Feb 23, 2022 - Technology

Elden Ring's open world breathes new life into a great series

A screenshot from Elden Ring showing a character on horseback on a cliff looking up at a huge, glowing tree.

Elden Ring. Screenshot: Bandai Namco

Elden Ring, one of the year's biggest new video games, may also prove to be one of its hardest and one of its best.

Why it matters: It’s part of a multi-million selling series that has made an outsized mark on games over the past decade, spawning a subgenre of challenging, atmospheric experiences.

  • It releases on Friday for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.

Elden Ring expands on a style that Tokyo-based studio From Software honed in its Dark Souls and Bloodborne games.

  • It features mastermind Hidetaka Miyazaki’s signature challenging gameplay, obscure storytelling, deep lore and striking art direction, and, for the first time, pairs them with an open, explorable landscape.
  • The game takes place in the Lands Between, under the shade of enormous trees and cursed from the shattering of the Elden Ring. You play a once-exiled hero and hunt the twisted demigods who control the remaining shards of the ring.
  • “Game of Thrones” creator George R. R. Martin helped craft the world, though the specifics are unclear.

Our impressions: After 35 hours, Elden Ring feels like a true successor to the Dark Souls lineage: a medieval, macabre masterpiece.

  • The game is huge. There are intensely striking landscapes and top tier character design, from giant, humanoid crows who crouch below a blood-red sky to majestically armored wolf knights.
  • Of the big changes, the crafting system impressed me the most. In previous Miyazaki games, useful items like throwing knives and fire bombs felt just rare enough to keep me from using them. Crafting these items, and the gradual way you learn the recipes for them, feels right and very smart.
  • The “skills” system is also an engaging new feature, which adds specific, interchangeable weapon maneuvers to combat.

There are other big changes compared to From’s prior games.

  • Along with the open world and a robust crafting system, there’s a horse-like steed, horse-like steed combat and a configurable map.
  • And like every other Miyazaki game, there’s a fresh take on combat tactics, weapon tuning, health buffs and many miscellaneous play settings to tinker with.

Elden Ring will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has spent time with the Souls games, Bloodborne or Sekiro.

  • It still has many of the same UI elements, sounds, animations, move sets, mechanics, etc., etc., etc.
  • If you have disliked previous Souls games and hope Elden Ring is a departure, you should probably steer clear.

Miyazaki’s games are celebrated, and criticized, for their difficulty, which demands patience, attention and maybe a touch of masochism. Elden Ring alleviates some of that pain.

  • Respawn points (called sites of grace) are surprisingly plentiful.
  • And the open world encourages frustrated players to explore when they hit that inevitable brick wall of a boss.

Yes, but there’s room for improvement:

  • There’s a lot of empty space in this open world, which is beautiful if a little too barren.
  • Elden Ring has some good music, but the open world score can quickly seem repetitive.

My largest criticism is, at times, Elden Ring sacrifices the tight, hand-crafted feel of a linear Souls experience in favor of this open world experiment.

The big picture: Though not a huge departure from its Souls roots, Elden Ring thrives with well considered mechanics, incredible art direction and compelling ways to play that breathes new life into one of the most influential series of the last decade. You just might have to explore a bit further to get there.

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