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Elden Ring has truly taken over the world at launch. In modern gaming, it is relatively rare that a major AAA title will entirely hold up to its hype. And yet, 12 million launch sales later, FromSoftware’s epic new IP has demonstrated absolute domination of the industry, the Internet and the wider video games zeitgeist. In the illustrious words of many a player-scrawled message: “could this be great?” – well yes, yes it is…

For gamers unfamiliar with the Dark Souls series, or its sister titles in Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro, Elden Ring is perhaps best described as an intricately challenging open-world action RPG set in a high-fantasy land. Those who have played or are savvy to FromSoftware’s wider catalogue, however, will likely be fuming at just how much of an understatement that truly is. For those people, Elden Ring is the open world and next-generation evolution of the Dark Souls model, set in a vast, new universe inspired heavily by its predecessors. Crucially of note here, then, is the fact that this game has already far surpassed the games which have contributed to its notoriety over the past decade and beyond, finding wider popularity and achieving greater sales figures by a long stretch.

So what about Elden Ring has finally, and validly, popularised the new classic FromSoft model? Fundamentally, the basics are the same. The trademark hardcore gameplay of all of the studio’s games persists, as do the terrifyingly gigantic bosses and deep and complex lore. Players are still tested to progress not only their stats but their own ability to read, learn and therefore play the game. On the face of things, the vast majority of features and gameplay elements are entirely similar to the Souls franchise. In fact, the specific deployment of the open world is the major point of difference in the face of things.

Open worlds are, in essence, a now familiar and often expected aspect of modern gaming. Elden Ring does two things differently from most other games when it comes to this feature which makes it widely alluring and subtly more welcoming to the aforementioned flood of new players. First, the open world is truly open, and you are not guided around it by branching narrative quests or a multitude of map or HUD markers. If you have the talent to battle the foes that await, you can take yourself wherever you may want to go on the map from the off. The directions you are given are immersive, as the careful design of the entire world itself is what pulls you to explore it. A well-placed tower over there, or a cave over here, call out to the explorative and inquisitive nature of players as human beings. When you reach the said tower, perhaps you will see a distinctive ruined church off in the distance, and choose to head there next. You have total freedom to approach the world in whatever way takes you at the moment. It is a fascinating methodology and heavily aside from other popular titles. Elden Ring has been validly compared to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild thanks to this approach, and by all accounts takes what that game achieved and improves upon it further still.

This brings us onto the second advantage of the open world, and the one that has enabled, at least in part, the enticement of a whole bunch of new franchise players – if something is too hard to beat right now, you can go somewhere else and simply return later. In the linear Souls games, this has never before been possible and players would be forced to battle incessantly against a single boss or give up and play something else. The fact that this is no longer the case, and the nature of the truly vast and varied world on offer itself, mean that players are likely to stick around, play longer, and most importantly persist. Contrary to popular belief, Elden Ring and its predecessors are very beatable with practice, persistence and determination. The commitment to learn, practice and improve is your greatest weapon and Elden Ring uniquely gives you the option to do so at your own pace, in your own way, whilst enjoying your own adventure.

Familiar though the game’s base structure may be, there is so much to love about Elden Ring. From creating a character using the overly intricate design tools, to managing your build to suit your own, unique playstyle, to talking to your friends, playing in a totally different way with their own would-be Elden Lords, the game does a tonne to make the game a personal and immersive experience. For me, my starting point was the new Samurai class, but I have since placed as great a focus on intelligence as I do on strength in order to wield armaments that will protect me from magic. I did this purely based on my experiences – in standard single combat I was dominant, but as soon as I reached a location in the game that was filled with magic users I was struggling to make progress, and so I adapted. Players are able to totally redistribute skill points in order to adapt their character to meet their needs or preferences, which is a fantastic and rare feature of a modern RPG. From improving weapons to utilising powerful magic and enchantments, there are numerous progression systems that consistently offer a sense of genuine powering-up as a direct result of your efforts. Whether you prefer to grind more accessible enemies or take greater risks for more impressive rewards, progression is down to you. The world has been placed before you and is truly yours to take on from the off.

Sticking to elements that are new in Elden Ring, a couple of notable mentions include the spectral steed, Torrent, and the introduction of some straightforward tutorials to get you started. The former is borne of the need to traverse the vast world placed before you. Torrent allows you to navigate at a pace and reach new heights (literally) as you travel. It is a small but welcome feature that adds pace into your mix of options as you enjoy the lands of wonder in the game. Equally, the tutorials are a surprising change of pace from FromSoft, welcoming new players into the fray with some awareness of what their basic abilities are. These tutorials will not tell you how to beat the game but will give you the heads-up on functions, features and options for playing so that you are set to face the challenges ahead. A small but welcome greeting to new and old players alike, these offer, at least in part, some sort of levelling of the playing field. And of course, if you find yourself struggling, the meta option of forums and Reddit are actively on hand and supportive to help you on your way.

On the topic of help, and for the attention of new players who may feel intimidated by Elden Ring and its predecessors’ legacy, there is always help on hand when it comes to the game’s major challenges and bosses. The appropriate use of fingers, in-game items designed for multiplayer functions, will allow you to both seek and offer assistance when facing major foes. For me, this feature has been a godsend. I never made it far enough into previous FromSoft games to find such options available to me, myself intimidated by the level of difficulty I was faced with. But the ability to call for aid from both players and spirits in Elden Ring has made the game feel more possible to me, in spite of my many, many failed attempts at progressing in places. This is extremely notable, as the recognition that everything in Elden Ring is indeed possible has seen me play the game for tens of hours and given me the drive to persist and press on. Overcoming the notoriety of the Souls games and their reputation is truly a greater barrier than any genuine foe the game will throw at you, and the positivity of the community around the game consistently proves that, truly, there is nothing to fear and nothing you cannot do.

Unlike some of my fellow critics, I have written this review for you from the perspective of a relatively new player to Elden Ring and its kin. I have never enjoyed what I have experienced from the FromSoft library of games before, but Elden Ring has won me over entirely. It is a truly difficult game to put down, and perhaps one of the greatest gaming experiences I have ever had. Whilst I have elected to focus primarily on new features upon the game’s predecessors for the benefit of my wider audience, it is worthy of note that almost everything in Elden Ring has been new to me going in. And alas, despite my inexperience and fear, I continue to enjoy the game thoroughly and genuinely play quite well days and weeks after its launch. So, in waiting a little longer and sharing a little more personally, it is my hope that this review will in fact entice some players to give the game a go, even if their perceptions of what the game will seem off-putting. Elden Ring is a deeply challenging but stunningly brilliant title in which your adventure is your own and the game is, absolutely, built for everyone.

  • Developer: FromSoftware Inc.
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
  • Publishers: FromSoftware Inc., BANDAI NAMCO, Namco Bandai Games America Inc.

Reviewed on Xbox

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