Elden Ring Review (In Progress)

by

Ancient Circles

A note to readers: This is NOT our review of Elden Ring. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive code with enough time to put in a good amount of hours with the game and, as such, this “review in progress” is our impressions from several hours in the opening areas of the game.

2022 is turning out to be a SERIOUS year for video games with many huge titles releasing in February alone covering such a broad spectrum of genres from action adventure, racing and real time strategy warfare. Into this melee of interactive entertainment stomps one of possibly the most anticipated games of the past couple of years; FromSoftware’s Elden Ring.

“Oh So FromSoft…”

First announced at E3 2019 and shrouded in much mystery since, Elden Ring is very much the spiritual successor to both From’s Soulsborne series and their ninja stealth-em-up, Sekiro. Co-written by Game of Thrones author and Captain Birdseye lookalike, George R. R. Martin, Elden Ring promises to be the culmination of over 10 years of game development at FromSoftware, blending many of the influences and mechanics from their previous games into a rich, Breath of the Wild-esque open world.

From the word go, Elden Ring proudly shows off its pedigree. From its “Oh so FromSoft” menus to its deep and vastly improved character creation screen, the game almost struts itself around, showing off all the assets it hopes you recognise. Look, here’s Sekiro’s stealth and jumping! One of the stats is called “arcane” – ‘member that from Bloodborne? At its heart though, Elden Ring feels like it so desperately wants to be called Dark Souls 4, and that’s not a bad thing.

Once you’ve set up your character you’ll be dumped into a catacombs like area to either tackle the game’s optional tutorial, or press ahead into the world proper – and what a world it is! The full setting for Elden Ring is known as The Lands Between, and the first region you’ll find yourself in is Limgrave. Opening the doors into this vast area full of cliffs and plains for the first time is both stunning and more than a little overwhelming. Sure, From’s previous games have had some gorgeous views, but this is the first time we’ve been able to look at the starting area and think “Blimey – I can get to all of those places?!”

Almost at once you’ll find your first Site of Lost Grace, the game’s bonfire/fast travel system. Here you’ll be able to refill your flasks, recover your HP and FP and spend any hard earned Runes (the game’s currency) on upgrading your characters stats (eventually – you have to progress a bit further into Limgrave first!) The Sites of Lost Grace also serve as the game’s waypoint system, guiding you through the regions of The Lands Between with golden threads pointing the way to the next key area – but the trick is, you don’t have to follow that thread! In fact, the game encourages you very much to NOT do so!

Limgrave is a huge bit of land to explore

Sure, you can absolutely run through the first area, grabbing the Limgrave map from a camp full of enemy soldiers – this is a pretty key item as it’ll fill in the map screen you’ll be spending a lot of time in – and jogging your way up to Stormveil Castle, but this is a very silly thing to do. Stormveil is where players will meet their first major roadblock in the form of Margit The Fell Omen, a particularly nasty boss that will tear a hole right through unsuspecting players – but the thing is, the game doesn’t expect you to hoof it straight to Margit; there’s a lot of other stuff you can do in Limgrave first!

The trick with Elden Ring that’ll catch many players out is that it is designed to be played in a largely non-linear fashion. That’s not to say the world is fully open to players from the word go, ala Breath of the Wild – the progress blocker that is Margit is proof of that. But Limgrave is a huge bit of land to explore and the game absolutely wants you to do this. It’s how you’ll find the abilities and items you’ll need to smash through that boss shaped wall and make further progress. Scattered across the map are points of interest; you can mark these with beacons that you’ll see shooting into the sky in the overworld. Travel there and you may find an optional boss, a special item or even a side dungeon to explore. To Souls fans who thrive off easily memorable “levels”, who know exactly how to zip through the back door of New Londo Ruins and into the Valley of the Drakes to reach Andre the Blacksmith early, this more free flowing design may feel daunting – but in truth it’s liberating.

There’s so much here to experiment with

Elden Ring is a big game. The first several hours feel mammoth alone. But looking at the space reserved for the whole map of The Lands Between and there’s a sense that this will be a truly epic experience. It’s also a game that really doesn’t want you to go alone into its worlds. One of the biggest new additions is the expansion of the Souls games summon system. All the usual tropes are here from summon signs and items that will allow you to jump into jolly cooperation with other players, as well as NPCs you can summon in for tough areas, but as you explore you’ll find spirits that you can slot as items and summon for an FP cost into boss fights or particularly tough areas. Perhaps you want a pack of wolves to tear through large groups of enemies or a sorcerer to stand at your side pewing spells at distant foes? Heck, you can even summon a floating jellyfish if you want!

It’s also clear that the size of Elden Ring extends to its scope as well. The best of the Souls series have always embraced allowing the player to tackle the game their own way, and there’s so much here to experiment with. In my time with the game I’ve barely scratched the surface of some of the mechanics. From the traditional Souls magic and faith based abilities to the weapon arts like skills which can be attached to your armaments to create unique abilities. There’s crafting you can do to build firebombs and throwing knives, multiple new types of weapon and armour that feel fresh and new despite bearing the hallmarks of the games storied predecessors. There is so much to take in and unpack here and the initial impressions are that this is the game every fan of director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s previous work were hoping it would be and more.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of rough spots on this early time with the game. Performance in our pre-release build was shakey with the performance mode on PlayStation 5 frequently dropping below 60fps. We’ve been told that this will be rectified in a day one patch though, so we’ll be reporting on this once the game is officially out in the wild. There’s also a distinct lack of folks wanting to co-op at the moment! Again, this is likely due to early access code being in a select few hands and is an issue I’ve seen multiple times when reviewing these games in the past, so hopefully again once there is a larger player base, there will be plenty of summon signs down in front of Margit’s boss door with players ready to lay the smack down on his smug face.

Is Elden Ring game of the year material? Even at this early stage in the game I’d be remiss not to say “yes”, sure. We’ve already seen Horizon Forbidden West, and Gran Turismo 7 is just round the corner. There’s even the promise of Breath of the Wild 2 later in the year, but Elden Ring feels so familiar yet so fresh, a true evolution of what’s come before and a game that is very likely to be in many people’s top 10 lists come Christmas.

We’ll have our final verdict on Elden Ring soon and will be dropping more impressions and videos over the next few weeks, so make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel to find out more!

Writes and produces films at independent outfit Shortorme Productions. Records music under the guise of Stage of History. Gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum. Always on the lookout for something new and fresh.

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