Speaking as someone who very rarely enjoys open world games but enjoys the soulsborne titles I went into the game with some degree of apprehension… and I was proven right to be cautious, but not all is lost.
First off and most importantly for 2022. There is a distinct and offensive lack of PoC representation in their character customisation options. Now it’s a well-known fact that the soulsborne titles have always shown a weakness in their character creation tools (To which many defend because you do end up covering their faces with headgear) but after the success and abundance of options within the comparatively perfect interface of Nioh 2, Elden Ring embarrassingly features no black hairstyles. We all expected more from FROMSOFTWARE and… It’s 2022, ignorance isn’t going to cut it and character creation SHOULD include options for every, race, colour and identity. We’ve already seen a backlash from social media where fans are resigning themselves to buzzcuts to try and replicate themselves in the game and it’s a genuinely upsetting dialogue to see.
Elden Ring is the first to truly implement and encourage co-operative play and this is probably the best way to enjoy the game – with friends. Being able to summon up to 2 other players to help you clear a dungeon and beat the on brand brutal boss’ is a godsend and helps to lessen the inevitable blow of defeat that the series prides itself in. The light-hearted nature of playing with friends juxtaposed by the solitary and brooding atmosphere makes for a comically delightful jaunt.
Combat is the most in depth it has ever been thanks to new actions that diversify your combat experience like guard counters, horseback combat, ash summons (for those who struggle to find co-op buddies) and most importantly Ashes of War. Once applied at sites of grace, (Elden Ring’s version of bonfires) you can change the special moves and stat scaling of weapons to your liking however… Ashes of War are a RE-USEABLE collectible that the game fails to inform you of, so for many who are anxious to waste these items (like me) you’ll end up saving them until they can be replicated at the smithy but herein lies my confusion. If Ashes of War are re-useable then why do you need multiple copies? It’s hard to justify needing the same ability on multiple weapons and I think it over-complicates what the game encourages – experimentation.
After 103 hours and a platinum trophy to boot I can confirm that the massive open-world becomes redundant in subsequent playthroughs with my second run taking only 5 hours and the third only 4. If you’ve already explored and acquired the items in the optional areas and finished NPC questlines, there’s no incentive to revisit these areas other than to replay them and proves that only 5 of the 30 named boss’ are necessary to reach the end of the game. It’s not something I can mark the game down for and I was ultimately thankful for it but it does feel like a contradiction of the open-world genre.
I can’t help but feel that the “Art” of Open World has taken precedence over respecting rewarding exploration and gameplay; With an abundance of copy-pasted assets from enemy grunt soldiers all sporting different faction colours, optional tombs and mines that all look the same rewarding mediocre items (Or unusable depending on your stat build) and even boss enemies you’ll swear that you’ve seen and learned to deal with several times over. It simply drives home that the world is much too large for the assets it had to fill the game with. It’s a shame considering the otherwise incredible and varied set locations that you encounter within the game.
Despite the poor draw distance, (You’ll see grass rendering mere feet in front of you on horseback) set piece locations are ultimately the saving grace for Elden Ring. They are awe inspiring. The visual storytelling of Elden Ring is beholden to the developer’s incredible prowess at creating atmosphere and I found myself on many occasions panning the camera upwards to take in the massive scale of a castle, mountain or decaying dragon skeleton strewn across a fungal mess. The visual storytelling does a better job for narrative than any of the written text and dialogue in the game. The only gripe that I can possibly note is the dungeons all following a relatively predictable path patterning: Main path towards the boss and divergent path leading to optional boss’, locations and items making any completionist double back multiple times before committing to one road for fear of missing anything important.
Again, the soulsborne titles have always had an incredibly heavy and deep lore that’s lost on the majority of the player base. Usually, you’d be able to piece together the lore and state of the world from the items you collect via text entries… Elden Ring has omitted all of this. Every character you meet has their own agenda and serve to tell their own story within the world, never particularly extolling upon the main story, the world that’s been created or what things were like before. Looking at the official website you can decipher that you as a player are from an exiled tribe known as Tarnished who are by legend destined to be Elden Lord - a fact I don’t believe I ever heard stated in the game. The story of Elden Ring never really feels like the most important part of the game, made even more apparent by the highly unsatisfying endings that last all of 20 seconds full of spectacle and minimal plot. I expected more from a game co-created by George R.R. Martin and if it’s a case of finishing the story via DLC… even more disappointing.
Open-world as we all can agree leads to many players hopping on cliff edges to avoid going around the “long way”, either to save time or just for the sake of exploration however, fall damage is the most inconsistent I’ve seen in recent years. Falls of over (I’d guess) 40 feet are survivable on the set path versus a death from a 10-foot drop just because you wanted to cut a corner or avoid running down a slope – the game professes to be open-world and encourages player freedom and yet punishes you for not staying on track.
Lastly, at sites of grace, the game will show you where the nearest main boss is and gives you a general direction towards them… which is serviceable, until the markers on the world map refuse to disappear after you’ve dealt with them. I really wish this mechanic extended to the NPC optional questlines though. Luckily most are unmissable but given how large the world is, the act of locating and following a character to a resolution of their questline is a disjointed experience to say the least. All too often did I find an NPC many real-life days later having only to have forgotten what they want or why. There’s even a third-party app available made by a fan to help you track questlines and NPC locations which is massively telling of everyone’s struggle.
For all I’ve said that could dissuade you from picking up Elden Ring, I don’t think it’s a terrible game. As far as combat and player loadouts go, it is the best the series has been and the trademark soulsborne experience appeals to anyone who enjoys overcoming adversity. Elden Ring is chock full of grand spectacle that keeps you playing well into the night and with friends even longer. It simply lacks in some very important areas speaking as a completionist and narrative driven gamer and unfortunately more so for PoC representation.