed by its opening, the setting and gameplay of “Elden Ring” is volatile and cruel, choosing to wear its brutality on its sleeve. “Elden Ring” expands upon the legacies of its predecessors in the “Souls” series (“Dark Souls,” “Bloodborne,” etc.) to create a game which is unique and interesting to “Souls” —veterans, yet familiar enough to be accessible to new players.
The gameplay of “Elden Ring” feels more fleshed out and diverse than previous FromSoftware titles, incorporating aspects from both their “Dark Souls” and “Sekiro” games. There are the traditional strategies of blocking, parrying, and dodging attacks, but in “Elden Ring” there is a unique improvement in the player’s mobility: jumping and positioning now play an essential role in combat. The hitboxes of characters are more precise and accurate, making it feel more intense and rewarding when a colossal sword narrowly whiffs over your head or under your feet.
This variety of options extends into the arsenal at your disposal. “Elden Ring” expands the traditional set of medieval-themed weapons to include staffs thrice your size or a trumpet which blows holy bubbles. Adding to the role-playing game (RPG) element, this allows all sorts of combinations, with the player choosing to be anything from the raid boss to its annoying underling. Magic is carried over from other FromSoftware games, allowing you to keep your distance while still outputting high damage.
“Elden Ring” is also the first FromSoftware game set within the framework of an open world RPG. The player isn’t limited to a linear gameplay track, but encouraged to explore and discover. Although I see this as a net positive addition to the game, many of the game’s setbacks come as a result of it. In order to traverse the vastness of The Lands Between, the player is given a horse, which can not only be ridden, but also fought upon. It sounds cool in concept, but feels clunky and one-dimensional in practice due to its limitations.
The open world also poses a problem when it comes to content, namely its accessibility. Questlines are a key feature in FromSoftware games, with NPCs (non-playable characters) giving players optional tasks which change the path of the main story and inform them about the world. I have yet to beat the game because I am constantly distracted by new questlines and areas which I learn from my friends or forums online. Although I believe more interesting content is largely a good thing when it comes to video games, “Elden Ring” makes it more of a barrier through the time investment needed to experience the game in its totality.
“Elden Ring” is unforgiving in its difficulty, a feature that is only exacerbated by the open world, with certain areas which are balanced for players in the late stages of the game being accessible at any point. This means theoretically, while exploring, a player who is only level 30 could encounter an enemy who was meant for a player who is level 70. Since it is an open world, these level barriers are not explicitly shown, which led me to multiple moments where I was confused as to whether I was under-leveled/underprepared to fight a boss, or that I simply needed to buckle down and “git gud.’”
Despite its problems integrating the open world, “Elden Ring” is another polished and well-thought-out addition from a studio which, in my opinion, fails to miss. It gathers the elements of previous FromSoftware games into a vibrant and accessible concoction which is challenging, yet satisfying. If you’ve never played a FromSoftware game before, I would highly recommend you try “Elden Ring” and experience what it’s like to be “maidenless.”