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Elden Ring, From Software's next big title, is finally here, and I have no idea where to begin. In case you are unfamiliar with Souls games, let me briefly explain Elden Ring and its legacy. From Software's recent fame has become apparent ever since the release and popularity of the original Dark Souls back in 2011, which was over 11 years ago. I feel old now. Time flies, doesn't it? Dark Souls quickly became popular due to its punishing gameplay while also being addicting, fun to explore, and most importantly fun to play, regardless of whether you die a ton or not. The games are notorious for their difficulty, but that's what characterizes a Souls game. For some people, they may be too much, while, for the majority, it's fun to conquer your fears and eventually break through the challenge and kill the boss that kept you up for hours on end. Then you receive that juicy reward and move on to the next area and explore the awesome lore and world of Dark Souls.
As time went on, the developer released sequels such as Dark Souls II, which is considered the worst of the series, and then a brand new IP titled Bloodborne, which was exclusive to the PlayStation 4 and is regarded as one of the best From Software games ever made. Although I thought Bloodborne was excellent at the time, and I would have liked a sequel or a remaster, now after playing Elden Ring, I can officially say that Bloodborne has been surpassed and in ways that I had never imagined, even as a cross-gen game. Dark Souls III followed Bloodborne and was loved by many fans of the Souls series, including myself. Then Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice came out with a game that was a healthy mix of Dark Souls and Tenchu with a challenging combat system. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice won the game of the year at the Game Awards back in 2019, which obviously meant that it was another big success for From Software.https://youtu.be/lB6Tdgfocqc
Fast forward to Microsoft's official E3 press conference in 2019, and Elden Ring was announced as the next big project and the iteration of the Souls game. Many fans were worried when they found out that the game was open-world since most open-world games these days are filled with a bunch of checkmarks and mundane tasks that all feel the same. However, with Hidetaka Miyazaki at the helm, the majority of fans also felt confident that it wouldn't disappoint. Another big draw point was George R. R. Martin, who was responsible for making up the universe of Elden Ring and basically the entirety of the world-building and story. From Software, a Japanese company, working with an American writer who's most famous for writing the Game of Thrones books just sounded like an insane dream coming true, and I am happy to say that it paid off.
With the introduction out of the way, let's finally take a deep dive and talk about why Elden Ring is what I would argue is not only a game of the year but also potentially a game of the generation.
I really do not have any words to describe the world of Elden Ring other than magnificent, beautiful, and most importantly, believable. A world like this could actually exist because it is so well designed, and the art direction is through the roof. As someone who played through all the Souls games, I was curious to see how the open-world aspect would play and fiddle with the interconnection of previous titles and where that value goes next with Elden Ring. For those who do not know, an interconnected world is when everything is connected internally, and you can find some jaw-dropping shortcuts that blow your mind. It first started heavily with the original Dark Souls. Bloodborne also advanced the interconnected design of its world even though it was split into a different half at the end. Elden Ring takes the original ideas of interconnected castles, caves, and areas and puts them into this massive landmass that is filled with a ton of cool and exciting optional content, whether it be small legacy dungeons or entire castles that are filled with loot, traps and evil to conquer.
With the majority of From Software titles, one of my favorite features is the sense of scale and how, if you saw a large structure in the distance, whether it was a castle, church, or a tower, the game would tell you it was a playable area. Either through finding some insanely obscure path or performing an emote at some statue that would then teleport you to an entirely new area that you never even knew existed. Considering Elden Ring is an open-world game, wherever you go on your horse, it constantly surprises you and makes your jaw drop at the incredible scenery, whether it is castles or towers that somehow connect to the rest of the world map.
Another impressive aspect of the open world is just how big the entire game is. Honestly, you can fit the entirety of Dark Souls 1, 2 3, and Bloodborne into one, and that would not even be half of Elden Ring. Look at it this way, a castle in Elden Ring can be basically as big as 3-4 large areas from the original Dark Souls, if not almost the entire game itself. I am not exactly sure how this was achieved on previous generation hardware, but it is, sure as hell, impressive and something worthy to boast about.
Not only does Elden Ring push the boundaries for the souls-like genre, but it also showcases how a well-managed development studio such as From Software can set the standard for how future open-world games should be. Nowadays, a typical open-world game consists of a lot of empty space, overly nice graphics, and repetitive tasks that soon become boring. If any developers are looking for inspiration on how to create a solid, large, and most importantly, dense world with enjoyable content that begs to be explored, they should study Elden Ring.
I was worried at first about using a horse in a souls-like game. Considering how these games are designed, being mounted on an animal and running around was an odd concept. After spending several of dozens of hours in Elden Ring over the last week, I can happily say that I love Torrent (the name of the horse). He is useful and well implemented into the game design portion of Elden Ring. Mounting in this game does not feel clumsy or unnecessary; it fits perfectly lore and gameplay-wise. The fact that you can use it in combat is another new addition to the franchise that has never been seen before. In what game are you able to mount on a horse and hit a dragon in the face with your battle-ax? I am going to say none as of today. If you are in trouble, you can also quickly mount up to escape danger and get to the nearest safe area, or get away from a dangerous enemy and heal yourself real quick before going back into battle to spill more blood. If this game had no mounts, then traveling The Lands Between would be a lot more cumbersome, monotonous, and boring.
Not only can you use Torrent to combat enemies, escape and traverse the Lands Between, he can also perform double jumps to get to an elevation that you would never be able to while on foot. Another interesting mechanic is the special spring jumps that you can find throughout the world. You can press the jump button and launch yourself sky high, and reach places that you would never be able to normally. These springs are carefully placed and are also put there to be useful and not just for convenience.
If you thought previous games had a ton of bonfires that you can find and use to fast travel across different sections of the game, then think again. In Elden Ring, the bonfire equivalent is called Site of Grace and looks like golden light. Think of something like a holy priest or paladin from World of Warcraft. There is a massive amount of these sites that you will find throughout your journey through the game. Just like in previous games, you can use them to rest up, level up, stay safe and refill all of your flasks.
Discovering new items, enemies, or areas in Elden Ring is the best it has ever been. Dark Souls always had a somewhat clear-cut linear path on where you should be heading next while also being obtuse at the same time. In previous games, you wouldn't always know if you were going to the right place, and if you went to the wrong place, you would either end up in an area that's way too difficult or find a secret item. But with how big Elden Ring is, the feeling of exploration and wonder is absolutely astounding. As soon as you get dropped into the open world, which is basically in the first 5 minutes of the game, the player won't know where to go as far as the main quest objective goes. Talking to various NPCs will give you clues and hint at what you should be doing next.
Thankfully, From Software developed a smart system where the Site of Grace has a light that points to a specific direction both in the game world and on your world map when you pull it up. The direction that the light is pointing is telling you that you have not been there yet and there is something new to discover. It's so well done, and it doesn't feel like the game is completely holding your hand. It is up to the Tarnished one if they wish to follow the guidance of the light or go wherever they please.
Among the many features of The Lands Between are vast castles, hidden caves, open-world bosses, caravans guarded by trolls, teleports that may lead you to places you didn't even know existed, NPCs to interact with and complete questlines for, merchants that sell valuable items such as the Stoneward Keys, which can allow access to new areas, shortcuts to hidden items, and access to bosses. The amount of content in this game is astonishing.
In a nutshell, the world of Elden Ring takes what you know and love from the previous titles and dials it up to 11, and adds in new mechanics while keeping the game similar yet fresh; it is a great evolution of the franchise. Speaking of the evolution of the franchise, what does that mean for the combat of Elden Ring, and how did it change?
If someone showed me gameplay of Elden Ring in a secret Hidetaka Miyazaki meeting and never told me the name of the game, I would safely assume that it's Dark Souls IV. I say this because the combat is similar to Dark Souls III and, additionally, it was announced that From Software did intend to further develop the combat from Dark Souls III to make it more interesting in both mechanics and gameplay. You will feel right at home with the combat of Elden Ring with a slew of new editions such as the Ashes of War.
Ashes of War are like additional skills that can be put on your melee weapons. For example, Ash of War: Barbaric Roar can be used on melee weapons such as daggers, thrusting swords, and whips. Your character will let out a loud bestial roar and will increase your attack power in addition to turning your strong attacks into savage combos, as the game item description likes to describe. Another one is the fan's favorite Stormcaller that dates way back to the original Demon's Souls days. Your slashing type swords (not thrusting type), axes, hammers, and polearms will now let out a wave of storm winds. If you repeat the input, then it will allow for up to 2 follow-up attacks.
There is also something called Spirit Ashes items. You can find these items in different ways but you can only use them while you are offline and cannot summon them in online PvP. As an example, you can summon Skeletal Bandits to fight for you or a pack of hungry wolves. In order to be able to summon them, not only do you need their specific items but you are also required to be next to a rebirth monument. An icon will appear on your screen on the left-hand side that will let you know that you are in an area with a rebirth monument and that you may summon the spirit to aid you in combat. Summoning these spirits will also cost you focus points, also known as FP for short.
The weapon skill system also returns from Dark Souls III. By pressing L2, you can pull off weapon skills that are tied to certain weapons. For example, the starting battle axe that you get with the Hero class has the Wild Strike skill that lets you slash your enemy and give them a nice and beautiful face as you scrape your blade against them. Jumping attacks in Elden Ring are also way more powerful than in previous entries and can put the creatures into a critical hit situation if repeated frequently enough. If you press the jump button, X, while sprinting at someone at the same time and then hold R2, you'll land a heavy jump-down thrust attack that has great poise.
I've used this attack quite frequently on various bosses that had low poise, and it would make them staggered, which would allow you to perform a riposte, also known as a critical hit that deals a massive amount of damage. I do not remember jumping so many times and trying to kill mobs in previous Dark Souls games. Some people may or may not think it makes the combat in Elden Ring a bit more forgiving and more abuse-able against certain bosses, but I do not mind and feel like it adds a new layer of strategy of when to use a jump attack and when not too.
Overall, there are not many changes to the combat except for the jump button, the Ashes of War mechanic, and the ability to summon spirits. I sadly did not have enough time to try out different builds due to how massive the game is and I didn't get to mess with sorcery, incantations, and other stuff as I was too busy exploring the beautiful world of Elden Ring and enjoying it as much as possible. But what I can tell you is that there is plenty of sorcery, weapons, incantations spells, and items to find throughout the game, and there will be plenty of build experimentation for both PvP and PvE.
You can include mounted combat as one of the new additions as well and, you know what, I think these are enough combat changes. Changing the combat too much would make it not feel like a Dark Souls game anymore. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had its own thing going for it, and it made sense for the lore purposes and systems. The same goes for Bloodborne. Elden Ring is clearly a spiritual successor to Dark Souls, so it would make sense that the combat is an evolution of Dark Souls III.
Elden Ring is not your "oh my god, this is next-gen visuals!" type of a game, nor is it trying to be or needs to be. Instead, the game relies on its stunning art direction. From Software games may not have the best engines around, but no one matches their level of artistry whatsoever. While Bloodborne was suffering from quite a few issues, such as the overall use of chromatic aberration and not-so-good frame-pacing, it was still a gorgeous game in its own right.
The number of gorgeous vistas you'll come across in the game will floor you, this is a game that begs to be explored and discovered thanks to its beautiful art style and enormous sense of scale. Sometimes you'll just stand there on your horse looking off into the distance and think about all the beautiful wonders or horrors that may take place in the far distance in front of you.
The audio in Elden Ring is great. The soundtrack is as epic as ever. One of my favorite music tracks is when you fight Margit: The Fell Omen right before you enter Stormveil Castle in the western region of Limgrave. You won't be disappointed with the soundtrack here. It also feels alive thanks to ambient noises such as the sounds of animals, weather, and background music.
The performance of Elden Ring is decent. The game was mostly played in "Prioritize Frame Rate" mode, which is 60 FPS, simply because I much prefer a higher frame rate, especially in a game like this. The other mode is "Prioritize Quality" which is higher resolution. While I think the world of Elden Ring looks even prettier in higher resolution, I still don't think it's worth playing at a lesser frame rate. This will simply come down to personal preference. Also, it is worth noting that sometimes the frame rate did dip noticeably on the PS5 in the "Prioritize Frame Rate" mode when in a very wide open area with a lot of enemies running, but that was expected considering this is an open-world game. For the most part, the game was at 60 FPS 95% of the time, and it never ruined the experience.
Overall, for a cross-gen game and how big it is, I think From Software did quite a decent job on the performance of the game compared to their previous titles. The real test will be when they release their next big entry that is solely made for next-gen consoles, and the 9-year-old systems are no longer in play.
Elden Ring will not only meet the fan's expectations but surpass them in ways they didn't expect. I believe that From Software will also obtain new fans as well and show the world what a well-designed open-world game can do. As previously stated, Elden Ring is a game that is begging to be explored and conquered at its full capacity. There is so much content here, and it is so good. The game is atmospheric, gorgeous in its way, full of badass lore, mystery, and secrets. Not only has From Software raised the bar for themselves, but also for other studios that work on open-world games. If From Software has managed to set such standards, I can only be both scared and excited at the same time for Elden Ring 2. Please, make a sequel because you will want it and so will I. Elden Ring will be receiving a 10/10, which is what we consider a Beast of a rating here at Gaming Instincts. Elden Ring is the new generation of the Dark Souls franchise, and I cannot wait to see what Miyazaki-son and the team will cook next.Stay tuned at Gaming Instincts via Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook for more gaming news.