Elden Ring open world opus that deserves to conquer the world. Here’s our revew of FromSoftware’s masterpiece…
Playing Elden Ring feels a bit like attempting to solve a Where’s Wally? puzzle. Except, in this case, you’re inside the Where’s Wally? puzzle and have no idea how far it stretches beyond the imitators in red-and-white shirts in your immediate vicinity. I have spent 65 hours inside FromSoftware’s action RPG and I still have a hard time understanding, let alone communicating, the contours of its seemingly endless open world. It is big. It is also, gobsmackingly, as intricately designed as anything the Dark Souls developer has made before. At some point, I may finish this game. It’s hard to imagine that there is a point where it ever ends, but I have heard that it does. Wally is out there somewhere.
As in Dark Souls, Elden Ring casts you as a lowly character attempting to fight gods and screen-filling monsters in satisfying but challenging combat. Those fights will almost certainly seem too difficult at first. In past FromSoftware games (save for the brutal Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice), you could leave a tough boss and grind until you levelled up, pacing through the same areas, killing the same enemies over and over. In the weeks that I’ve spent with Elden Ring, I’ve never needed to grind, because there is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new and interesting places to explore, where you will find Runes, the currency and XP of this world, organically. Even in places that I think I know well, I am still discovering secrets. Those secrets feel worthwhile because the level and environmental designers at FromSoftware are the best in the business. From the start, you’re free to explore, and I’m not remotely tired of exploring.
Much of what you find as you explore are monsters that want to kill you, most with interesting designs. There’s a wizard with a mask that resembles the Burger King mascot. There are giant hands that scramble towards you menacingly. There are oversized lobsters and crabs that look just like their real-world counterparts, but big and mean. Combating this menagerie is a joy as always, as Elden Ring retains the excellent combat that helped make Dark Souls influential, with new and interesting wrinkles. I’m particularly fond of the Flask of Wondrous Physick, which allows you to mix your own unique potion with new attributes that you find through exploration.
Elden Ring’s story is difficult to follow on a first playthrough, tucked away in item descriptions, cryptic bits of character dialogue, and the occasional proper noun-filled cutscene. This isn’t a detriment. Instead, the game narrative’s opacity feels of a piece with its open-ended presentation of its world and systems. Elden Ring never directly tells you where to go next, so you will discover its world and story in pieces.
Elden Ring is deep and wide, a game of massive scale, with equal amounts of intelligence and mystery. This is the rare open world that never feels like a checklist of things to do. Instead, it manages to feel like a world of possibility, waiting to be explored. Whether you find Wally or not.
At one point in Elden Ring, you’ll stand on a pressure plate, which is then revealed to be part of an elevator, which will take you on a ride that lasts a solid minute. Reaching the bottom, and seeing an entirely new map on your screen, is one of the most memorable moments of exploration in a game defined by them.