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Elden Ring review: The most accessible game FromSoftware has ever made – but don’t call it easy

It’s a challenge, but newcomers will also find plenty to like

<p>The Lands Between are inhabited by a number of hostile creatures</p>

The Lands Between are inhabited by a number of hostile creatures

FromSoftware games are difficult, but the fact their difficulty is not defined by exclusion has made them both rewarding and incredibly popular. Besting a boss after hours of memorising their attack patterns is all part of the fun.

Elden Ring is by far the most accessible game the developer has made, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Rather than lowering the difficulty ceiling, it has instead raised the floor.

By throwing open the doors of its vast world, Elden Ring maintains the genre’s reputation for challenge without being marred by artificial barriers to entry.

With an updated combat system that combines Sekiro with the classic Souls formula, Elden Ring is one of the best games FromSoftware has ever made and is a strong, early contender for 2022’s game of the year... but it’s not for the faint of heart.

How we tested

We played 20 hours of the game on PS5 ahead of its release, in which we were able to explore the open areas of the Lands Between as well as numerous dungeons, Stormveil Castle and the Lake of Liurnia. We died a lot.

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We started with the “Confessor” background – a high-levelled “sword and sorcery” build – to make good use of the game’s melee combat and spells.

‘Elden Ring’: £54.99, Game.co.uk

Rating: 9.5/10

Story

Players will choose their starting character at the beginning of the game, and take the title of “Tarnished”, a moniker given to outcasts who are looked down upon. The aim of the Tarnished is to seek the power of the Elden Ring by collecting fragments from powerful demi-gods, to become the Elden Lord.

The Lands Between are vast and perilous

Like the Hunters of Bloodborne, the player character is tasked with roaming the open world of the Lands Between to vanquish challenging foes along the way. An early cutscene goes into detail about the game’s lore and the demi-gods whose desire for power caused the Elden Ring to shatter and the ensuing war that, after time, allowed the Tarnished to return and claim its power. Along the way, the Tarnished will be contacted by a “finger maiden” named Melina and form an accord, which allows the player to trade in runes (Elden Ring’s equivalent of souls) for added strength, as well as summon a horse named Torrent.

The story of Elden Ring’s world is more frontloaded than previous FromSoftware games and it’s easy to imagine that George RR Martin’s influence on the story played some part in this. The usual melancholy that lingers in the world is still there, but that sense of adventure feels more focused, rather than buried within vague item descriptions where details can be easily missed.

Exploration

The Lands Between is a realm that has seen its fair share of war and turmoil and is now inhabited by a number of hostile creatures and areas of interest to explore. Immediately, that sense of scale can be overwhelming. There’s plenty to see and do in the early areas of the game but sites of grace (rest and fast travel points) leave an ethereal trail to guide players along a desired path. Of course, these can be ignored completely.

Make sure you’re prepared before facing the game’s biggest foes

Almost immediately, the open world of Elden Ring is a step away from Miyazaki’s previous settings. A far cry from the labyrinthian level design that loops and bends in on itself in previous FromSoftware games, the vast open fields are less reminiscent of a dark fantasy horror but rather games like Breath of the Wild, where the simple act of exploration is enough to inspire awe. Leaving the tutorial area of Elden Ring to roam around its fields gave the same feeling of undertaking a grand adventure, as Breath of the Wild did, but shortly after, that sense of foreboding malice that permeates all of FromSoftware’s games takes hold.

That open world has not prevented Elden Ring from maintaining its scope, however. Within it are numerous caves, catacombs and castles that provide an experience that will prove more familiar to Souls veterans.

What that delinearity has helped to achieve is fundamental to Elden Ring’s broader appeal. If, when pushed in a certain direction, a player faces resistance from a powerful enemy, a large encampment or roaming mobs, the previous solution was to power through until it could be overcome. Now, they are spread in every direction and if the challenge becomes too much to bear, you’re left with the option to disengage and approach something else, for the time being.

Sites of grace are a rare solace in ‘Elden Ring'

In the same vein, the abundance of sites of grace and their proximity to those chokepoints make returning to those areas less of a chore. The arbitrary slog of working your way towards a particular boss is no longer a drag, as players have the option to jump straight back in after a failed attempt.

Some FromSoftware fans may not like the sound of this initially. After all, trial and error are essential to the learning curve. But with the added option to explore the surrounding area in greater detail, the need to return to the fray through the path of most resistance has vanished. If anything, it has helped to justify each boss’s strenuous difficulty, as the challenge lies solely in the bout.

Combat

The creatures of the Lands Between take all shapes and sizes. Human patrols fitted in medieval armour can be spotted by campfires from great distances, just as hollow-chested trolls lug great wagons across rolling hills. Even lumbering pots, animated with long appendages, slowly amble before being agitated by those wishing to break them. The creativity of FromSoftware’s monster design knows no bounds and, considering influences span European folklore and Japanese horror, you never really know what to expect around each corner.

Summon spirits to fight alongside you

One of the mechanics that has carried over from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is stances, now known as “poise”. Defending, blocking and countering attacks is important in maintaining health, and if an enemy is able to break your poise then it leaves you vulnerable to critical attacks.

Poise can be maintained by timing blocks correctly, parrying with a shield or performing a heavy counter attack directly after an opponent strikes, all of which can leave you vulnerable to damage. It’s a welcome addition to the formula that rewards good reaction time and speed alongside the defensive style of play commonly associated with Dark Souls.

Another carry-over from Sekiro is jumping and stealth. Jumping attacks are much more powerful than normal strikes, but also leave players completely vulnerable, and stealth is always a good option to pick off stragglers before facing a large group head-on. Weapon arts also make a return from Dark Souls 3, which allows players to further customise their weapons at the cost of magic.

Torrent the horse can clear large distances

With Torrent the horse, mounted combat also becomes a feasible option. Mounted enemies, and even bosses, are commonly spread throughout the Lands Between and the added mobility is put to good use. Torrent’s double jump can also be used to navigate between chasms and over cliffs, and the animal is capable of travelling quickly, which can be useful in extremely hostile areas.

The most notable additions to combat are “spirit ashes”, or NPCs that are summonable whenever a monument is nearby – these are usually found at points of interest as well as in boss areas. While fairly expendable, especially in the face of the game’s tougher bosses, they can be used to draw attention away from the player. They take a number of different forms, including a pack of wolves, sorcerers or even a giant jellyfish. They offer a fair trade if online matchmaking is not working in your favour (they can’t be used if you summon other players to your game).

Multiplayer options will allow players to either summon players to their world to help them defeat bosses or assist them in theirs, much like in previous games. The usual messages providing words of encouragement, a caution of the danger ahead or the location of hidden items also make a welcome return, as does the ability to summon challengers or repel invaders, should you so choose.

The verdict: Elden Ring

If you consider yourself a longtime fan of FromSoftware games, then you’ve likely already made your decision about playing Elden Ring. If you are worried that the open world, fast travel systems and optional dungeons will render the game too easy, then fear not.

Elden Ring offers plenty of challenges for players, while its improved combat mechanics and traversal provide ample opportunity for newcomers to get acquainted with the genre. If this is your first FromSoftware game and you relish a challenge, then there has never been a better time to jump in.

‘Elden Ring'

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