I want to make one thing clear. This game is easier than most Souls games, but it is not easy.
Players begin Elden Ring by creating a character, picking a class, and choosing a starter item. You are given a good amount of choices, so you can start the way you’d like. You have strong knights who can take hits, fast dual wielders who rely on dodges, magic casters, and even faith users that start with damage spells. While these are the base classes, you will quickly find a build that works for you. I tried DEX and hated it, but I switched to strength with a war hammer and quickly fell in love. Try different combos to find what you like.
There is a brief tutorial cave to help you learn the basics, but it doesn’t help much outside of teaching buttons. When you reach the open world, you are tasked with finding the lords and defeating them. Stormveil Castle is your primary objective, but the world is yours to explore right from the start. The story is weird, because it is there but always in the background. You get a maiden who levels you up, but you need to get her to the Erdtree in the capital in return. Along the way, other story tidbits, lore, side quests, and NPC events fill in why this world is such a mess. I got through in about 70 hours, but I did a ton of exploring.
Let’s start with the combat, since that is the primary point of contention in these games. You can still die in a few hits, and you still need to learn invincible frames. You are going to have to be willing to drop a couple of hits, get out, then repeat. It takes patience to learn the enemy patterns and to find your openings. While I don’t find it as exhilarating as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the melee combat is still very fun. Beating a boss that was giving you trouble is still just as satisfying as it always is in these games.
With Elden Ring being an open world, you have many options on what to do and where to go. Stormveil is the first main objective, but you can go where you want. There is loot to find, caves, NPCs, side quests, and even bosses waiting to be found in the extensive world that is Elden Ring. While this is great at the start as each cave and dungeon holds new and exciting loot, it begins to wear down. Imagine fighting three challenging bosses to get a weapon you not only can’t but never would use. The bosses still give EXP, so they are worth it for that; just not the loot.
NPCs and side quests are often found while exploring. There is no quest log, and you rarely get a marker on your map on where to go. For instance, let’s take Alexander the Potman. When I first found Alexander, he was stuck in a hole. I got him free, and he told me about a festival of combat. We parted ways, and I found him again in a mine. I cleared that mine, and he told me he’d see me at the castle of the festival. I went to Redmane and found him and another NPC waiting for me to help me with a boss. These types of events happen organically, which is excellent when you find them. Unfortunately, it also means you will likely miss quests or steps and not even realize it. Perfectionists beware.
I’ve said this before, but exploring is one of my favorite things to do if the world is enjoyable. Put simply, I haven’t had this much fun exploring in a game since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s not just about loot and enemies; it’s about how it all connects in weird and unexpected ways. For example, it is great to take an elevator from an underground area and end up on the other side of the world from where you entered. I can’t tell you how often I’ve said “that leads here?!” aloud. Exploration is a crucial part of any open-world game for me, and Elden Ring gets it (mostly) right. The only bummer is when you get mushrooms. Why is it always mushrooms?
Ashes of War replace the weapon arts from Dark Souls 3. These use mana for you to do a skill with your weapons like a jump attack, put holy damage on it, or swing wildly. These ashes also act as upgrades for your weapons. So my Heavy Mace scales off strength only while the Standard Mace would scale off both DEX and strength. Finding the Ashes becomes necessary for weapon upgrades because they help in combat. One downside is that you can’t change every weapon’s Ashes. Ashes will often be locked boss weapons. This means you can’t make them scale the way you want. So if it has strength, DEX, and arcane scaling, you can’t change it to scale only off strength. It’s annoying, but there are a lot of weapons, so you’ll find one that works for you.
I also want to talk about the multiplayer in Elden Ring. It is so weird that you need to make a consumable item to see people to summon. You also can’t use your horse in co-op, so the exploration is a bit mediocre. On the other hand, places like Stormveil and the Capital are great for co-op because they are more like dungeons. Summoning for bosses still works, but don’t expect to play the whole game side by side with a buddy.
Despite these heights, there were a few annoyances. For one, you can’t open your map in combat. When a mob 100 yards away behind a wall still thinks it is in combat with you, you can’t open your map. In addition, the EXP on basic enemies might as well not even exist at points since it is so low. I still had enemies with long weapons hitting me through walls. One time a giant somehow got through a mine door and fell to his death while I took the elevator down. I also had some frame drops, but thankfully they rarely occured in combat.
While no one wants to call Game of the Year in March, Elden Ring stands at the top of a very tall hill. If you play one game this year, make it Elden Ring.