Elden Ring Game Review: A Flawed Masterpiece

Elden Ring

Game Info:

  • Genre: Soulslike / Action Role-Playing
  • Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS5, XSX, XSS
  • Designer: Hidetaka Miyazaki
  • Developer: FromSoftware
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Release Date: 25 February 2022
  • Played In: PC

While it’s four months later since release as of this writing, I still felt compelled to publish my review of Elden Ring due to how much it has enriched my life. This is the very first game by FromSoftware that I actually got into. It made me relive the wonder I last felt over a decade ago with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, this game has what Skyrim lacks, which are fun and engaging combat and a story that didn’t make me feel empty upon completion. My Elden Ring experience didn’t diminish over time like my Skyrim experience, making this FromSoftware game a better open world experience than that Bethesda game.

Elden Ring is a drug that got injected straight into the veins of crazy people on 25 February 2022, and the world has been forever changed by it. Perhaps the most ambitious game put out by FromSoftware, its world was molded by George R. R. Martin and further refined by Hidetaka Miyazaki. It takes elements from all the previous games of FromSoftware while also adding many things that are essentially its own. This is a game that will be played and discussed for years to come, and the DLC isn’t even out yet.

Elden Ring: My Characters

I won’t attempt to speak for others’ experience through this review, but speak for my own. As of this writing, I’m doing four different playthroughs since I can’t help but try out different character builds while exploring the world. There’s a lot about this game that downright annoys me, yet the integrity of the whole package has me coming back for more. While salty western developers continue to scoff at it, FromSoftware continues to show that the bigger picture is what truly counts.

NOTE: This is a full review, so here be spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Elden Ring Story

You play as a Tarnished, which is this game’s version of what the Undead are in Dark Souls and what the hunters are in Bloodborne. Your goal is simply to journey through the lands between, claim the Great Runes from the demigods, and rise up to become Elden Lord. Unlike in previous games, wherein you’re there to merely fulfill a disruptive role, you’re there to completely usurp the power structure in that world.

The story is told through fragments that can only be discerned by remembering to look at every single little thing you come across, from the characters you may encounter to every single item you pick up. It does mean that those who do pay close attention are rewarded, but that also means those who only care about the gameplay and nothing else are spurned.

Elden Ring: Intro

With Ubisoft open world games, you would want to skip those cutscenes. With Elden Ring, you read and observe whatever you can get your hands on. While it can use a bit more work in how it presented its narrative, the results do speak for themselves as it has made more waves than the stories and worlds of any Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry game out there. Mind you, this game does have cutscenes, but it’s only in the most important parts when emphasis is truly needed.

Despite that, it’s still a point of contention nonetheless. While most players who care enough about the world and the combat will definitely give the narrative even a little bit of attention, that’s not everyone. The only selling point this game has for casuals is the reputation of its predecessors and its developer, which may intrigue some of them.

It intrigued me enough to become the first ever FromSoftware game I got addicted to.

As with every other FromSoftware’s “Soulsborne” game, Elden Ring has a theme of oppressive solitude. But unlike Dark Souls, wherein that loneliness is interceded by moments of meeting other characters. In Elden Ring, you’re that character. I like to think that while Dark Souls had the likes of Solaire and Dark Souls III had someone like Siegward, the denizens of the Lands Between have the player character, the Tarnished, who lifts them up while fighting their way to becoming Elden Lord.

I know there’s no real difference, but I’d like to think that there’s a brighter outlook in this game compared to its predecessors.

Elden Ring: Fighting Glintstone Dragon Adula

The variety of characters you find in this world makes up for the disjointedness of the narrative and the sparseness of the open world, which is more than twice the size of the northern province of Skyrim. I find them more memorable than the NPCs who were voiced by the same voice actor in Skyrim, even Jarl Balgruuf, Paarthunax, or even Sheogorath. It’s not a good look when the antagonist of the game is one of the least memorable characters in the game.

I had to look up Alduin, whose name was at the tip of my tongue as of this writing. He’s a black spiky dragon, and that’s about it. He traveled through time, and I fought him in Sovngarde. After defeating him, I never played Skyrim again for four years.

In the meantime, I’m over 220 hours into Elden Ring, and that’s largely due to the story and setting. Much of the discussions I’ve had with friends regarding the game have been less about gameplay, but more about the characters and the bosses. I think it’s a good sign if whenever you bring up a game, the first thing you remember is the world within it.

Elden Ring Presentation

As Videogamedunkey said in his review of the game, “Walking around in this game is like stepping inside of a painting.” That’s the most apt way to describe both the graphics and art direction of Elden Ring as almost every frame you have in every moment of gameplay contains incredible detail, from the player character to the surrounding environment and characters in proximity, all the way out to the sprawling vistas.

The heads-up display even fades out so you can have an unobstructed view of the Lands Between. That’s something you won’t get from western open-world games, which always worries about whether you’re getting ample information at all times, even in idle moments. I think this difference in philosophies are due to what they prioritize, and FromSoftware may go with a mindset of players being able to think for themselves.

Elden Ring: Night's Cavalry

It’s not to say that western developers don’t think that players are not able to guide their own gameplay, but decades of game design innovation have set a lot of rules and principles that seem like they’re immutable. That’s why there have been many western developers who heavily criticize Elden Ring for its less-than-stellar user experience.

However, this is not the first Japanese game known for having dismal UX — Guilty Gear Strive and its online multiplayer lobby is a good example.

But I do think it’s a case of missing the forest for the trees. While it’s true that Elden Ring does have worse UI and UX than something like Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, or Far Cry 6, what continues to perplex them is how a game like Elden Ring ends up being a more memorable and impactful gameplay experience compared to those titles (at least to a singleplayer-focused gamer like myself).

Every part of the Lands Between can be identified in just a glance. Players should be able to easily tell between Limgrave, Caelid, Liurnia of the Lakes, Altus Plateau, and so on. The uniqueness of each area in the game reminds me of Diablo II, except that while Kurast in Act III only makes me feel bored and depressed, the least “fun” area of Elden Ring is so due to its dangers. Caelid is far from boring, but it’s also not Disneyland.

I also find it neat that a lot of the endgame areas are actually visible from Limgrave where you start your journey. I don’t know what tricks they employed to make this game look like it has infinite draw-distancing (maybe they actually added that to the skybox), but they’re neat details that they didn’t have to add, yet they still did because they were adamant about making this shattered world as richly detailed as possible.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is said to be not as distinct as that of the Dark Souls trilogy or Bloodborne, but I think it does have its merits. I think most of the score is meant to blend in with the scenery, so they’re not that distinct right off the bat. But the boss fight scores are great for setting the tone for them. Two of my favorites are the themes of Malenia and Maliketh, especially for their second phases. With them being two of the toughest bosses in all of FromSoftware’s games, they better be good since you’ll be hearing them a lot.

The music for the first final boss can be described as not really a theme for that boss, but for the player character who arrives to become Elden Lord. It’s an amped-up version of the title screen theme, which I find quite cool and invigorating, especially with the boss raising their (gender-neutral pronoun is quite appropriate here for lore reasons) weapon high with their back turned towards the player. I rewatch videos of that boss fight just for that moment.

Elden Ring: Rennala, Queen of the Full Moon

On the other hand, what this game does fall short in is the main thing when it comes to PC ports of most Japanese games, which is optimization and performance. First off, it’s locked at 60fps since that’s what the console version is designed with. That’s not good for people with 144hz monitors, or even for cheapskates like me who are still sticking with a 75hz 1080p monitor. That means 60fps is the best you can get and you can expect framerate drops down to around 40fps.

There’s a part where it may even go way down to around 15fps. It’s at the Consecrated Snowfield with the walking mausoleum firing magic artillery around it. First off, to Destined Death with that place. Second, that only makes unlocking that walking mausoleum even more of a priority.

Early on, before the release of patch update 1.04, my game was regularly crashing. It would even restart my computer, which was quite alarming. But since I was addicted to the game, I would just reopen the game when I boot back into Windows. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem with the game or if it heated up my CPU or GPU up to 100°C, the latter of which would usually result in auto-restart.

At the same time as the patch update, I installed a new Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280 AIO cooler on my AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, which previously had the stock Wraith cooler. I stopped getting auto-restarts once I got the AIO cooler on, so perhaps it was my thermals, but I’m still not certain of that to this day.

I included the performance issues in this section since slowdowns and crashes certainly take away from the presentation. After all, my gameplay experience shouldn’t include staring at my Windows loading screen for the umpteenth time in one session. My desktop wallpaper isn’t part of the in-game graphics, right?

Elden Ring Gameplay

It goes without saying that the gameplay is the true strength of Elden Ring, a game developed by FromSoftware. I also know from experience that it takes a good bit of patience to actually get it as it took me about a decade since learning about Dark Souls to actually catch the bug. That’s mostly on me since I tend to give up at the first seemingly-insurmountable challenge.

Then again, at least it’s still not as bad as MMOs, which supposedly take hundreds of hours in order to be properly rewarded.

Elden Ring: Flying Dragon AgheelDo take note for this section that I play with mouse and keyboard, the “heretical” way to play FromSoftware games. I tried playing Dark Souls II on the PS3 and went nowhere with it. I’m a lifelong PC gamer and will continue to play with mouse and keyboard for most games until my dying breath (although I play platformers and character action games with a gamepad). Perhaps I’ll play with a gamepad if I ever think of playing Bloodborne, but that’s in the future.

Besides, it may be for the best to play this game with mouse and keyboard due to the addition of jumping. That did mean I had to switch around the key bindings, and it took some getting used to as I have dash and dodge on shift and jump on space, but it was worth it as I got to actually enjoy the game by being able to play how I wish.

Being able to enjoy it as I wish is crucial as this game does have an infamous reputation for having a community populated by turbo nerds. As with most fandoms with hardcore followings, you have to avoid them like the plague if you wish to enjoy something without the pressure of “following the herd” — one of the most futile things you can ever do in this existence. Then again, that’s because the “herd” is just a vocal minority.

Johnny Walker is perfectly good scotch, there’s nothing wrong with liking K-pop, and astrologer is a fun class to play in Elden Ring.

Elden Ring: Gatefront Ruins

This is more or less when I finally “got it.”

What a FromSoft newbie like myself learns over time is that builds, weapon types, and/or playstyles have different strengths and weaknesses. Magic is pretty safe, but it may not be that good against certain enemy types that colossal weapons are better at handling due to stance-breaking. But big blades and bonkers are not as fast as dual katanas, which can inflict bleed damage more quickly.

If I got anything wrong there, that’s because I’m still a newb, as I’ve mentioned.

Of course, you can adjust the difficulty even more to your liking by finding certain items. You can go for a faith build and find the Sword of Night and Flame, a weapon I was told about on stream by a viewer who likes to throw discretion out the window. That sword apparently can erase Leyndell Knights with ease, thus giving you an easy mode of sorts.

You can look for weapon arts, called Ashes of War, that make things a lot easier. Bloodhound’s Step, Flame of the Redmanes, and Lion’s Claw are some examples of really good Ashes of War that can make your character much more powerful. You also have the choice of not using them at all if you don’t want things to be too easy. Also, there’s the talisman Daedicar’s Woe, which lets you receive more damage (and learn a particularly grisly part of the lore).

You’re given many ways to play the game as you wish, but you have to find them. Perhaps the one thing you can commend FromSoftware for is how their games make little to no compromises in adhering to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s vision. Then again, compared to its predecessors, Elden Ring has the most amount of beginner aids in its gameplay.

For instance, the open world lets you shift focus whenever you’re stuck at one part, jumping and riding allows for more options in exploration, summons greatly help in making combat easier, and so on. No wonder this game succeeded where every other game failed, and it’s making me consider playing the other games later on. That makes Elden Ring the best move FromSoftware ever made thus far, making their games more accessible and popular.

Yes, this is considered “accessible” for a FromSoftware game, and it’s still a net positive.

Elden Ring: Tree Sentinel

Where it truly shines in its engaging gameplay, fascinating open world exploration, deep (albeit disjointed) lore, and interesting characters is with immersion and replayability. I’ll likely sink hundreds more hours into this game over the coming years due to how much more I can do in this game. There are more character builds to try out, more items and skills to try, more routes to take, and many more different ways to go about every scenario in this game.

I’ve not tried multiplayer since I have PvP-phobia, but I’ve watched countless clips of other players screwing around in it. Miyazaki still sticks with his very selective multiplayer mode that was inspired by his own experience of having people come out of the fog in the early morning to help push his car then disappearing back into the fog. That means there’s not much direct toxicity you can expect in PvP aside from Moonveil and RoB users ganking you.

The only drawbacks in the gameplay is the same complaint that FromSoftware games have had for over a decade now, which is that there’s no real game balance to be had. That’s even more so with this game as it was made to be as open as a Miyazaki-designed game can be. That’s not as much of a drawback as it is a hint of mercy from the Dark Souls designer.

Final Score

Elden Ring
9 / 10 out of 10
STier
Pros
  • Vast and breathtaking world and lore
  • Immersive and rewarding exploration
  • Satisfying combat that rewards persistence
  • Interesting bosses and enemy types
  • Memorable characters and storylines
  • Cool weapons, armor, and items
  • Many ways to play with different builds
  • Atmospheric soundtrack sets the mood
  • FromSoftware releasing patch updates
Cons
  • Fragmented narrative and sparse storytelling
  • Frustrating and vertigo-inducing platforming
  • Easy to miss plot points due to lack of quest tracking
  • Compels players to look things up outside the game
  • Console-first design yields UI and UX problems
  • Many ineffectual items and skills taking space
  • Unoptimized PC port prone to frame drops and crashes
  • Hard lock to 60fps in an age of 120+Hz monitors
Summary

Elden Ring could’ve easily been a 10/10. But while its inner soul is sublime, its outer shell is what holds it back. Those drawbacks with its technical performance and user experience have affected me enough to sway my judgment, even after four months of enjoyment.

For a while, I was thinking of making it an 8/10 due to the many flaws, but I couldn’t justify just making it an A-tier game while I’ve sunk a couple of hundred hours in it at this point. And those aren’t empty hours at all with my brain turned off like when I was playing Diablo III a decade ago. They were meaningful hours spent in near-constant awe and wonder.

Compared with another game I was hyped for in recent years like Cyberpunk 2077 and The Outer Worlds, which has also got well over a hundred hours from me, I have to joggle my memory in order to remember important details about those games, but I likely won’t need as much effort to recall my experience with Elden Ring.

Story8
Presentation9
Gameplay10

Learn about the standardized review system [here].

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