As a fan of the Souls series, you can imagine that I was quite excited about Elden Ring. The one issue that I was concerned about was the fact that Elden Ring would be an open world game. I've played several open world games in the past such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV etc. but the only two open world games that I can say that I genuinely enjoyed a lot were The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I've generally found myself frustrated with open world games due to this unpleasant feeling of pointless busywork and padding to stretch the games length and, while my faith in From Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki was bolstered by my recent playthrough of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I was still concerned that Elden Ring would elicit these same feelings.
The story of Elden Ring is set in the Lands Between where an event known as the Shattering has occurred. The children, demigods, of Queen Marika the Eternal, the reigning sovereign of the Lands Between, have raged war against each other in an effort to become Elden Lord. It is after this event that your character, a Tarnished, returns to the Lands Between and must set about gathering the Great Runes, the shards of the Elden Ring taken by the offspring of Queen Marika, in order to become Elden Lord.
Just as with the Souls series, the story is told in an abstract manner with the player asked to piece things together via item descriptions, lines of dialogue from NPCs and observing the environment. It can take a while but, once you begin to understand what's going on, it becomes incredibly satisfying to figure out what bosses are upcoming, the backstories of various NPCs and even the presence of enemies in certain locales!
With regards to gameplay, the combat system is very similar to the Souls games in that you must use the invulnerability frames of your dodges to avoid attacks, manage your stamina mid-fight and observe enemy animations to time your attacks. Some minor changes to combat have been made such as removing the ability to kick, emphasising charged strong attacks instead to break your enemies poise and allowing your character to jump and crouch in a manner very similar to Sekiro but if you've ever played a Souls or souls-like game before, you have a pretty good idea of what the combat is like.
However, something that is certainly worth bringing up when it comes to combat in Elden Ring is the addition of Spirit Ashes. Once you find an item called the Spirit Calling Bell, you are able to summon spirits from ashes to assist you in battle. These ashes can be found by exploring the game's world and it can be surprisingly addictive to test the Spirit Ashes that you find and figure out which ones best assist your playstyle and counter certain enemies. However, it's worth noting that you can't simply summon these spirits wherever you want. In most boss arenas and certain locales, you will see a purple monument symbol appear on the left side of your screen which indicates that you can summon a spirit. However, you can only summon once at each site without resting so if your spirit dies mid-fight, you can't resummon them. Still, this system proved to be quite enjoyable and I think it's a fine addition to the numerous ways you can develop your character.
Now we get to where my concern lay and that is the open world. I'm happy to say though that, in many ways, the implementation of open world in Elden Ring is one of the best that I've ever seen. A relatively small detail that proved to ultimately lend to an incredible experience was how the map continued to expand as you explored. Unlike in many other open world games where you can see the entire map, usually foggy, from the very beginning of the game, Elden Ring slowly expands the map as you explore the Lands Between. This made exploring the world feel more organic as I was wondering until near the end of the game how big the world would ultimately become. Speaking of which, the world is ultimately massive and filled with caves, catacombs, field bosses and dungeons, named Legacy Dungeons in Elden Ring, for you to explore. Because almost every item has interesting lore associated with it, I never felt like I was simply doing busywork and had a great deal of fun exploring for new equipment, Spirit Ashes, spells etc.
Speaking of exploration, I think it's important that the act of travelling within the open world is in itself fun, something I think a lot of open world games get wrong. However, I think this is something that Elden Ring has managed to do exceptionally well in the form of Torrent, the horse you are given to traverse the world. Not only is Torrent significantly faster than your character but also serves surprisingly well in combat, allowing you to speed about the battlefield and attack enemies and retreat quickly. You can't dodge while on Torrent and if you take too much damage while riding Torrent, you'll be knocked off the horse and be left vulnerable for a few seconds, something your enemies will likely exploit. However, the main thing that I love about Torrent is their ability to double jump which makes exploring the world, climbing hills and traversing long gaps incredibly enjoyable.
But I think it's important to say that, while I think Elden Ring's implementation of open world is one of the best that I've ever seen, I still found myself longing slightly for the more linear gameplay of earlier From Software titles. This was mainly due to a problem I encountered midway through the game where, because I liked to explore the world thoroughly, the vast majority of enemies and bosses that I was encountering felt incredibly weak compared to my character. I would typically enter the boss arena and finish the encounter in less than a minute, something which I found quite unsatisfying and prompted me to stop summoning my spirit for some fights. By the endgame, the bosses and enemies once again became very challenging but I'd be lying if the midgame didn't drag a little due to how overpowered I seemed to be.
Graphically, the game has a nice amount of detail scattered throughout the open world, very important when it comes to environmental storytelling, but it's the art direction that truly shines. From the exceptional use of colours to the incredible vistas that you constantly encounter to the inspired designs of bosses and monsters, there are some truly breathtaking sights to see in Elden Ring. I played Elden Ring on PC and, when it comes to performance, there's quite a bit to discuss. Something that many PC players will be frustrated by is the decision to lock the frame rate to 60 FPS, something that I'm also quite disappointed by. Besides that, there are some technical issues, mainly when it comes to stutters which can be quite frustrating during a boss fight. Since Elden Ring's release, From Software have been patching the game and while most of the stutters are gone at this point when it comes to closed environments such as caves, catacombs and dungeons, as of the writing of this article you'll still come across some stutters while exploring the open world.
Elden Ring is an exceptional game and I genuinely believe that it has the potential to herald a reinvention of open world game design. While I still prefer Dark Souls, Dark Souls III and Sekiro for being a tighter experience than Elden Ring, I also have to say that it's the most fun I've ever had with an open world game and, if you like the Souls games or open world games, it's an easy recommendation.