YOU DIED. These two words in Elden Ring, like the other titles from developer FromSoftware, are not a prediction, they are a spoiler. Death in Elden Ring isn’t necessarily failure but rather a learning tool, a means to taking additional time to further understand the intricacies of the complex combat mechanics that are required to not only survive but to complete the story.
Cast into the world of the Lands Between with minimal hand-holding, no waypoints, mission markers or quest logs, Elden Ring allows players to embark on their treacherous open-world adventure with unbridled customisation that extends to the gear, weapons and attributes of the player’s character. Allowing mastery of multiple categories affords players the complete freedom to play the game their way, adapting along the way to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds that stand in the way of the players ultimate quest to become the Elden Lord.
Jaw-dropping environmental art design, engaging and diverse combat encounters and a near-never-ending amount of new locations and boss encounters to discover are just a few of the reasons Elden Ring has solidified itself in the conversation of greatest RPGs of all time.
Players begin Elden Ring by customising their character’s appearance and initial class. With ten classes to choose from such as the magic favouring Astrologer, strength focused Warrior or ranged specialist Bandit, players begin with a base specification character but the game ensures that they are not locked into the playstyle of their chosen class. By collecting runes from defeated foes, chests and selling items, players can upgrade attributes such as Vigor (health), Mind (FP, magic) and Strength for instance to enhance their character’s ability to effectively utilise weapons, gear or skills that aren’t directly associated to their chosen class. This freedom to create builds that favour a particular attribute, or alternatively to find a healthy balance between multiple, is what helps the Elden Ring experience feel as enjoyable or preferable to the players preferred playstyle. The exploration and experimentation with these attributes can generate some truly powerful builds that can help players keep their time with Elden Ring more varied and eliminating any fears of repetition in regards to combat encounters.
Following a brief tutorial that introduces players to the core combat and movement mechanics, players are gifted the opportunity to embark on their journey in a manner that doesn’t force them down a linear route. Instead, the entire world awaits to be explored from the get go, with the player able to head off in whatever direction they please as they begin their quest to survive the horrendous threats that plague every area, lurking behind every corner and tucked away in some masterfully designed hidden dungeons.
The explorable regions of the Land Between are absolutely massive, with every path seemingly opening up a brand new location full of new enemies, environmental obstacles and deadly bosses as well as interesting gear, crafting materials and secrets. In the early moments of the story the player is given an item that allows them to summon a mount, Torrent. This trusty steed can be used in most areas of the game with the exception of some boss rooms, caves and a few towns.
Torrent can even take a few hits itself, saving the player some precious vitality in the heat of combat which is in most cases a multiple enemy scenario. If Torrent is defeated, it can be resurrected at the expense of a Crimson Flask, an object that can be used to replenish the players health. The Cerulean Flask is used to restore the players Focus Points (FP), which is required to use magic spells and summon powerful entities known as Ash Summons. These powerful allies can unleash varying levels of carnage upon the enemy and can be a great distraction of their attention, buying the player valuable time to strike the enemy from behind or unleash a powerful spell that requires a few seconds to generate.
Managing Flasks is done at Sites of Grace, checkpoints scattered throughout the world that allow the player to do things such as heal, change the time of day, manage their inventory by shifting unnecessary items to their chest and allocating Ashes of War – powerful enchantments that can be assigned to most weapons that allow the player to use special skills and abilities.
Additional Flasks can be unlocked by collecting Golden Seeds from the various golden trees located around the world and their effectiveness can be increased by finding Sacred Tears. Assigning these flasks to FP or HP allows players to prioritise them according to their play style, for example, someone playing with a mage focus will want more Cerulean Flasks that replenish FP to cast their spells while melee driven builds will want the Crimson Flasks that restore HP since they will be engaging more in close quarters combat. A balance of both to a degree works well and opens up different tactics during combat instead of absolution towards a particular attack style.
Resting at Sites of Grace also respawns previously defeated foes, with the exception of bosses, that instil a risk vs reward approach that may encourage players to push through if they need to backtrack without fear of their adversaries standing in their path again. While the player is not in active combat they can pull up the map with the press of a button and fast travel to any previously discovered Site of Grace.
A harrowing variety of monstrosities litter every stretch of Elden Ring that present the player with situations that can be initially overwhelming. By levelling up and returning to difficult areas later, players will be able to vanquish their foes with their newfound strength that provides an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. A handful of unavoidable story boss battles are significantly outnumbered by a plethora of optional encounters against giant monsters, spectral warriors and everything in between that can be found by exploring the incredibly diverse locations in the Lands Between. Crimson skies populated by undead creatures, canyons full of giant statue warriors, caves rife with crystal-infused scavengers and dozens more locations and enemy types keep every area unique, visually striking and exciting. The sheer amount of enemy types and the overwhelming number of distinct locations keep every trek unpredictable, every imminent boss encounter surprising and the rewards for overcoming these treacherous foes and vistas plentiful and worthwhile.
Elden Ring rewards players for their perseverance, their commitment and their understanding of the intricacies of the combat mechanics with an endless string of memorable foes, stunning locations, exciting and meaningful loot as well as the satisfaction of grinding and pushing through the pain of defeat to cut down the largest of threats and progress. To discuss difficulty in Elden Ring is hard as the player’s pursuit of runes to level up, find better gear and observe, understand and outwit enemy tactics will determine their own challenge. Personally, I annihilated the first three story bosses; Margit the Fell Omen, Godrick the Grafted and the Red Wolf of Radagon with no challenge but when it came to Renalla, Queen of the Full Moon, I was brutalised, cast aside and defeated over and over again. By not searching for better weapons, powerful talismans that afford various buffs or stronger gear, I had reached a point where my evasive skills such as diving, rolling, parrying and launching meaningful attacks with weak equipment and minimal healing items lead to a loop of death. Venturing out, upgrading all of my newly acquired gear and returning turned the tides like I could not believe.
Understanding the limits of your gear and that exploration, despite the dangers, may provide better equipment than you currently have is fundamental to creating a powerful build that is more durable and capable of bringing down significantly higher level enemies. The feelings of doubt and loss of hope certainly creep in at times but by exploring, upgrading and constantly taking on the roaming enemies ensure a smooth path to level progression, gear enhancement and eventually victory. The satisfaction of destroying a boss that has been unstoppable for hours on end, death after death, is rewarding in and of itself and motivates you to play smarter, play better and of course, ‘git gud’.
Freedom is possibly the defining word of my Elden Ring experience. Having never played the notoriously difficult Dark Souls, Bloodborne or Sekiro titles, I knew this game would be a challenge, would test my patience and my ability to commit to what seems like, at the time, unbeatable odds. With such flexible upgrade paths, an enormous variety of weapons, gear, talismans and other powerful items to equip and use, as well as no linear direction to be pressured into following, you can level up as high as you like before even taking on the first boss or steadily increase your strength with thorough exploration, patience and perseverance. Getting stuck on a boss doesn’t mean the game is over, you can simply venture off anywhere else into the massive world, explore, level up, find better gear and return when stronger, more skilled and more mentally prepared to prove your dominance.
Multiplayer exists to an extent in Elden Ring that is confusing, unnecessarily complicated and in my experience prone to not working at all. Rather than inviting friends or a quick-join function for random players, a handful of objects need to be acquired, crafted and/or used to host or join a co-op game or invade another player’s experience in PVP fashion. These objects when used in particular places aren’t guaranteed to work. After using dozens of an item to see if I could find a player to help with certain bosses I either found nobody or on two or three occasions found someone but was met with a message that the connection was unable to be established, leading to my experience being entirely solo with no co-op support for any of the brutal encounters I would have loved some assistance with.
Where player interaction takes a turn for the positive, messages can be laid down by any player using a pool of text to string together messages that can be helpful, such as “precious item ahead”, “caution left” – indicating a threat around the left-hand corner for example or “suffering ahead” suggesting an upcoming boss encounter were invaluable aids. Funny messages such as “is this a dog” in front of a giant turtle or misleading notes such as “try jumping” in front of a cliff were constantly amusing. The number of messages that gave me the insight to change my plan of attack, path forward or tactics was incredible and it goes to show that we are all experiencing this world of hurt together, and that the least we can do is help each other out.
FromSoftware have without question developed a world that is incredibly stunning, breathtakingly varied and so rewarding on a personal level with the satisfaction of overcoming incredible adversity, brutal bosses and fatal encounters back to back in a never ending world of hurt. These experiences won’t please players looking for a linear path to the end of the story or those that seek instant gratification of being incredibly powerful right off the bat and it will push some players to their limits. Overcome, walk away or persist in a cycle of death by failing to learn from their mistakes are scenarios that most players will experience a little of too varying degrees. Powering through the pain and conquering the unconquerable is incredibly satisfying and makes the journey more memorable, valuable and enjoyable as a result.