Before the word “open world” linked to the nature of games like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed, the Dark Souls series, including Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, were open worlds. Faraway castles and marshes drew your attention, so you devised a linear approach to them, fell down a hole, and proceeded on the hunt for a new destination. Their worlds were filled with clues and lures leading to new paths and back to old locations, so they didn’t need maps or icons.
It worked, but extending Dark Souls’ mysteries and challenges throughout an open world in the traditional sense—castles to infiltrate from several sides, marshes to ride through on horseback, and creatures to pursue—is the kind of stuff you fantasies about.
From Software’s successor to the Souls series, Elden Ring, is massive in comparison to the previous games, and what’s in its open world is undoubtedly Dark Souls.
It was, however, a little better as a dream. The genuine Elden Ring is so similar to Dark Souls that it may be unsettling at times: there’s a woman who levels you up, a throne to usurp, and many of the same types of creatures as in Souls games, including some that are nearly identical. It turns out that scattering those items over an open globe doesn’t better them and takes away their significance from the other games.
Because the Souls games are so good, even though they reuse a lot of what we’ve seen before, it all works. It’s like playing a revamped, remixed, and remastered version of a Souls game where Elden Ring retreads the past—with some frustrating technological flaws to truly imitate those old days. And it soars when Elden Ring reaches for something more.
The opening few hours of Elden Ring may remind you of more pleasant times in a game like Breath of the Wild, but FromSoftware has not abandoned its trademark brutality. Because of the open environment, you may avoid parts of the third-person, hack-and-slash confrontations that would obliterate you in another Souls game, but it’s still challenging—for me, one of the more challenging FromSoftware games.
Elden Ring has the same thoughtful fighting that has been standard in these types of games, but it is thoroughly perfected in this game. You swing, your opponent swings, and you may both interrupt each other’s assaults with pinpoint accuracy.
The finest Elden Ring bouts, like the best Souls fights, require you to study your opponent’s lunges and look for opportunities to punish them when they miss. It’s virtually turn-based in action, as you make your move while waiting for the enemy to make theirs. These games are compelling because it rarely feels like the enemies follow a different set of rules than you, so it feels like you’ve outsmarted a dungeon master when you find a way to win, whether it’s through magic spells or explosive bombs. With towering bosses and groups of opponents that push you to make rapid decisions about which to prioritise, Elden Ring mimics some of the best encounters in the franchise.
It’s the scale that initially fools you into thinking it’s kinder. I spent hours poking through Limgrave and Liurnia’s autumnal landscapes, but my stats didn’t improve enough to resist more than a swing from one of the two early main bosses. I killed animals on the surface and beneath the Lands Between, collected important goods and gear, and improved my kit with the blacksmith, but none of it prepared me for Elden Ring’s most dangerous foes. Weapons and shields have special abilities, such as a shield that deflects magic back at attackers or a sword that fires a blade projectile after a brief charge.
Some bosses, whether in one of Elden Ring’s difficult “Legacy” dungeons or out in the world, appear impassable without another player sharing the boss’s focus so that you may squeeze a hit in for at least a time. Elden Ring remained hostile during the 60 hours I spent with it, making the journey through it at times difficult and pointless.
One patch of land could be home to undead troops who can be slain with a slash of magic, while another could be home to savage giants that can shrug off an axe cleaved into their side. Throughout Elden Ring, I was unclear of my character’s strength and where he could go. From my character’s point of view—trespassing she’s on the land that exiled her—inscrutable confrontations with high-health foes felt like hitting an MMO level gate, except that because this is a Souls game, I couldn’t determine if I should spend hours mastering these fights or leave them till later. One of the reasons Dark Souls functioned better with well-defined limits is because of this.
Torrent, the horse you may summon practically anywhere outside of Elden Ring’s defined dungeons and tunnels, is also contributing to the problem. There are worse horses to ride in games (you don’t have to feed this one, and it seldom gets stuck on rocks or shrubs), but riding past large adversaries or through camps to retrieve an item from the ground may be thrilling, especially when escaping hostile bullets and swipes.
I eventually ran into defences and enemy types that targeted my four-legged mobility with heat-seeking arrows and trebuchet barrages (or early on if I was feeling more adventurous).
A path new and old in Elden Ring
Once you’ve figured out Dark Souls’ lingo, it’ll be clear where you should go next in the game’s more contained world and where you shouldn’t. On your first run through a poisonous area, your healing resources may be depleted, but a nearby forest is full of herbs to replenish your supplies. Because the world is so large and thick, it took me hours to figure out where I was intended to use goods like anti-poison plants and armour built to withstand magic attacks that I found.
Ruts like these are worth climbing out of if you want to see Elden Ring’s greatest moments. Dark Souls appears to be a normal fantasy environment with skeletons and dragons in its early hours, but it soon evolves into an hourglass world with golden towns looking down on flooded ruins. Elden Ring is magnetic when he isn’t replicating these settings, such as the same city down to the windows, the poison marsh, or its own unoccupied version of the hub region.
Below the Lands Between, one of FromSoftware’s most stunning places, rivalling the sakura-hues of Sekiro’s final act, may be found. I fought the Ancestor Spirit there, an elegant, magical stag from Norse legend. The Ancestor Spirit, in contrast to Elden Ring’s monstrous dragons and austere warriors, glides through the air weightlessly. The fight is backed by a sparse score that drives the fight’s languid pace and allows you to take it all in. Although FromSoftware games are notorious for their difficulty, one of the developer’s greatest tactics is to turn the stress on its head with a fight that’s almost entirely conceptual, with just enough to keep you engaged.
The Ancestor Spirit is like being immersed in a rhythm game where the buttons vanish beneath your fingertips and the music propels you to the finish line. When the iconography of the prior games fades away and FromSoftware’s ability at staging these types of conflicts shows through, it’s near-transcendent, and an example of how hard Elden Ring’s best moments hit.
The impact is lessened by reheated boss bouts from prior games. Despite the fact that many of them have been remixed and placed in other situations, they are all clear references to what came before.
Wanting for more
By being full of things the creator has already done, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls did not birth a complete genre and its adoring fanbase. They started the pattern, and Elden Ring just keeps it going by utilising many of the same components as the previous games. Sekiro’s open environment is daring, but the game’s unique monster kinds, emphasis on one-on-one combat, and parrying are all different from the Souls trilogy. While Sekiro did not wind up being one of my favourite FromSoftware games, I have a great deal of admiration for the way it demanded a unique approach.
Elden Ring, on the other hand, keeps a lot of the features you’d expect, like a sluggish PC performance. It has a tendency to stutter and slow down for little periods of time over time, especially when you’re out in the open. I never perished due to a blip in performance, but it did force me to frequently halt and restart the game to correct the problem. (Bandai Namco states that a patch will be released the next day to solve this.) There’s a 60-frame-per-second lock, a high RAM demand, and restricted graphical options (no DLSS or granular anti-aliasing options). I expected more options and performance from a developer who has already launched multiple PC games.
Elden Ring’s technological issues, like those in Dark Souls, are worth putting up with and will hopefully be solved soon, either by a modder or an official patch. And when it stops clinging to the past so much, and you plop off a cliff after being chased by wolves and discover a swirling gate that takes you far outside the known map to meet a hunched over beast man, Elden Ring’s idiomatic dream logic reminds you that no other developer creates fantasy worlds that are so consistently captivating.
For FromSoftware fans, Elden Ring is junk food. It’s more of what I already like, but in a family-friendly format. It contains everything that makes these games so addictive, as well as everything that keeps its intricate storey lodged in my mind. However, its adherence to the past is obtrusive. It detracts from the impact of those moments when Elden Ring transcends its past to show why FromSoftware’s games are unrivalled by others who try to imitate them. Elden Ring is a great Souls game, but as the newest FromSoftware game, I wanted it to dream a little bigger.