TAG24's Take: Elden Ring is beautiful and oh so lonely
Japan - Japanese developer FromSoftware of Dark Souls fame has done it again, and we dived into the newly released Elden Ring to let you know if it is worth your time. Here's TAG24's Take on what might be the hardest game of 2022.
Elden Ring, which released February 25, is a third-person role-playing adventure from legendary game designer Hidetaka Miyazaki, with some extra lifting from the storytelling muscles of George R.R. Martin.
Good, thanks for working on yet another project instead of finishing the next Game of Thrones book, Martin.
In Elden Ring's magical realm of the Lands Between, you tromp around as a tragic hero on a quest to hack, slash, and survive your way through an open world.
The game is full of discovery, wonder, and enemies that will destroy you without breaking a sweat.
However, in this beautiful fantasy adventure, you are very alone, and even the non-playable characters you meet heighten the sense of how the odds are stacked against you.
The narrative adds to that feeling, as soon as you start to make sense of it.
Much like FromSoftware's previous titles, Elden Ring asks you to accept that you won't understand the story at first.
You also won't understand how to take on new enemies at first.
But the developers built the game to let you grow as a player, and take whatever the game throws at you on the chin. Eventually, the puzzle pieces of lore and the game mechanics will fall into place, and you'll start to understand what is going on around you.
At least until the next new area tosses you straight into the deep end, expecting you to enjoy it.
The excellent open world
Usually, open world games are packed full of events, collectibles, secrets, and general clutter, but not Elden Ring.
It does the gaming equivalent of show, not tell, letting you choose your own path and figure out the mysteries the Lands Between have in store at your own pace.
If you want to explore every last nook and cranny of the expansive map, you can. If you want to power ahead and try to finish the game as fast as possible, feel free.
Wherever you go, tender strains of orchestral music underscore the beauty of the open world. If you get into a fight on your journey, the music shifts to become more tense and aggressive, with pounding drums to highlight the peril of the fight.
But once you return to exploring, serenity reigns, and it often feels like the developers made points of interest that are just far enough away that you have to detour to get there. But the next "what's that thing over there" landmark is never too far away.
Because here's what really lets the open world shine: it isn't about where you go, it is about how you get there.
The good is great
This game has gorgeous ruins and beautiful panoramas of crumbling castles and glowing, magical trees.
Stark cliffs jut above an ocean, and taking a moment to look around can be peaceful.
Even with the graphics set to low, the game's vistas are stunning.
Aside from looks, Elden Ring sports a few new features without which the game would definitely be a tiresome slog.
Early in the game, you gain access to a mythical steed, named Torrent, who lets you gallop around the open areas of the world and reach new areas.
Speaking of reaching new areas, FromSoftware's earlier games made players rely on a janky jumping mechanic, often leading to a deadly fall from a misjudged leap, but Elden Ring finally delivers a working jump button – to a collective sigh of relief from fans of Souls-like games.
One other feature got a massive rework to help players progress and enjoy the open world: the health flask. Your character can take a swig from the flask to restore health points, but previous games' flasks used to have limited charges.
Now, clearing a group of enemies refills a charge, making it much easier to explore without having to return to Grace sites, which are checkpoints where your character can level up and reset health points, flask charges, and enemy spawnpoints.
The difficult "features" and feeling so alone
Elden Ring takes home the gold for the open world and exploration, as well as the sense of achievement after defeating a challenging boss, but this game is far from perfect.
Many players haven't been able to enjoy the game because of frame rate issues, which make the combat mechanics nigh impossible, since Elden Ring's fighting needs you to have quick reflexes to survive.
Any dropped frames, or stuttering animation, spell out a death sentence for your beleaguered hero.
If you do manage to go a-questing without graphical issues, one main feature of the game might get you down. As mentioned earlier, Elden Ring is lonely.
Although that is a design choice you can respect, a game about adventuring in a fantasy world just screams co-op mode.
And there is multiplayer – a recycled, frustrating multiplayer system that works just like it did in the first Dark Souls.
You have to use an item to place summoning signs that show up in other players' game, which lets them join you. However, not all areas of the game allow you to travel together, requiring you to place a new summoning sign so your friend can re-join your session.
Another spin on the multiplayer is where players can enter another game session as an enemy, or "invader," and hunt you down like some fearsome specter.
The developer team and Miyazaki must really have wanted you to feel like you are up against nearly insurmountable odds, and that you'll need to take on the whole world on your own.
Fortunately, if you decide to give Elden Ring a spin, that attitude of "bring it on" is the very best way to play the game and enjoy the difficulty curve.
So go ahead, lean into the loneliness, and savor a game that rewards you for being the very best player you can be.
Elden Ring has the right mix of challenge and sense of accomplishment that is at the heart of making a Souls-like game so difficult, yet so rewarding. It isn't perfect, but if you are interested in an open world full of devious foes and a powerful learning curve, then this is the game for you.
Cover photo: Bandai Namco/FromSoftware