In this Elden Ring Review, we’ll be going through our gameplay impressions from our extensive time with Elden Ring, which now surpasses 100 hours with the full version of the game. If you are wondering if Elden Ring lives up to the hype, or whether you should consider this title if you’re not a souls players, this review is for you. This is a spoiler-free review: we don’t talk about the story or plot, don’t mention any specific locations bar map size and availability, and only reveal tidbits of weapons and magic.
How long is the game? How does the game compare to previous Souls games? How does it compare to other Open World? Can you feel GRRM’s influence in the game? How is multiplayer and what is different about it?
Elden Ring Review
- Genre: Action RPG
- Developed by: From Software
- Published by: Bandai Namco
- Release date: February 25th, 2022
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PC & PS5)
- Launch Price: 59.99 ~ 69.99 USD
Elden Ring Review: Story & Setting
The setting of Elden Ring bears the mark of experienced World Builder George R R Martin. It is clear that his influence of the mythos of the game gave Fromsoftware a solid base to build upon, and created the best foundation for a narrative that the souls games have ever had.
Gone are the days of three sentence introductions and disjointed lore pockets that contradict each other: the world of Elden Ring makes sense, is intriguing, and I would very happily read books set in the Lands Between. This makes the setting of the game truly excellent, and on par with the some of the best RPG universes out there.
With GRRM also came the idea of the “multiple protagonists” that seems to have inspired FromSoftware to improve on their NPC character development and progression. Your allies are not just mysterious entities with some short flavor text on an item description: they have agendas and take action, and are happy to share detailed and nuanced backgrounds of themselves or the world.
In this sense, Elden Ring’s approach to storytelling is somewhat different from that of previous souls titles, but it retains certain elements. Players will not have any sort of journal or specific guidance in their quest beyond some cutscenes and dialogue with NPCs, plus of course item descriptions. But they will be given a full introduction to the world and its inhabitants, and be able to obtain further information by discussing with NPCs, who are more sane and talkative than ever before. Item descriptions are also no longer as obscure, allowing any player to figure out things for themselves and enjoy the story aspects to the fullest.
The only thing that remains vague throughout the story is your own role as a Tarnished, and your objective, as you have a silent character and your options are often limited to accepting offers or not.
This may mislead some to think there’s not character progression in the narrative sense, but that is not the case. As you delve deeper into the story and uncover the secrets of the Shattering, you will not only meet many NPCs and intersect with their questlines, but you will also have the option to pick sides and build your character’s story based on those choices.
Elden Ring has woven gameplay elements and the narrative seemlessly together, and it’s entirely possible to accidentally fall in with the wrong crowd and take a path you were not expecting, which is a very RPG sort of feeling that was missing in previous Souls games.
Elden Ring Gameplay Review
Souls games live by their gameplay, and Elden Ring is no exception. In fact, it is possibly the best gameplay experience in the video game market today. This is not an exaggeration or a bias for Souls games, it’s simply that FromSoftware delivered an outstanding product, that few games in recent memory come close to. How you ask? Well let’s get into it…
The Gameplay Loop
While soulslike games focus on dungeon-crawling, limiting your encounters and progression and providing an easy way for the developer to fine-tune that experience, open world games risk players venturing beyond the intended scope of their level and ruining a crescendo. This usually results in tool-gating, which is where some areas or features of open world are locked behind specific tools that have to be acquired by furthering the story. An example would be obtaining a double-jump, or a grapple that allows you to reach a new path.
FromSoftware utilizes a different kind of tool-gating, and its done so subtly and well that it doesn’t feel like the typical “Oh come to this area later” of open world games. This means that your path to new areas and locations feels natural and almost accidental: a combination of exploration, exciting combat and deduction. The tempo of the game rises and falls in pleasant waves, allowing you to keep your pace and enjoy the idle music while you prepare your arsenal and plan ahead for an upcoming battle.
You simply get lost in the Lands Between as the days and nights go by, farming materials or hunting for better gear, or even just co-oping with a friend or stranger online. The sheer size of the playground will keep you entertained for weeks, and that’s to say nothing of the game’s replayability, which we’ll get into a bit later in this review.
The combat of Elden Ring is very much the combat of Souls games, and then some. While the basic strategy for progression has not changed (just spam R1 of whatever your R1 is), your options for not doing so are more and better than ever. From chargeable spells that rain down meteors, to summoning a dragon head to bathe your enemies in fire, the range and effectiveness of magic builds are now building toward, if not quite what you expect from your D&D or Pathfinder spellbooks.
There are also over 20 categories of melee weapons, all with their unique movesets, from fist and claw to colossal halberds and swords, including whips, twinblades, reapers and polearms. And of course there’s archery, which is indeed effective, engaging and not without variety as you can pick a Great Bow or a hand-ballista to name a few!
The basic spells and weapons are far from the end of your combat repertoire, however, as the game deepens available mechanics by giving you easy upgrade swaps via Ashes of War, in addition to the spectacular variety of Skills.
These skills are not the same as Dark Souls 3, where they seemed mostly inconsequential and largely ignored by most of the community. In Elden Ring, skills are crucial to your character build and you are very spoiled for choice. They make spellblades, magick archers, paladins, and such hybrid builds not just viable but fully enjoyable, while also opening the door to fully featured cosplay characters.
Past your build and the truly fantastic customization options for your character progression, combat is also varied in both intensity and style. The game features a very good assortment of enemies, mini-bosses and challenging encounters, each of them with a unique moveset, status effects and surprises to keep you on your toes even as you reach the final areas of the game.
Overworld encounters can be resolved both on foot and mounted. Mounted combat is as good as we’ve ever seen in a game, and in some instances preferable due to the size and speed of many of the game’s bosses. I originally didn’t enjoy mounted combat because it was easy to get past enemies and miss your mark, but I eventually got the hang of it and am now an absolute force to be reckoned with.
On one of the previews we did, I explained my evolution of thought regarding what Elden Ring was as a game:
When I first heard of Elden Ring and saw the few screenshots and early footage, I thought it would be Dark Souls 4. When I first saw official Elden Ring gameplay last year, I thought it would be a take on open world like Dragons Dogma, but still be Dark Souls.
When I first played Elden Ring during the network test, I thought it would be less souls and more about traversing large landscapes and popping into dungeons. 50 hours into the demo I thought I knew the game’s tempo and knew how the whole game would turn out.
My first hours with the full game have taught me otherwise: this is a game that will shatter your expectations and you can’t even imagine the actual scale and depth of it. Every time you think you have it figured out some new thing pops around the corner to surprise you.
This feeling is in no small amount due to the excellent implementation of exploration and its associated rewards. One of my main issues with Sekiro is that it felt as if there was no really good reason to find secret corners or hidden paths, and that every mini-boss I bested gave me a predictable and boring reward. This is very much the opposite in Elden Ring, as you will be doing yourself a huge disservice if you attempt to skip areas and content, or fail to pay attention to the many details that hint at nearby ruins, catacombs or secret cellars. There is so much loot!!
The landscape has hundreds of locations to discover and equipment, magic, and items to find. There are also secrets, puzzles, NPC questlines, multiple massive overland bosses to overcome and keys to procure. And everything is cleverly laid out so that it feels almost impossible to not miss things in one pass, and you may be going back later to check something you accidentally skipped.
Difficulty and Challenge
One of the main drawbacks of open world games is that the difficulty slider tends to also determine your completion rate. As I tend to Platinum games, I avoid turning up the difficulty in massive games like Assassin’s Creed because it makes each location take too long and I cannot dedicate my life to one single game. Since Elden Ring has no difficulty slider, but a similar content scale, many non-souls fans are likely concerned that it would be impossible to complete the game. And on the other side, many souls fans are worried that the game has been “dumbed down” and may be too easy.
The short and long of it is that: This game is easier than Dark Souls, and in many more ways than one. First, the game’s overall difficulty progression is much more forgiving. You will find frequent checkpoints and you can fast travel everywhere, you can use torrent to run away from enemies, and most enemies do not take all of your health right away as a souls game would. In addition, the myriad of consumables, spells and summoning makes it so that anyone who is struggling can turn on “easy mode” by simply changing tactics, using Spirit Ashes to tank bosses, summon NPCs to main bosses, or summon other players to help.
As a souls veteran and challenge addict, it would be expected that the diminishing challenge would bother me (I defeated most of the main bosses in about 3 tries), but I actually found that I didn’t mind. This is because there were definitely challenging Bosses, and one of the encounters was the most epic fight I have ever had in a souls game and belongs in the hall of fame of amazing anime fights.
But in the end there are simply so many boss encounters to do that if you spent an hour or more battling it out with every boss Elden Ring it would feel like a chore, rather than a magical journey. From Software absolutely nailed the flow of the game, and part of that in my opinion, was adjusting the difficulty.
Elden Ring isn’t a game about perseverance. It’s a game about discovery.
Elden Ring Impressions: Design, Audiovisual and Performance
Graphic fidelity is, unfortunately not a strong suit of FromSoftware’s development. The company has been polishing an engine developed circa 2015 for Bloodborne, and Elden Ring is therefore running on an updated version of it. I am the person that notoriously deducted points from Sekiro due to subpar graphical fidelity from this very engine.
The game’s art style is incredibly pleasing, and the design of the Lands Between and its inhabitants shows a wonderful amount of talent and creativity from their design team. Enemy models are unique and detailed, armor and weapons are fresh and surprising, combat maneuvers are flashy but also have substance.
This creative vision carries well and upholds the feel of the game, but is unfortunately let down in many places by outdated graphics. The game looks quite beautiful when you’re in a contained environment, but the open world features poor textures, frequent pop-in, copy-pasted and reused assets, and an overall fog to mask the lack of distance rendering.
That said, the scale of the production is so much more than Dark Souls 3, that it’s a remarkable achievement regardless. But we have seen equally large and much better looking open world games in recent years, such as Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Valhalla, or Horizon Forbidden West.
One could argue that graphic fidelity is being sacrificed in order to sustain the performance needed for reactive and iframe-perfect souls combat. But here PC users will be doubly disappointed as the performance on PC is not just “not good” but actually poor.
I am running a powerful computer with a 2080ti GPU and i9-9920 CPU, and still ran into constant framerate drops, pop-in and unresponsive controls. During some overland boss encounters, the FPS dropped to 10 or 15, adding a considerable amount of frustration to the objective. Even reducing the resolution to 1080p, which should have easily produced the capped 60 FPS, I still had issues regularly with frame drops.
The good news is that the Playstation 5 version, which we were also fortunate to get a review copy of, plays much much better. There are some minimal framerate drops even if there is considerable pop-in, but they are both somewhat easily overlooked after playing on PC. For this reason I fully recommend that people get the next gen version of the game rather than PC versions if possible. My suspicion is that “Easy Anticheat” is behind this issue, as it’s notorious for tanking FPS, so I’m unsure if this will be resolved.
Performance issues didn’t stop my enjoyment of the game, and I eventually just got used to it and now I don’t notice them unless they get me killed, but it is preventing a fantastic game from getting a perfect score.
In the audio department, the game delivers on all fronts. The music is simply perfect: I hear the tunes of Limgrave as I type this and they make me feel relaxed and set me in an RPG mood. Caves have an eerie but exploratory underground feel. Bosses rile up with amazing crescendos that make fights all the more enjoyable. This is paired with familiar and expanded audio effects and the smart use of audio cues for nearby objectives such as Teardrop Scarabs.
Elden Ring features fully voice acted NPC interactions, and the casting for all of them has been excellent, with some amazing performances by all actors involved. Dialogue delivery is natural and masterfully paced. Each NPC felt unique and interesting, and interacting with them feels natural and fitting to the theme of the game.
Scale, Replayability and Multiplayer
When we review Open World games, i usually disclaim that they offer scale rather than replayability, as their size is so immense that it’s unlikely people would re-roll a character and redo the same objectives again. In this regard, Elden Ring breaks the norm and delivers an immense scale of replayable content.
How Big is Elden Ring
When we played the network test, our conclusion was “It’s Massive”, and we estimated that the full game would be 10 times the size of the demo. Well, we were not wrong! After over 100 hours of hardcore progression-focused gameplay, we aren’t even done with the game or its objectives, are missing secrets and locations, have no idea what half of the NPC questlines do, and haven’t explored most of the underground.
The full size of the Elden Ring map is actually around 10 times that of West Limgrave, not counting the underground portions. We aren’t going to show this to you right now, but if you want those sweet spoilers, head over to our Interactive Map on the wiki and it will be there for you on launch day.
So if you’re wondering how many hours of gameplay a single player, story focused playthrough gives: Over 70. An exploration playthrough? Over 120. A completionist playthrough? 150. But wait… there’s more… how about a multiplayer completionist playthrough? I would estimate I can sink 200 hours into it easily.
Replayability of Elden Ring
In addition to the massive scale, the build variety and multiple storylines make it so players can fully enjoy multiple playthroughs of the content. It’s possible that this can be done on the same character via New Game Plus (we didn’t get there), but you can also re-spec your character after a certain point of the game via a specific and rare item. This means you can enjoy multiple playstyles without a new save if you wish, and fully engage in multiplayer to challenge already defeated bosses.
It is of course the build variety that brings the most of the replayability. If you love trying out different styles but can’t figure out where to start, we have some starter builds ready to help you out, and many many more are on the way.
Multiplayer of Elden Ring
The online aspects of Elden Ring are very similar to those of previous souls titles, but adapted for the open world and to welcome a new audience. PvP invasions still happen, but they only trigger for players who are already in co-op mode. There are also summoning ranges and weapon upgrade matchmaking to prevent griefing and twinking and several items to summon fellow players to assist you as your defenders should you be invaded.
The co-op is the most sought out mode of online, and it works well with password and region restrictions, but has some limitations regarding boundaries that may be tedious for those wishing to complete the whole game with a friend.
That said, many boss encounters are designed specifically for multiplayer, with multi-boss challenges, large boss AoEs, speedy moves and aggressiveness akin to Bloodborne. We fully expect the community will enjoy this aspect to the fullest, and you can join our community by using the password Fextra as you play.
Elden Ring Pricepoint: Is it Worth It?
People have been asking me if Elden Ring lives up to the hype, and whether it’s Cyberpunk all over again. I told you to preorder this for reason: this is the exact opposite of Cyberpunk, and an absolutely must-buy day one experience that will thrill souls veterans and newcomers alike.
Your 60 ~ 70 USD buys you a day one experience of a 100+ hour game, before all the spoilers are out and everything is discovered, and allows you to “level up” with the community and have plenty of opportunities to engage in multiplayer and learn the game together with everyone else.
There’s a magic of communal discovery to FromSoftware games, and you can be a part of that experience by jumping in right away. The value for money of the game is incredibly good, and the experience it delivers is truly unparalleled. I have never played anything like this, even though I have played many small parts of this individually in other games.
Elden Ring Final Thoughts: Will you Like It? What if you don’t like Souls?
Many people have been misled by previews to think that this is “big” dark souls or dark souls 4 with a jump button and a horse. A lot of people don’t like the difficulty, invasions or difficult combat of the souls series. To all of these people I say: please try it anyway.
Since 2011, Skyrim has been re-released 10 times. That’s something like once per year, always with successful sales, and we all know it was an iconic game and want to relive it now and then. Also since 2011, the gaming world has clamored for “Skyrim Online” and “Skyrim with Good Combat” – both of which were somewhat delivered in broken pieces by user-made mods and some other open world games.
Elden Ring is the Skyrim of the 2020’s, and it’s also Skyrim Online and Skyrim with Good Combat. It’s also Skyrim without a million bugs, and with many innovative exploration features thanks to the verticality of the levels, agility of your mount, and overall ingenious placing of waygates.
Elden Ring is a game that will redefine both open world and souls games, much like Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls redefined Action RPG into a new “Soulslike” category.
It’s February, God of War is in the horizon and Starfield is releasing in November, but I am still incredibly confident that Elden Ring is the Game of the Year, and possible Game of the Decade, if it doesn’t get outdone by an Elden Ring 2.
So what do you think? Will you be getting Elden Ring? Did you heed our advice and have it on preorder? Are you still unconvinced? Whatever you do, come by our stream on twitch.tv/fextralife for an early look at the game on February 24th at 7am PT, and if you decide to get it make sure to bookmark the Elden Ring wiki and keep an eye on the channel for Build Guides and early game miniboss tutorials.
*Please note our review score takes into account the poor performance on PC, as this is where we spent the vast majority of our play hours. If you are on PS5, the score would be slightly higher.