OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, Elden Ring is tough. This will be little surprise for anyone who knows developer FromSoftware’s track history, but it was important to give it a little more time than our usual reviews to really scratch the surface of this colossal experience, so here goes…
As you gain levels, the number of runes needed to gain the next increases, so at times you’ll find yourself wanting to farm runes to gain levels before taking on a particular area or boss. One area I stumbled upon (though I since read is a well-known farming spot) is a hilltop in Stormhill near the Warmaster’s shack, which has five trolls just hanging out.
Each gives you 1,000 runes, and one in particular is more chilled out than the others, making it an easier target. Throughout my time with the game I explored this area many times (and if you try yourself beware doing so at night, as the Deathbird boss lurks nearby), and every single time the experience has gone differently.
What’s frustrating is that the method and timing might be exactly the same, but because the enemy AI is clever enough to not be entirely predictable, you never feel like you have a particular handle on the situation, and after one early attempt where I killed 3 or 4 trolls in a row I foolishly went in with a new-found sense of confidence, only to be cut down before defeating even one.
Every experience of Elden Ring will be different. There are a lot of different options and approaches you can take – some which might be considered easier...but all are valid.
This is the sort of thing which means Elden Ring “isn’t for everyone”. Not because not everyone can “git gud” or because they aren’t capable, but because different people want different things from their gaming experiences, and here the rewarding feeling is earned by a lot of time, hours and determination to keep going back after being killed by Margit, the game’s first mandatory boss, depending on which way you go.
Bosses are a huge part (often literally) of this genre of game, and Elden Ring is no exception. One of the symptoms of an open world is that many of these battles are optional, or at least feel avoidable, since they can be tackled in different orders.
The tougher bosses have NPC summoning signs which you can use to bring a bit of coop support into battle, and the arcane skills known as Ashes of War can also include allies like wolves, a sorcerer or even jellyfish.
You can also team up with other players, the mechanics of which probably could be explained better, but, at this point, what did we expect? The important thing is, the option is there for those who want it, and if you’d rather play offline without any helpful (or deceptive) player messages littering the landscape, you can do that too.
Every experience of Elden Ring will be different. With so many classes, builds, weapons and paths to choose, there’s no right way to work through the game’s map, and there are a lot of different options and approaches you can take – some which might be considered easier than others, but all are valid.
Visually, the game doesn’t give as striking an impression as the Demon’s Souls remake on PS5, though there are plenty of beautifully crafted vistas and memorable locations, just something about this game’s visual style doesn’t have the same contrast and impact.
There is a lot of colour however, with the rich greens, reds and golds of the landscape and sky feeling like a breath of fresh air compared to the greys and browns you might typically see in a FromSoftware production.
There are some technical rough edges as well, with a fair amount of noticeable pop-in textures for things like grass. While it doesn’t tend to affect gameplay, it does emphasise the amount of detail that’s packed into the world.
Exploration on the other hand is a huge strength. Since sometimes you can run into a tough enemy and feel like you need a change, or to gain a few levels before heading back, having the option of picking any other compass direction and knowing there will be a completely different experience to discover is hugely exciting.
The score and audio design gains some big points as well, with the chilling, understated music swelling to raise the drama of an encounter, and you quickly getting to know sounds that come from touching a Site of Grace or summoning your trusty spectral steed Torrent.
In all, the journey across The Lands Between has been far more enlightening than I expected, with Elden Ring proving to be more forgiving, rewarding and yet more punishing than any game I’ve ever played.
Whether it’s an experience for you or not, you might have already made up your mind, but if you’re hesitant, I would say it’s definitely worth the benefit of the doubt. FromSoft have crafted an experience that's well worth a go.