Elden Ring Review

Elden Ring by developer FromSoftware, Inc. and publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment—Sony PlayStation 5 review written by Nick with a purchased copy.

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

Elden Ring is one of those rare games that faced incredible expectations and manages to deliver on them. It’s an immersive, exciting, punishing and rewarding game that has the obvious DNA of a Souls game, but provides so much more. This was the most fun I’ve had with a Souls-like game since Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 3.

There were a lot of buzzy words attributed to Elden Ring during its development cycle. It was the next ‘Souls’ style game by FromSoftware, which has a rabid following. There was going to be more flexibility in character creation and development than ever before in the series. George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame was providing worldbuilding. It was going to be open world in design. There were a lot of lofty promises, and the closer Elden Ring came to being released, the more the cautious optimism mounted. Gamers were excited, they were hopeful, but they were also worried that Elden Ring would fall victim to its own hype.

Then an amazing thing for fans of both fantasy and the action RPG genre happened: Elden Ring turned out to be just as good as advertised. In a world where games like Cyberpunk had high hopes but disappointing results, Elden Ring delivered what it had promised.

Demon’s Souls was one of my earliest reviews on this site (it was actually the 7th review ever posted here at CGR), and it felt fresh and immersive. It was hard – it pissed me off like no game had in years, frankly. It was the sort of game I should have probably given up on, because I was getting so frustrated with it at times. But here’s the thing: I kept going back to it. I started to learn the lessons that the game was trying to teach me. I had to chuck out many of my preconceived notions, but for having done so I was rewarded with tense, terrifyingly fascinating new areas to explore (to this day, the dark and haunting Tower of Latria is one of my favorite experiences in video gaming) that provided very satisfying memories along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Dark Souls games that came to follow, though perhaps not quite as much as the gothic themes of Bloodborne. All four games were a great deal of fun, but the three Dark Souls titles all felt very similar to Demon’s Souls and one another. I enjoyed playing them, but they never resonated quite the same way as Demon’s Souls did. They were excellent, one and all, but never really did anything to stand apart. Now Elden Ring has come along and managed to tickle some of those same feelings in me that Demon’s Souls did twelve years ago.

There are many familiar gameplay elements that Elden Ring shares with its predecessors. Combat feels very similar. Getting killed carries similar punishments. Hard fought victories provide a similar adrenaline rush and in-game rewards. Hell, Elden Ring even kicks things off in similar fashion, starting you off in a visually interesting medieval environment moments before tossing you to a large boss (called Grafted Scion) that is designed to kill you almost immediately.

Sure, like other previously mentioned FromSoftware games, you can technically beat this boss if you basically play him perfectly – something few newcomers are likely to do given their unfamiliarity with the game and your greatly underpowered character. Even if you beat him, the developers are trying to kill you. There’s an item on a cliff ledge that if you go to collect it – yeah, it collapses out from under you to kill you. If you win? Congratulations, you get to fight the boss you probably just barely survived the first time. You are going to die. A lot.

That same punishing vibe that has helped the Souls games garner their cult following is alive and well in Elden Ring. You will get murdered many times over. You will want to rush back to your spot to collect your experience points / souls, which rest where you were slain. Die before reclaiming them, and you will lose them for good. These games want to punish you for your mistakes, and Elden Ring is no different. You will learn attack patterns, you will adapt your fighting style and you will make mistakes and learn from them in order to advance. It’s punishing, often feeling unforgiving and in some instances it feels unfair. It is for this very reason that success feels so rewarding. This is a tried and true formula for FromSoftware, and if this was all Elden Ring was, it would be a good game, if perhaps overly familiar.

However, the change to an open world setting makes Elden Ring a completely different kind of animal. There is some level of agency in the other Souls-like games, as you generally operate out of some sort of hub and can attempt victory in a nonlinear fashion. When Demon’s Souls came out, I kind of remarked how the ability to choose which world you want to tackle had an almost Mega Man vibe to it. However, it often felt more like the illusion of choice. There is an intended order to your progression in those games that makes jumping ahead very challenging. Stages are often well-designed in these games, giving you a little room to explore and experiment, often having shortcuts for you to unlock as you progress to streamline future visits to the zone.

And yet, these games often felt very linear to me. You had some flexibility to explore and try new things in order to find secrets and progress, but there was always a very intentional path forward put forth by the developers, and while there was room for some deviation, it was still very restrictive. Elden Ring changes that formula up, creating a truly open world that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. Sure, you are generally meant to tackle the things closest to your starting point, as enemies are scaled to be appropriately challenging, but you don’t have to do those things. You can take on the deadly Tree Sentinel if you want (even though it will almost certainly end in your demise). You can jump right into the nearest dungeon without properly equipping yourself (though again, you will almost certainly die if you do). You can travel to a completely different area and… that’s where Elden Ring really opened up.

I didn’t play Elden Ring the way the developers put forth as the primary path, and that’s okay. Instead of fighting the first major boss right away, I found a narrow opening in the mountains and explored the zone north of him. I did not have to beat him to progress. Sure, I was up against tougher enemies, but that made exploration exciting. It reminded me of my old World of Warcraft days when my rogue would sneak around in new areas, just to push the boundaries of what I could do. There were times I pushed too hard and got beaten down for it, but I found myself excited to try again, just to see something new.

The music and visuals are beautiful. Enemies come in so many varieties, and the different environments are distinctive as you explore. Creeping through an old swamp filled with undead spirits as you try to solve the riddle that will allow you into an ancient, collapsing tower is nearly as rewarding as beating a boss. Elden Ring is huge – the first zone that fills up your map turns out to be roughly a fifth of the actual game content in all. There are dozens of optional dungeons along the way, with some more distinctive than others, but each with its own feel and boss at the end – and differing rewards. The day / night cycles with differing enemies in some regions as a result of the time of day make Elden Ring feel more alive as well. Exploration is not perfect - some regions are much harder to access than others and there are times the in-game map feels borderline misleading. That being said, this open exploration allowed me to spend dozens of hours simply looking around and soaking the game’s world in.

There are a handful of concessions that make Elden Ring more accessible than many of the prior Souls games, despite its massive size and depth. Firstly, you gain a mount somewhat early in the game named Torrent. This spirit horse comes and goes as you whistle for him and dismount, providing you a speedy way to cover ground. This really opens up exploration as a) Torrent’s speed allows for faster travel b) Torrent’s double jump opens up verticality and the ability to cross chasms that you couldn’t on food and c) allows you to run away from / through enemies and regions that would likely gang up on and kill you were you to attempt the same travel on foot.

Additionally, Elden Ring allows for fast travel. It’s node-based, where you need to find Sites of Grace during your travels that operate similar to campfires in previous Souls games. These small campfire-like settings are generally (but not always) free of nearby enemies, serve as spawn points, restore your health and magic and give you a chance to put points into skills and such. Of course, the developers aren’t going to go too easy on you. You can’t use Torrent in certain areas / situations and even fast travel has its limitations on when and where you can use it. Still, these help to make Elden Ring’s massive world much more accessible than it might have been otherwise and feel like good design choices to me.

Elden Ring’s flexibility extends into your character’s development as well. Early on you pick which class you want to be, but that’s really just more of a head start than a commitment. You get a handful of stats and related gear that have a lean towards a style of play, from healing to melee combat to using magical attacks and so on. Those stats are relatively meager in the long-run however, as you will have the option to put points into whatever stats you like as you play. There’s even an option to re-spec your character later in the game if you do the right things.

There are numerous spells, weapons and armor that you can find to augment your preferred play style. Frankly I have way more gear than I could ever need for any particular class, but I still enjoyed finding them and there’s plenty of very cool combinations out there. Many of the weapons and pieces of armor look really nice, and some spell animations are appropriately fantastic to look at. Conjuring a crackling energy storm or pulling off a blast of energy that looks like a Dragon Ball Kamehameha all look appropriately spectacular when used.

All of this being said, Elden Ring still has its quirks and issues. While the Souls series often punishes mistakes, it tries to teach lessons along the way as you explore and fight. Elden Ring does that by and large, but there are just some encounters that feel cheap or unfair at times – especially as you get later into the game. It was bound to happen with so many areas and enemies to design, to think they were all going to be perfectly balanced is probably unrealistic, but it’s still annoying when it happens. Also, while world design is generally solid, having it open world as opposed to the more linear stages of prior Souls games does make area design sometimes feel just a tad bit more generic and less clever as a result. Again, with so much to be made, there were bound to be inconsistencies in design, but some are more glaring than others.

Elden Ring also introduces an actual jump button, that when combined with Torrent really changes the verticality of level design from prior games. That’s the good news. The bad news is, this brings an occasional platforming element to some of the stages that feels just a bit clumsy. For all of the things FromSoftware does really well, I daresay precision jumping is not one of them. Torrent in particular has a sort of forward inertia to his movements that make perfect sense – he’s a horse. It also leads to some stupid, frustrating deaths or silly mistakes that just don’t feel like they should happen. As previously noted, the map’s topography is a bit confusing and borderline misleading at times as well.

There is also a bit of general weirdness with interacting with some of the NPCs in the game. In a world where everything seems like it is trying to kill you, too often an important NPC can get accidentally killed and it usually feels buggy or clumsy. You might be fighting an enemy that is spraying fire and it follows you and accidentally kills an important NPC. Sometimes you just accidentally jump or bump into someone and they suddenly get angry with you. There was one NPC named Albus, hiding as a large jar. I struck the jar to reveal him, and then we started talking to advance his quest line, and then suddenly mid-sentence he just decided to attack me. I had a defense spell on around me at the time that killed him once he went aggressive - and it nixed my ability to access some late game content as a result. These things did not happen often - but they happened often enough to be thoroughly frustrating when I'm already sixty or seventy hours into the game to have a glitch like that cost me late game access.

Lastly, while Elden Ring has noted author George R. R. Martin attributed to much of the game’s world building, storytelling has never really been this studio’s strong suit. It’s better in Elden Ring than in prior games, due in large part to the NPCs you can find while out and about, and their questlines that feel more involved than anything FromSoftware has done in the past. That being said, there’s still a lot of vagueness to the lore in places, and maybe there’s something to be said for how that is more atmospheric than being spoon-fed pages of exposition, but I can’t help but feel as though there’s more room to play in between those polar opposites. In the end though, these are fairly minor quibbles when weighted against everything else that Elden Ring has to offer.


It has been a very long time since I’ve found myself immersed in a game the way I have been with Elden Ring. The sense of wonder as I explore its dark and twisted world is something I haven’t really felt in years.

Having spent time playing a few different classes, I can say the experiences are wildly different, and it’s easy to see how Elden Ring could provide vastly unique experiences from one player to the next. This applies to how players develop their characters to which questlines they discover and choose to complete, to simply how they go out into the world to explore and tackle the challenges FromSoftware puts before them.

It’s a challenging game to be sure, and certainly there were times Elden Ring frustrated me, but more often than not those frustrations were setting the stage for a future sense of accomplishment as I grew and adapted what I was doing to overcome those challenges.

Score: 9.5 / 10



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