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A totally not controversial or biased review of Elden Ring

| Thursday, March 24, 2022

Claire Kirner | The Observer

Over the past few years, few video games have inspired such heated controversy as FromSoftware’s latest release, Elden Ring. For those unaware, FromSoftware rose infamy over the 2010s thanks to the wildly popular Dark Souls series, a trilogy mainly known for its ahead of its time game design, versatile combat system and of course its notorious difficulty. But since Dark Souls ended in 2016, FromSoftware has deviated from the traditional souls-like formula of fluid RPG classes, vague storylines and a complete overhaul of the combat system in 2019’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a game that, somehow, manages to be even more difficult than Dark Souls and pushed the developer towards new gaming territories.

And now, 3 years later, the much anticipated Elden Ring has finally been released. Personally, I was hugely invested in the release of this game, because not only is it the newest title of one of my favorite developers, but because its lore and story are the fruit of a collaboration between Souls’ mastermind Hidetaka Miyazaki and acclaimed writer George R. R. Martin, the creator of the Song of Ice and Fire series. The results? Amazing, but it fails to tread new grounds in many areas.

To start, Elden Ring feels much more like a Dark Souls 4 than a Sekiro 2, not only through its medieval European fantasy setting but also through its gameplay and RPG mechanics which are essentially the same as Souls. After Sekiro, it seemed like FS was ready to move in a new direction, one that featured a more human protagonist than the undead husks of the Souls series and a combat system more reliant on skill and reflexes than ever before. Instead, Elden Ring repeats many of the tropes that the original Dark Souls created back in 2011, but perfects them and works as an amalgamation of everything that came before with one major twist: an entire open world to explore.

While the Souls games had large, nonlinear maps, none of them could be considered “open-world” games as they were little more than glorified mazes. Elden Ring innovates by allowing players to explore the vast “lands between,” and FromSoftware’s first attempt at creating an open world is nothing short of breathtaking. Featuring magical forests, decrepit castles and hidden dungeons, Elden Ring gives players freedom to explore the map in whichever way they choose, never forcing them on set paths and allowing them to face bosses and quests in any order they like, which is at the same time this game’s greatest achievement and detriment.

It is an achievement because it innovates on the old formula and that of the open-world genre as a whole. But it also makes Elden Ring by far the studio’s easiest game to date. As a Souls veteran who has completed every one of their games, one of my favorite aspects was the rewarding sensation I felt anytime I beat a difficult boss after carefully spending hours learning their attacks. If I did not, I would simply not progress. But since Elden Ring boasts such a nonlinear design, it does not expect players to beat their heads against the wall to continue, instead, it explicitly tells you to leave, level up and come back later. There were many instances where, instead of working to learn how to beat a boss, I would simply return hours later over-leveled and take them down in a matter of seconds, an issue compounded by the fact that most bosses are optional and can be tackled at any time. Because of that, I feel as if Elden Ring lacks the gravitas of its predecessors and does not feel as satisfying.

Another issue was the glitches and bugs I experienced while playing, with poor frame rates and crashes happening frequently, although I did play the game on last-gen consoles.

On the upside, Elden Ring features one of the most intriguing plots of any FromSoftware game, with Martin’s influence being felt in this story’s themes of morality, betrayal and revenge, although it still has the same mysterious vagueness that any experienced Souls player would recognize. The world and its lore are as rich and fascinating as Westeros and learning more about it was one of my favorite parts of the experience.

While Elden Ring at times feels like a retread of old ideas, it infuses them with new mechanics that, mostly, synergize well with the Souls format to create what is, in my humble opinion, FromSoftware’s best game, only behind the near-perfect Dark Souls 3. Elden Ring is certain to be a contender on this year’s best games lists and already boasts an unheard-of score of 96% on Metacritic, although I find some of this hype undeserved.

 

Title: Elden Ring

Developer: FromSoftware. Inc

Available on: PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Microsoft Windows

Genre: Action, RPG, “Souls-like”

If you like: Dark Souls, Sekiro, Bloodborne, The Witcher 3

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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