I understand that, most likely, I am in the absolute minority of gamers, but being a long-time fan of FromSoftware, I did not expect anything outstanding from Elden Ring. Here is such a paradox. When the first details about the project first appeared, the Internet collectively started up: the pitch of soulslike games in a full-fledged open world sounded very interesting, and then George R.R. Martin was invited to work on the mythology of the universe. Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team defiantly did not hide the unprecedented scale of ambitions for the company. However, after a few years of flirtatious silence , it turned out… What developers are doing Dark Souls again. Just now under a different name, because the series officially ended on the third part.
Such a turn of events can hardly be called shocking, but it is difficult to get rid of the impression that the authors are taking a step back along a long-trodden path (and more than once). Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice generally obeyed the traditional design principles of the studio, but in particular they deviated from the previous canons. They served as a springboard for a number of small, extremely entertaining experiments that refreshed the formula of the series quite well. But when it came time for the most ambitious game in the history of FromSoftware, she immediately slammed on the brakes and retreated as deep as possible into the comfort zone — although, in theory, it was worth moving in the opposite direction.
However, if you are not hungry for innovation, then there is nothing to worry about. I can grumble for a long time about the sad conservatism and indecision of the studio, but if we leave such nuances out of the brackets, then the HYPE for once turned out to be quite justified. Contrary to fair fears, the game is good — at least, judging by the first 60 hours. The years of waiting were more than worth the result, even if the revolution never happened.
Journey to the Edge of the Night
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice told the story more or less directly, but Elden Ring returns to a deliberately fragmentary narrative, where two-thirds of the information is hidden in the descriptions of objects. I may be wrong about the details of the plot plot, but in general terms, everything is like this. A long time ago, the immortal queen Marika and her fellow demigods ruled the state called the Intermarriage. Together they led the country to prosperity under the sign of the Golden Order: partly religious, partly philosophical doctrine, the central pillar of which is the very ring of Elden — a sacred symbol and runic scripture in one bottle, responsible for the rules of the universe.
But the era of prosperity suddenly ended in betrayal, when one of the demigods secretly stole the rune of predestined death — without it, all living things (including the gods) are doomed to become undead sooner or later. In the royal court, schism matured, which soon turned into a bloody civil war. The former allies of the ruler instantly pulled the metaphysical ring to pieces in fear of losing their former power. The desperate queen had nothing left but to call home the legion of the Extinguished: the exiled descendants of the first demigod who turned into the undead. Only they can put the split ring of Elden together and restore the Golden Order — or build their own on its ashes.
If you remember at least a little of the studio’s previous projects, the synopsis may sound a little familiar: the plot, as always, revolves around the tragic fall of a once great kingdom, except that the terms have changed. In principle, the same can be safely said about many other aspects of Elden Ring, despite the fact that the developers slyly call it a completely new IP. When my colleague Sergey Tsilyurik shared his impressions of the closed testing of the game, I was sure that he slightly exaggerated the obvious similarities between the novelty and the past «Souls», but his words turned out to be true. Elden Ring really feels exactly like Dark Souls — to be more precise, like Dark Souls III. Approximately the same pace and dynamics of gameplay, literally the same pumping system and almost the same combat mechanics, except for a couple of little things. Pleasant, but still insignificant. Even the old animations and sound effects are shamelessly taken from a six-year-old project — such a processing of ready-made assets with high budgets looks, to put it mildly, awkward. Thank you for the fact that attacks in the back with a scythe stopped looking ridiculous.
The main and most important innovation of Elden Ring, which caused the most doubts among soulsborne fans— was the transition from closed chamber locations to a full-scale open world. After about five hours of gameplay, after the first victory over the owner of one of the fragments of the ring, the authors let the player go on a free journey through the Intermountain. To progress along the plot, some tasks will still have to be performed in a certain order, but in general, developers try once again not to take away freedom of action unnecessarily — I did not notice invisible walls and other annoying conventions.
Many key locations can be accessed in several ways, and sometimes by pure chance. I spent the whole evening searching for the key to the sealed gates of the Academy of Magic and only then realized that all this time I had misinterpreted the piece of map where the location of the cache is drawn. But in the process, I traveled around and found many places that I would probably have avoided otherwise, so the obstacle did not feel like a hopeless dead end. Elden Ring never forces the player to feel locked up. If it is not possible to find a way forward somewhere, you can always go somewhere else to gain strength and experience — there are plenty of opportunities.
Technically, the open world of Elden Ring functions exactly like any other sandbox. The global map is divided into regions, each region is densely filled with all sorts of points of interest, and different types of points offer their own challenges and rewards. Miniature dungeons like the ones in Bloodborne are just the tip of the iceberg. The spires of hermit magicians give charms or additional slots for spells for solving a simple puzzle. Huge mechanical chariots ride around the graves of the fallen heroes, protecting the sleep of the dead: if you go through the traps and defeat the owner of the tomb, he can become an assistant spirit. Deep mines near the mountains are full of ore for pumping weapons, in the ruins of ancient settlements there is a chance to get hold of brand-new equipment or useful items, and giant walking chapels on stone paws conceal an extremely rare treasure at all — you just need to make them kneel.
The list can be continued for a long time, but it is not the variety of activities that is noteworthy, but their presentation. While most AAA blockbusters based on the open world are panicked that the public will inadvertently miss at least some optional content, Elden Ring does not care about this incident in principle. She simply sets a goal for the player and leaves him to himself, without revealing any surprises in advance. What exactly lies ahead depends only on which route he decides to take and how closely he will look around, and therefore the exploration of the world feels extremely organic. Unlike other sandboxes, there is always a strong incentive to search for secrets. After all, when danger is waiting everywhere, even the smallest find can help out at a difficult moment.
Elden Ring unexpectedly supports the intrigue well for many hours. She constantly gives the joy of discovery, which has become the hallmark of the studio’s previous projects, only now FromSoftware has somehow been able to recreate the unique magic of Dark Souls on a completely incomprehensible scale. The world of Elden Ring is much bigger than you can imagine: the images of the map merged into the Network hardly convey the true scope of the game. Whenever I naively rejoiced that I had finally discovered all the possible regions of the Intermountain, the kingdom’s territory only became even more extensive in response. Moreover, the developers have set priorities extremely competently: despite the impressive areas, the branded quality of the study of locations has not suffered a bit, although it could easily have — after all, the team tried to create a whole continent. And for the first attempt, the result is at least decent, especially within the genre.
In general, from time to time it seems as if Miyazaki used the open world simply as a win-win excuse for complete creative freedom. FromSoftware has not denied itself creative, sometimes rather strange ideas before, but Elden Ring against the background of the previous works of the studio looks (in a good sense) the most eclectic. It creates strikingly bright, but at the same time completely different in mood situations. The authors in equal proportions mix absurdity, grotesque, biblical motifs, high fantasy, drama and cosmic horror. Here, a chase from a bus-sized river crayfish can end in a ruined church, where a phlegmatic turtle in a Catholic hat will give a lecture on the tragedy of the distraught gods. A night walk along the main tract will suddenly be interrupted by a duel against a headless rider, and the ascent to the vent of an active volcano will turn into a bullfight in the middle of a meteorite crater.
The Legend Never Dies
In other words, in everything related to the exploration of the open world, Elden Ring causes entirely positive emotions. Yes, if you want, you can easily find fault with some details, like not the most comfortable combat mechanics on horseback, but they do not spoil the overall impression of the game. The elementary crafting system is also attached as if hastily and looks a little alien. If earlier a significant part of the expendable items could be purchased for a pittance from merchants, now for the sake of a bundle of elemental arrows it is necessary to farm all sorts of rodents in the forest for ten minutes to collect enough bones. And for gun greases, crawl between tree roots in search of resin. Questionable pleasure.But come on, it’s all trivia. My main complaint about Elden Ring is quite different: in my subjective opinion, the battles feel much more boring than the exploration of the surrounding world. The time-tested combat system still works like clockwork, but the challenge just doesn’t disperse the blood like it used to. Again, I’m sure to be in the absolute minority, but after the dynamics of Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the measured, passive-aggressive dancing around opponents looks like an archaic routine. Not necessarily bad, but not particularly exciting either. And this is despite the fact that FromSoftware really tried to diversify the action component. The bestiary of enemies is huge, the arsenal of weapons did not disappoint, the library of spells was replenished with a new school dedicated to gravity — black holes, telekinesis, meteor showers and other wonderful things. The mechanics of the power strut from Dark Souls II deservedly returned to service, and the idea of skills from Dark Souls III received a logical development: now any weapon can be forged, replacing its ability to your taste. Elden Ring allows the player to fine-tune the unloading and knock out every nuance (down to the appearance of the armor) to his own style of play.
Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that for three numbered parts of Dark Souls, the developers tried all the ways known to science to complicate the life of players. Ten years later, the trump cards in the sleeves have ended, and Elden Ring can only work out the standard program, which the veterans of the series have studied more than a dozen times. As a rule, the game tries to increase tension in one of two ways: either by the uneven pace of enemy attacks, or by prohibitive damage. According to the lunar logic of Elden Ring, the bite of a bald rat and the sweeping kick of a fifty-meter giant cause about the same pain. As a result, closer to the middle of the game, the difficulty curve reaches a plateau, where it lies for the next 30-40 hours: opponents seem to change, but the tactics always remain the same.Unfortunately, this also applies to boss battles. From the point of view of visual design and staging, each story battle is worked out beyond praise: the owners of the fragments are truly disgusting in their beauty. But they make up an unfortunately small fraction of all battles, and even then, are remembered only thanks to the chic aesthetics — in terms of gameplay, they have absolutely nothing to offer. Personally, only one incredibly annoying fight in the last third of the game caused me serious difficulties (at the same level as Ornstein and Smoug), but even it was not difficult, but rather deliberately tedious.
Due to the very large timing at some point, Elden Ring begins to use familiar bosses in the second, third and even fourth rounds. So, Inland is full of dragons, but they differ from each other mainly only by name and one or two attacks.The obsessive sense of déjà vu does not recede also because, along with the positive aspects of the old combat system, Elden Ring dragged every single negative one without a second thought. The artificial intelligence of opponents then falls into a stupor, then unmistakably reads all the actions of the player. The camera still does not know how to behave in cramped spaces, regularly condemning to a stupid death at the most inopportune moment. Enemies accurately strike right through the walls, because the models of their weapons pass through the textures. Everything is as usual, as if more than ten years have not passed since the release of the original Demon’s Souls.
However, despite these annoying shortcomings, Elden Ring is still, without a doubt, one of the best games in the FromSoftware portfolio. It’s a shame that the Japanese persistently refuse to move forward and analyze their mistakes, but stability is also a sign of skill. The first test of the pen in the open world turned out to be so correct that the game is not ashamed to forgive an outdated game design for it.
Final update: another 20 hours later
The marathon is finally over! As a result, it took a little over 80 hours to complete the game (plus a secret ending hidden behind a long chain of optional tasks). I stumble over my own bags under my eyes, but I will still share my impressions after the finale as a postscript.
In general, I still adhere to the thoughts expressed in the original text: an admirably developed open world is the main achievement of Elden Ring. It conceals so many discoveries that I immediately started a new walkthrough on the PC version (the optimization was not much on the PS5, but still better). During the preparation of the review, there was no opportunity to leisurely explore everything for my own pleasure, so judging by the discussions on various forums, I missed a lot. Even after a week of continuous playing in the world of Elden Ring, I still want to return — only now without haste. And another build.
But my opinion about the boss design has changed slightly: FromSoftware has prepared some really cool battles towards the end of the passage — some may well claim the title of the best in the series. But the impressions are again spoiled by the completely inhuman design of the camera. I don’t understand why the authors insist so much on giant opponents if the camera physically does not allow us to properly consider their attacks. Yes, this is not the first time the studio has sinned like this, but this is a bad excuse. Due to technical shortcomings, well-staged battles sometimes turn into torture, although unnecessary (and unfair) frustration could easily be avoided if desired.
By the way, the mechanics of summoning spirit helpers does not make the task too easy, if you (for some reason) were worried about the complexity — I conducted experiments. All sorts of wolves, skeletons, soldiers and other mobs can briefly distract the boss’s attention, but they die quickly in battle: The AI of allies fundamentally does not recognize protection. Some rare spirits are able to stand up for themselves, but only after a long pumping.
That’s the way things are. Elden Ring is exhausting and annoying, but you want to play it further.