A Tarnished Masterpiece
A note to readers: This is the second part of our Elden Ring review. To get up to speed with our early thoughts, read the first part, our Review In Progress.
If there’s one thing I can take away from my time with Elden Ring over the last couple of weeks it’s that it is possibly one of the grandest games FromSoftware has ever produced. That’s no real secret, of course – thanks to circumstances this review drops over a week later than most publications, but it was already something I was getting a feel for when I wrote my review in progress.
Elden Ring brings a level of approachability and discovery
My thoughts since then, that this is a big, big game that refines everything the developer has released since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, remain largely unchanged. However having had even more time not only in the sumptuous world of The Lands Between, but also with some of the mechanics that I didn’t get a chance to previously experiment with has solidified my opinion that Elden Ring represents FromSoftware mostly delivering at the top of their game – we’ll come to that ‘mostly’ soon.
Players familiar with the SoulsBorne back catalogue will find themselves in familiar territory here as Elden Ring is a rich Action RPG with a character creator that allows for a wide range of builds and play types, a dark fantasy setting with deep lore a-plenty and a level of difficulty that will challenge almost all comers. But it’s how Elden Ring has refined this that stands out for me.
There’s some subtle quality of life changes, like a dedicated multiplayer menu item or the fact that stamina doesn’t deplete outside of combat, allowing you to easily sprint around the world (although why would you want to when you have the wonderful horned steed, Torrent, to ferry you about). The magic feels like a shared system with skills that ebb and flow between spells and incantations, allowing you to mix and match, creating unique combos, and new items like the cracked pots and Flask of Wondrous Physick allow the player an incredible amount of freedom over their build.
There is a bit of a blemish on this fantastic open world RPG…
But it’s the world of Elden Ring that’s easily the games best achievement. I discussed its open nature at length in my review in progress, but having spent more time in it, The Lands Between is truly a wonderous thing. One of the best parts of the classic souls games are their sense of discovery, of finding new areas and secrets, but that discovery was frequently gated behind tough bosses and challenges which turned many players away. By opening up the world and allowing players to tackle challenges in whatever order they choose, Elden Ring brings a level of approachability and discovery I’ve not encountered in any of the developers previous works.
Everything about Elden Ring is not only a refinement of previous formulas, but a game that feels like it aims to get more people behind the wheel of one of gamings most revered yet controversial subgenres – and it feels like it’s working! The multiplayer in Elden Ring feels full and rich, and there already feels like there are more people jumping into this fresh open world with both feet – heck, look at our own Ben, a diehard Soulsphobe who recently beat the game’s first big challenge, the notorious Margit The Fell Omen! Good on him!
But there is a bit of a blemish on this fantastic open world RPG, namely that old FromSoftware chestnut, performance. Anyone who’s played one of From’s previous games will know that they’re not exactly performance powerhouses, with wavering frame rates, frame drops and notoriously dodgy areas (hello Blighttown!) Sadly Elden Ring is no improvement on this tradition, as Ben pointed out in his tech analysis video. Frame rates in both performance and quality modes frequently fail to hit their targets and there’s frame drops for days. Personally this hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment of the game, nor has it impacted my ability to take on the game’s toughest challenges. Most players won’t even notice the issues but for those who will, they will be problematic and will sully what is an exceptionally built game and world. Sure, it is tradition that FromSoftware games feel like they’re held together with tape and prayers, but as we get increasingly more solid game releases on the new gen consoles, we really should be expecting more from AAA videogame releases.