inb4 a random blog writes a review on Elden Ring and it’s not completely positive –
Yeah that about sets the tone for how things are going to go here. I’m not really that impressed, if I’m being frank with you, in fact, I’m actually pretty disappointed. I wasn’t even hyped on the game, and really, it’s everything I already knew leading into it that left a bad taste in my mouth:
- FromSoft’s “good” game design
- “Open World” in an already functionally open world series
- Souls-esque writing
Oh, I’ll admit, Elden Ring has actually significantly improved From’s ARPG series from the last time I was deeply invested, that is to say, Dark Souls 3. There’s significant quality of life improvement, and someone, somewhere, decided it was a good idea to actually create reasons to use things other than R1 in a fight.
So you know what? Elden Ring is pretty good, for a game that came out two or so years ago. Unfortunately, nothing really good honestly seemed to come out in the last two years for triple-A titles for my own tastes, so it feels probably better than it really should.
It is friggin‘ pretty though.
I’d say Elden Ring starts off strong, but in reality, no, it really doesn’t. We can start off from two places: either the actual start of the game after creating your character, or the start of the open world – you’ll end up in the latter whether you beat your first surprise boss or not: they’re really just a boss fight that’s intended to kill you – I’ve embraced full game journalism for the moment and have decided not to remake characters over and over until I’m comfortable killing that enemy with base stats – while the latter immediately introduces you to a boss fight that you’re encouraged to largely avoid.
I’m not really sure what the value was in my killing the Tree Sentinel. The fight wasn’t as difficult as I initially surmised, but largely? It was a good experience in regards to learning the overall combat system and made progression thereafter a cakewalk – not really because I’d just scrambled up the first skill wall that was thrown at me, but because it really emphasized the importance of using your entire moveset over simply poking away at openings with regular attacks. Seriously, jump attacks, weapon skills, and charged heavy attacks actually… Matter.
That’s a huge improvement from Dark Souls 3!
But… It’s still basically Souls. The additions slightly changed overall game design for the series, but if I’m being quite frank with you, not a lot has changed. It’s only just mostly taking the formula and playing it out over an open world, which speaking of.
My first question is of course, was this necessary? I don’t really think so.
It’s not that Elden Ring’s open world is actually bad, it’s just… Okay, actually, there’s something that is seriously, genuinely, actually bad about it. Can you see it? It comes up when you start to look at cliffsides. It’s apparent in Genshin Impact, too: Inazuma and Monstadt don’t really look that different when viewed from a decent vantage point. It’s only when you’re down in them that the different dressing actually takes affect.
Besides that, of course, there’s also a lot of what feels like just copy and paste. I understand the point of the tombstone rocks that jut out of cliffs, they’re there so you can jump down, usually! They’re also just, incredibly distracting and occasionally trigger that uncanny valley sensation. I mean, yeah, Dark Souls is weird, Elden Ring is weird, but normally I’m not taken out of it because something’s out of place: everything usually fits pretty well. That’s probably why the repetitive things that come up actually really start to stand out.
It begins to go back to that question I asked above: was this necessary? Prior to this, Dark Souls was effectively an open world series, even if really it was more just one really big dungeon with different thematic sections. Is a real open world necessary…? I honestly think that perhaps an overworld equivalent with different dungeons would likely have been superior: think Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess. In a lot of ways, Elden Ring does effectively offer that, but one could say that it’s become a little too marbled in the process.
I feel less like I’m in a Souls-style feverish fantasy and more like I’m in a weird sign of what’s to come for overall gameplay from a lot of titles in the future.
The real thing that died for this, though, is progression. Yeah, the world is beautiful and amazing, it’s just… Without Google, without a lot of things, where are you supposed to go? What are you supposed to do?
The nature of an open world makes progression a pretty abstract thing. You could say that’s pretty much From’s MO, sure, but there’s a lot of things that the player can miss which can make their lives significantly easier. That’s also sort of a From thing, I’ll admit. It’s just a lot easier to usually hit most everything you possibly can in a tighter experience than in something as wide open as Elden Ring.
I had already mentioned that soft form of cheating that is looking something up, and I’ll be honest, I did fairly early look some stuff up, but mostly the same thing any reasonable Souls players should do, and now I’m looking things up more often because I’ve realized that I essentially went head-long into fights that were unnecessary to get to my goal: trying out some very specific weapons which I had determined was going to fit my build.
That’s also the thing I looked up, which, frankly, if you’re familiar with the Souls series this is probably the most reasonable behavior: looking up the required stats for a weapon you’re going to use essentially determines the core shape of your build.
But as you’re trying to hunt down things in the open world, you’ll slowly find that you’ll have sections of the map far disconnected from each other yet sharing a name. In lore it fits, I guess? And with some element of environmental story telling, I suppose yes, it does make sense? But it’s been an effort to figure out where some locations actually are because as it is with open worlds, areas inevitably blend together until you have that internal map filled out yourself.
And depending on how far, how fast, and where you go, you’ll probably make some of the biggest oofs you could in regards to your overall progression which is a subtle secret of Elden Ring: stats don’t matter as much as you might think. Most of your damage actually is going to come from weapon stats. So this is where we talk about the screwed up upgrade system:
The levels of upgrading require specific levels of upgrade materials. Ergo, you miss the first one, and even if you’re well equipped to upgrade a weapon from +1 to +2 and onwards, if you can’t get it to +1 because you didn’t find a Somber Smithing Stone  or a Smithing Stone , you’re probably going to be hard pressed to find them. Especially regular Smithing Stones, for some reason: these have very low drop rates and some of the better sources are simply resource points around the map that once picked up, obviously, are gone.
I’m not really sure what to say about PvP as I haven’t really dealt with it very much yet. My preferred weapons are, unfortunately, rather slow and at this juncture, Elden Ring’s take on Souls PvP pushes further and further towards a bullet-hell style 3D fighter. I should probably be all over that, but determining effective builds at this point is an exhaustive measure when I’m mostly focused on getting through the game and experiencing certain sections of content for the sake of completeness with this review.
But as I stated with general gameplay, there’s a lot more encouragement to use your entire moveset on enemies: from charged strong attacks to weapon arts and more. Kicking is gone, thank God, and functionally breaking guards is mostly done with jump attacks at this point which are significantly more consistent to perform.
Enemies aren’t really poise monsters any more after progressing far enough as a result. This is a major issue I had with Dark Souls 3 as it became clear From effectively ran out of ideas and mostly just started enemies that the player couldn’t hit stun left right and center after a certain point of the game – most enemies can effectively be stopped by a jump attack, and if they can’t, it’s mostly fairly obvious given that they’re usually completely non-humanoid.
However, late-game bosses and certain optional bosses do start to feel more than a little cheap. The number of times I’ve been hit by things that I didn’t really expect at all or couldn’t actually see coming until I get to learn the hard way that yes, that is an active hitbox… Well. It helps that Elden Ring has super forgiving dodge rolls, even if they feel like dodge rolling a Western game at this point more than dodge rolling in most Japanese games, but the poor taste one gets left in their mouth from bosses like Elemer of the Briar sort of just sticks with you: given another playthrough, there’s a lot of things that frankly, I’d entirely skip.
This is going to be a short little stint, because, frankly, the writing is overall fairly decent – even if surprisingly anime for being written by George R. R. Martin. I guess. I don’t know, I still haven’t read A Song of Ice And Fire, honestly I need to finish the Wheel of Time series before I move onto another fantasy novel series that’s regarded widely.
But there’s this thing that gets done during the game’s opening that essentially amounts to a vague concept or idea, given a capital letter, so as to somehow become something profound and impactful. Arguably, these sorts of things are actually pretty good for fantasy settings, or almost any bit of writing that’s separated far enough from our reality that it’s best simply to let our imaginations handle things.
There is, though, a certain amount of these I feel like one should use: after going over three of these things, especially nearly back-to-back for the sake of opening exposition, there’s probably a better way to explain some of these things, or if anything, they simply don’t need to be implied to be profound or worthy of being proper nouns more than just… Nouns. Or Verbs. Once Elden Ring is done doing this, it’s done, so it’s not really something to harp on and go on endlessly about.
It’s just. Really. Seriously. If you’re interested in world building as a writer, avoid doing this please. You’re allowed a few of ’em, I’m not gonna lie, just don’t shove them all back-to-back. Create distance between these ideas and concepts and believe me they’ll have far more room to flourish, not just in your own imagination, but in that of your audience’s.
Elden Ring is the first $60, triple-A game I’m going to firmly recommend just because it’s actually what you should be getting out of a $60 game. Is it really deserving of the treatment it’s gotten currently? I honestly don’t think so. It’s not that amazing, and where it really falters is in progression and the way the open world really encourages you to actually just cheat and instead look things up on the internet.
Yes, you could fumble your way around the map, but let’s be honest, at a certain point it becomes not simply tedious, but absolutely mountainous of a task as you try to figure out how to progress on your own. If you played during that opening section of launch where very little information was available, the lack of spoilers probably really made things special, but I think a lot of players actually find the same thing that Elden Ring is getting praised for – that is lack of clear direction – to be frustrating.
I’ve had a friend tell me that they didn’t want to go through Dark Souls on their own because there’s simply so much that can be easily missed, and understandably, for some players that’s actually not pleasant at all but a form of subtle torture as they want to experience the majority of the game, and while I haven’t talked to them about Elden Ring, I can only assume the nature of the open world map doubles down on that sensation. And no, that’s certainly not everyone, quite a lot of people enjoy it, but I do have to wonder:
At what point did most of those people broke down and headed on over to Fextralife?
It’s one thing to be obtuse, it’s another to be scratching you’re head because you’re not quite willing to put it into Google yet. And on that note, I’ll head out.