The Souls series is notorious for its austere, crushing difficulty and punishing enemies. Elden Ring, the latest release in the same ilk from the minds at FromSoftware, is no different. Though it's a new IP as far as Souls games are concerned, it's nostalgic in ways that anyone who's ever set foot in Dark Souls, Bloodborne, or similar titles will recognize. Except this time around, the formula has been perfected. This time, you can truly see and feel what FromSoftware and creator Hidetaka Miyazaki had in mind when conceptualizing the games in the first place.
And now, as the famed designer and director has joined up with Game of Thrones and fantasy legend George R. R. Martin, the narrative has leveled up considerably on many different wavelengths as well. Elden Ring is the game all the Souls games past have wished to be for some time. And if you’ve been following them since Demon’s Souls first hit the scene back on PlayStation 3, you’ll find plenty to love about this mythical excursion.
While Elden Ring doesn't pull out a wealth of new ideas, per se, it tends to perfect what the games before it introduced. The mechanics you're likely familiar with have been polished in a way that so many sequels aspire to, and that's what makes the game such a smashing success. It's a masterwork, to be fair, and the blueprint upon which so many games will work off of for years to come.
As a Tarnished, you find yourself working to figure out how to bring peace to a land that's become dilapidated and putrid while the offspring of a former monarch fight over pieces of the Elden Ring. It's been shattered and strewn across the land, as Tarnished, exiles from the Lands Between who lost Grace, work to find a place for themselves. Grace, a type of energy that the Tarnished are able to use to propel them forward. It's not an overtly complicated story at a glance, but the lore stretched throughout the world you're meant to explore every nook and cranny of expands by the minute. There's so much to learn and take in that it can be overwhelming at first. But it’s highly recommended that you put the time in to figure things out, read all that you can, talk to everyone you meet, and take in the environmental clues that surround you so that you can piece it all together.
Because the story is so richly detailed, you'll want to push through even when Elden Ring feels like a nigh-impossible affair, and it truly can at times. The world is absolutely mammoth, and it holds no interest in telling you exactly where you need to go, how to get there, or what you need to do when you arrive. You're largely left to your own devices, from figuring out the best ways to eliminate enemies to determining what it is the people of the land expect from you. Sometimes you'll receive overt direction on where to go, and others you'll be left to wander what feels like an infinite hellscape of wonders and horrors, with just about everything trying to kill you or eat you alive at some point.
There's a dizzying amount of content to interact with in the Lands Between, and it kicks off in the lush expanse of Limgrave. From there, however, it's up to you how you want to proceed. If you see it, you can go there. But don't always count on the game helping you figure out a path toward where you want to go. That's part of the game's brilliance, as you can do essentially what you want at all times, as long as you can figure it out. That means the entirety of the game is up to you, really, and this freedom sets Elden Ring apart from so many of its brethren, even additional Souls games.
Most of your time is spent figuring out how to get from point A to point B as you advance the story, either through a path suggested to you by an NPC or a path you've forged yourself through combat or sheer determination. You've got your spectral steed at your side, a nimble horse to help you reach your intended destination, but everything really comes down to you and how badly you want to get to a certain area. That means you'll have to spend quite a bit of your time defeating massive abominations in the form of enemies.
If you can't defeat an enemy right away, which will happen more often than not, you might decide to leave and come back at a later date. There's no shame in doing so, and in fact the game can tend to reward you for doing just that. Just because you may not have found the intended path for you at the right time, that doesn't mean you can't make progress. And felling massive tree-like enemies, hand-spider things, or other grotesque challengers can feel exceedingly good, especially when you do it without much (or any) direction.
Beyond defeating the ridiculous amount of monsters, demigods, and other foul creatures that run amok in the Lands Between, there are a wide variety of NPCs to communicate with that will happily converse with you, relate their tales of woe to you, or otherwise act in a bizarre manner that pushes you even more toward exploration. The gameplay loop is nothing short of addictive, and one that you'll want to spend hours upon hours with.
In addition to breathtaking graphics, a sweeping orchestral score that vacillates between chanting and epic exploration music, there's an undeniable personality to Elden Ring that permeates every bit of its being. It's epic on a scale that so many games dare only to dream of. It will absolutely go down in history as one of the most exciting, most ambitious adventures that FromSoftware has crafted. If you're looking for the game that may very well be the one you love the most in 2022, this could be it.
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