Souls games aren’t for everyone to the point where it is its own subgenre. But I come from experience in the subgenre: I’ve played every Souls game, Bloodborne, The Nioh Collection, The Surge, and Mortal Shell. This also means I’m far harder to impress. Does Elden Ring do more than just challenge my soul?
…the only thing required of me is my might and persistence.
The first thing you’ll notice if you’ve played the Souls games is that they’ve sadly imported the movement system. Not that it’s broken, but you still feel like a slider moving along a plane. Fortunately, they’ve added a touch of modernization so that it’s not as draconian as before: jumping ACTUALLY yields proper navigational results! It’s not that jumping is something shocking, but it’s a modernization the series has sorely needed. The added use of a mount also adds just a touch of modernization, and while rare, it can be used in some combat situations as well. But that’s not what you play Souls games for, you play them for their unrelenting combat challenge and maze-like levels just begging you to try fingering their buttholes, and I’m happy to report that this game proves the developers have NOT lost their touch. Despite additions to ease the challenge such as spirit ashes and more “bonfires”, bosses still lay the law down on the unsuspecting. While I refuse to spoil much bigger boss fights in this review, just know that there’s always a boss waiting somewhere to lay you out and I probably killed somewhere over 40 or so. Yes, an impressive FORTY, and yet it was clear to me I hadn’t explored every inch of the world. And that leads to the other thing you play these games for: their worlds. This might just be the most cleverly designed maze of an open world ever made. You will ALWAYS find a way, and it is some sort of magic that the only thing required of me is my might and persistence. Just keep pushing forward in some direction and you’ll simply grow both your character and your skill. This leads perfectly into the next section.
…this might just be one of the biggest action RPGs ever made.
It just keeps going. As I finally reached the conclusion of my adventure, I crossed well over 70 hours at level 138. Yes, the game is THAT long! And while I played this game mostly blind, there were a handful of times I even had to Google: I spent an hour trying to find a way into a northern map section; where/how to buy various smithing stones; and also where to find an NPC for a quest because I was told where to go but slept on the quest overnight. Don’t be afraid to use Google: the game left me with nothing to continue the questline, and without Google, I might not have ever finished it. Yet, I don’t regret it in the slightest, and the things I saw simply because I pursued the unknowing left me with one simple thought: this might just be one of the biggest action RPGs ever made.
…they’re trying to brute force an old engine…
Let’s start with the worst offender in this section: the framerate. I’m playing on Xbox Series X, and I had assumed that quality mode would have a 30fps lock, but it does not. No matter what mode you play in, the framerate fluctuates quite largely and also stutters regularly. It’s clear to me that the same thing I said in my Souls III review applies here: they’re still trying to brute force an old engine that simply cannot do what it needs to anymore, and the performance is a clear indicator because these graphics are as last gen as it gets. Coming from Demons Souls on the PS5 showed me what’s possible, and that makes this game’s graphics and awful framerate all the more unacceptable. Fortunately, we’re still talking about the masters of their craft, and the art style is dark yet impressively diverse from castle tree scapes to sewers and everything in-between. It’s by no means an ugly game, but it’s straight up last gen, and we’re nearly 1.5 years into the current gen. Oh yea, and don’t come for the story: in classic Souls fashion, the lore is basically splattered onto the map, and while your goal is (always) clear in these games, the reality is usually quite different. Don’t be afraid to also use Google.
It never gives up on me as long as I never give up on it.
I’m not impressed, I’m astonished. The game required one thing and one thing only from me: persistence. It rewarded me with one of the biggest action RPGs I’ve ever played, and yet I could tell there was still more in it. It challenges my soul to the core and does it again… and again… and again. It never gives up on me as long as I never give up on it. Sure, its slider movement system is barely balanced out by modern sensibilities, its framerate performance and graphics are unforgivably unmodern, and it could use a tad more in the way of quest continuity, but this is the kind of game you simply find yourself pushing through with your soul all the way through to the end… or giving up on it entirely without ever knowing the wonders the game holds in its massive depths.