As I stop playing Elden Ring to start writing about it, I’ve racked up a little over 35 hours. I’ve spoken to some other reviewers and they’ve put up numbers twice and even three times that. Like me, they’ve still not reached the end of Elden Ring, a game so colossal, so dense, so overwhelmingly huge there’s no way to assign a score to it when, at 35-hours in, I’ve barely scratched the surface.
To give you some idea of the scale of Elden Ring, at 35-hours in, I have defeated two of the main bosses. A plethora of smaller, weaker and less important bosses lay strewn in my wake but the ones that really count, the ones who are featured as part of the story, yeah, I’ve only killed two of them.
And it’s not through a lack of trying. It’s simply that at this stage, I haven’t even seen any others. Elden Ring is so enormous and seems to grow exponentially the further you get, that progress feels as though it is barely occurring. Even for a Soulsborne, Elden Ring moves at a glacial pace. Players familiar with Elden Ring and its ilk understand the slow grind that comes with earning Souls — Runes in Elden Ring — using them to level up and gradually becoming strong enough to take on the next area and the next group of enemies.
Elden Ring Review
Elden Ring does follow this established gameplay style though the shift to a fully realised, proper open-world changes the nature of the game fundamentally. After a brief tutorial, players are set free in the Lands Between with a vague notion of the plot and a rough idea of what you’re supposed to be doing. As a Tarnished, you’ve been tasked with defeating the holders of the Great Runes (shards of the Elden Ring) restoring the ring and becoming the Elden Lord. That being said, you’re free to travel in any direction and go exploring wherever you’d like as soon as you set foot into the Lands Between. The only things stopping you are much more powerful enemies, locked gates, cliffs and ravines and poisonous swamps. Trifling matters really, it’ll only take a dozen or so hours before you’re able to get past these first obstacles.
Elden Ring does offer some assistance for players looking to follow the ‘Golden Path’ in the form of the
Bonfires Lamps Sites of Grace. Once activated, a Site of Grace will shine a beam of golden light in the direction of another one. By following the beams of light, you’ll get a rough direction to follow and a way forward if you choose to take it. The beams of light also appear on the game’s map (yes, Elden Ring has a map) to help you navigate.
The inclusion of a map is a departure from previous From Software titles but it’s essential in Elden Ring, without it, traversing this gigantic world would be even more difficult, nigh on impossible. Thankfully, with the press of a button you’re able to check where you are and even place your own custom waypoint should you need it. Aside from Sites of Grace and your own waypoints, the map also shows named locations you’ve visited but that’s it. There are no icons for missions or collectibles.
The map doesn’t show you a recommended power level for specific areas nor is it filled with activities, side-quests or anything else we expect of an “open-world” game. Instead, Elden Ring lets the game speak for itself and trusts its players enough to find their own way. There are quests, of a kind, and collectibles, side-quests, activities and most definitely areas that require you to be of a certain power level but by removing all the signage and noise, From Software is giving back a sense of wonder and discovery to its players.
Elden Ring is dense with things to do and places to visit. There aren’t many cutscenes (that I’ve seen in 35 hours) but there is a huge amount of dialogue and environmental storytelling to pay attention to if you want to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for this world and its Lore. There are also plenty of notes and descriptions for items that fill out the Lands Between. Again, this is standard practice for From Software at this point but in Elden Ring, it’s on such a massive scale it’s hard to believe. Take the map for example, after a few hours of playing I was certain I’d nearly completed the map. Then, I progressed a little further and suddenly the map was twice as big, with a whole new area to uncover.
As I set off into the unknown, I quickly discovered that this new area was still just a fraction of the complete map and I still haven’t fully unlocked the thing. Hell, after talking to another reviewer, I found something that effectively doubled the map again and meant that I had dozens and dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of hours more exploring, fighting and game to get through. Honestly, the more I play the more I believe that Elden Ring may not actually have an end. Every time I think I’ve finally managed to see everything, it changes something up and suddenly it’s bigger again. Usually, a game this size would feel bloated and padded with unnecessary additions to keep players stuck playing much longer than they’d ordinarily want to. Not so for Elden Ring. There hasn’t yet come a point when I’ve had enough and wanted to stop playing. I did come close at one point when I lost 30,000 Runes but I stubbornly continued and soon forgot all about those wasted hours.
In yet another way Elden Ring is mind-bogglingly big, it includes 10 different classes. I’ve played exclusively as the Vagabond — the first class in the list and seemingly the vanilla default — but there are also the Hero, the Wretch, the Prophet, the Confessor, the Samurai, the Astrologer, the Bandit, the Prisoner and the Warrior. Having not taken any of the others for a spin I’m not equipped to speak to how differently they play from one another, but I’d imagine there’s a pretty big difference. The Vagabond is a basic sword and shield character so I’ve not been able to equip and/or use any of the spells, incantations or magic staves I’ve found. My inventory is bursting with items and equipment I simply can’t use because it’s for a different class. I could, I suppose, start speccing into Faith, Intelligence and Arcane but it’s not the best use of my Runes to do so. Plus I need all the health and stamina I can get.
When it comes to exploring the Lands Between, at first you’ve got to go on foot. It’s not long until you acquire Torrent, the spectral steed, who covers much greater distances and can walk through poisonous swamps without dying. You’re also able to fast travel to any of the Sites of Grace you’ve activated. Riding Torrent is a huge departure from the Soulsborne formula but it’s a brilliant and necessary one. You can still engage in combat while on Torrent but it definitely takes some getting used to. I’d highly recommend it when you’re trying to take down any of the very fast and very large dragon bosses. Stay mobile and stay alive.
While on Torrent, you can double jump which is useful for climbing as well as descending. Your character is able to jump as well and not just when you’re sprinting either. X/A is a dedicated jump button and there is actually quite a lot of platforming in Elden Ring. Don’t fret, it’s not too frequent and not difficult but it does break up the ebb and flow of exploration and combat and opens up a tonne of possibilities during both. If you see a ledge in Elden Ring, you can jump onto it and if you can jump onto it, chances are there’s an item or area hidden nearby. That word I used before, dense? It’s all too apt. Every place you go is potentially (and probably) hiding all manner of secrets, you just need to go looking.
In combat, jump attacks allow you to get over enemy defences and deal some pretty brutal damage at the same time. Every weapon has a different type of jump attack too so you can pick and choose to suit your playstyle. Another new feature in combat is the counterattack which lets you follow up a block with a powerful attack of your own. Oftentimes the counterattack is enough to stagger an enemy giving you the perfect opportunity to perform a critical hit. In general, combat feels familiar to anyone who’s played Dark Souls or Bloodborne but with enough of its own style and flavour to set it apart. Elden Ring feels slightly faster than Dark Souls but not as fast as Bloodborne or Sekiro.
Additionally, Elden Ring has a focus on stealth which is crucial for sneaking into heavily guarded areas, unleashing crits on unsuspecting chumps and avoiding certain death from all manner of gigantic enemies. Having these different options make Elden Ring feel the most varied and most accessible of any of the Soulsborne titles. I even felt, at first, that it was an easier game than the others but the more I’ve played, the more I’ve realised it’s just done a better job of giving its players options. The open world also helps because you can explore for long periods of time and avoid enemies for the most part. It gives you a sense of progression even if you’re not levelling up and can make it seem like the challenge is lacking but once you start taking on bosses or exploring any of the populated locations, you’ll quickly remember what kind of game you’re playing.
In this review-in-progress, I am purposefully being vague when it comes to certain mechanics, features and inclusion in Elden Ring and that’s because I think it’s important for players to experience the sense of discovery and wonder inherent in the game for themselves. There have been countless moments for me when I’ve been blown away by something that’s occurred or stopped to say to myself how cool a new feature is. Elden Ring wants to be explored and for its secrets to be uncovered but players should do it themselves. They shouldn’t have bits and pieces spelled out for them or spoiled. Even though Elden Ring is much more explicit in its instructions and tutorials for certain features than Dark Souls, it’s still very obtuse and unspecific for many things.
Even if you’re really struggling with it, I’d honestly advise against using a game guide for Elden Ring, you’ll always have another corner of the map to visit or a different enemy to fight and over time, you’ll learn the rhythms of the game and come to understand the world and its inhabitants. Once you do, it almost becomes like a new sense and making your way through the Lands Between ceases to be confusing.
My only advice is to be thorough and explore everywhere. There’s so much in the game that you’re highly likely to miss a lot and that includes really important and useful items. So keep your eyes peeled and keep looking, even if you think you’ve found everything. There’s always something more.
Playing on PS5, pre-release, Elden Ring runs very smoothly and without any issues. I’ve been playing on performance mode and the frame rate has been rock solid at 60fps. There have been very minor and very occasional dips but nothing that detracts from the experience. I know some other reviewers have had a rough time on PC, but PS5 has been pretty flawless.
It’s not a visually mind-blowing game, but it does look really great. There’s a tonne of interesting and varied visuals as well as the usual bizarre and disgusting creature designs. Just wait until you meet Two Fingers…nightmare fuel. It’s impressive just how far you can see into the distance without a huge dip in visual fidelity too. The simplicity of the visuals likely goes a long way towards making sure the framerate stays smooth and the draw distance is big.
At this stage, being 35-hours in and knowing I’ve barely seen a fraction of what Elden Ring has to offer is both daunting and exciting. Knowing there are many more hours of seamless transitions from open-world exploration to classic Dark Souls labyrinths, mini and micro dungeons, sub-bosses and mysteries and all manner of weird and wonderful NPCs really gets my motor going. It appears there may be an endless number of things to do in Elden Ring and that’s fine by me.
I never want it to end.
Elden Ring is being reviewed on PS5 using a digital code provided by the publisher.