FromSoftware's largest and most ambitious title is also its best yet.
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Every once in a while, there exists a piece of media that really gets the public excited. You see it all the time with new movie releases. You see it often with new music releases. And, of course, you see it with new video game releases. Given how many message board discussions, social media posts, Reddit posts, and the like I have seen for Elden Ring, I think it's safe to say that hype levels for FromSoftware's latest are damn high.

The problem with hype is that it can sometimes lead to disappointment. What if this thing that I have been waiting so long for ends up being bad? What if it somehow fails to reach the same highs reached in the lead-up to release? Having been overly hyped up for a new game release, I know how terrible it feels when that which you were looking forward to just fails to deliver on those expectations.

Though I went into Elden Ring keeping my own hype in check, I know that long-time fans of FromSoftware's recent offerings (the Souls games, Bloodborne, and even Sekiro) have been looking forward to this one for quite some time now. Hell, even those who are not what I would consider "huge fans" of those types of games have started to get excited for Elden Ring as the release draws near. After all, it's kind of difficult not to get even a little excited. The game is coming from an established studio that has already proven themselves. The pre-release media previews have also been quite strong. Then you also add in the fact that the acclaimed author of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin, helped creator Hidetaka Miyazaki with the world building.

Thus, the question now becomes: Does Elden Ring live up to the hype?

In a word: Yes.

In a lot of words: Elden Ring has more than exceeded my expectations.

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Maybe it's because we have had a string of broken or buggy releases, but Elden Ring has proven itself to be more than a phenomenal experience. At the time of writing, I have over 38 hours of play time just on one character. 38 hours of play time exploring as much as I possibly could in the days leading up to this review embargo. And you want to know something? I haven't even finished the game yet. It's not because the game is difficult (it is), but it's because this is just such an immense game that I feel the task of doing everything I wanted to do before release was near impossible.

Had I attempted to just go straight through the "main story," there would have been so many places, characters, abilities, and just straight up content that I would have missed out on. I probably also wouldn't have had such a great time either because I more than likely wouldn't have been strong enough to take on later challenges and bosses without extreme difficulty. I have zero doubt in my mind that there will be people who are able to beat the game without ever leveling up, without reinforcing their weapons to the lofty cap of +25 (yes, you read that correctly), or without finding and equipping new magical spells, holy incantations, Weapon Arts, Affinities, or more. I'm not that kind of person and I have no claims to the contrary. In fact, I would be very surprised if anybody reviewing the game over the past week was able to finish it. I can guarantee that there will be players and fans that adjust their fedoras before rapidly typing out that "reviewers simply lack the skill to complete such a difficult game like Elden Ring!" It's not that. In fact, it has more to do with the fact that there's just so much you can do in this game and there are a finite number of hours in a day, especially when other obligations must be tended to.

Go anywhere and do anything almost whenever you want to is kind of the idea behind Elden Ring. Finding your current area a bit too difficult? Go somewhere else and see what other kind of trouble you can get into. A boss giving you a hard time? Go out in search of any of the several different dungeon types to procure new weapons, new upgrade materials, new spells, or in some cases, to discover new NPCs that may offer some sage advice or other forms of assistance. Go explore some dank caves, undead-filled catacombs, and above ground ruins. These places are scattered and hidden all over the map. They are all full of enemies that need slain and are often places where you will find upgrades and items you needed to grow stronger. They also tend to include mini-boss encounters, so be sure to prepare to take on a fair number of those as well.

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The setting of Elden Ring, known simply as the Lands Between, often provide these gorgeous vistas where you cannot help but look in awe at what lays before your eyes. There are green forests full of various flora and fauna, the amber hues of rolling plains, towering ancient structures that you can explore, war-torn battlefields, deep ravines hiding all sorts of secrets, snowy areas, mountainous areas, and yes, there are vast swamplands to venture through. The massive golden, shining Erdtree seems ever present no matter where you are in the world. Smaller, but still hugely imposing Minor Erdtrees also dot the landscape, inviting you see what secrets they hold.

You will explore areas on the surface, inside massive structures like towers, strongholds, cities, and castles. You will weave in and out of a mining town built into a cliffside. You will cross these large, partially destroyed stone bridges high above the grounds below as you avoid attacks from impossibly massive foes. There are even immense, detailed areas buried deep below the surface of the Lands Between that I did not even know about until just a day prior to writing this review. The interiors of several locations are just as full of awe-inspiring visuals and architecture. Elden Ring also places just as much of an emphasis on vertical exploration as it does horizontal, both inside and out. I mean this with all sincerity: Though the world of Elden Ring is vast, it is certainly never dull.

This world and the people within it are how you will learn about the lore, be it about the Elden Ring, the Erdtree, the lands, the people, wars, and so on. You get snippets of story from fully voiced NPCs, from environmental storytelling, from boss encounters, from item and weapon descriptions, and even through a number of cutscenes. The story and exposition, though not quite as "in your face" as a lot of games, feels a bit more direct here than in the Souls games. It's a tiny bit less cryptic and I feel as though there is a lot more of it, probably due in part to the grand scale of the game as a whole. Still, you are almost never given the full picture as to what is going on. That mystique is a great motivator to see where certain story threads lead and to pursue those leads when and where possible.

Combat is just as satisfying as ever. The years of refining, tweaking, and adjusting the Souls-like combat is on full display in Elden Ring. Strike swiftly with a light attack or charge up for a more powerful blow. Can't parry? Don't worry because Elden Ring introduces a Guard Counter ability. Simply block an attack and then retaliate with a quick tap of the R2/RT. Just be careful though because this move still leaves you open for foes that have rapid attacks, and you still take some chip damage that you wouldn't have had if you simply parried the attack. Weapon durability is thankfully a thing of the past. Magic casting feels just as satisfying as melee combat. I personally went with a build that utilized a ton of magic along with a dexterity-based sword and found the mix to be more than adequate in most encounters so far.

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The open-world nature of Elden Ring also lends itself to some new gameplay mechanics. Players are now able to sneak through tall grass to either let enemies bypass them entirely or to stealthily crouch walk around for a critical backstab. A dedicated jump button, one no longer tied to clicking in a thumb stick, means that jumping attacks are also far more common in Elden Ring as is platforming in general. These jump attacks are often highly damaging when they connect and help to break the guard of foes who just don't know when to put down a shield.

In line with the new combat abilities are Spirit Ashes, which allow you to summon in some help. Players are now able to summon various spectral souls to aid them in combat, if so desired. You can call in a ghostly jellyfish that will shoot poison at foes. Maybe you prefer to call in a pack of wolves that dart around and bite enemies. Or maybe you want something as simple as a headless specter that likes to throw spears and blink in and out of combat. There are multiple Spirit Ashes to discover and utilize, all with their own strengths and weaknesses.

As with most things in the game, summoning these allies are entirely optional. You can only summon when near any of the many Rebirth Monuments scattered around the world. You summon these spirits using a set amount of Force Points (FP, aka: what you use to cast magic) and they will fight alongside you until you die, they die, you leave the area near a Rebirth Monument, or the boss you are fighting dies. I used these quite often during several different encounters. As they aren't particularly strong, these summoned allies are best used as a distraction for enemies than for actually dishing out damage. For a build that primarily cast magic from a distance, having these ghost pals taking a bit of the focus off me was a huge help. You are also able to level these summons up as you progress through the game.

Mounted combat also has a huge role in Elden Ring. In nearly all instances, combat while mounted atop Torrent, your spectral steed, is entirely optional. Some encounters, such as against dragons in the open world, are certainly made easier while mounted. Other encounters actually ended up being a bit more difficult while mounted as opposed to just being on foot. Deciding when and where to engage in mounted combat is entirely up to you. Being mounted while in combat also means that you can often ride to safety in a hurry if needed. Enemies do like to give chase but will often give up after some distance. Just keep in mind that there are places throughout Elden Ring where mounting up on Torrent isn't permitted, so don't count on using mounted combat as a crutch.

Just like in previous From titles, combat and major encounters is always about that risk/reward balance. You need to know when to go in for an attack and when to back up to save your own hide. Encounters against bosses, especially main bosses, are just as frustrating and as rewarding as ever. Sure, you may take half a dozen or more times to best your foe, but once you do, oh man, there's just this incredible release of endorphins. There were more than a few times where I got really pumped up after taking down a particularly tough opponent that was giving me trouble for the previous hour.

Instead of bonfires, Elden Ring makes use of locations called Sites of Grace. These are areas of pure light scattered across the Lands Between that allow you to sit, recover your health and magic, recover all charges of your Flask of Crimson Tears (health), Flask of Cerulean Tears (magic), and Flask of Wondrous Physick (all sorts of fun stat increases and recovery effects). You will also use Sites of Grace to level up, swap equipped magic spells, access your storage chest, and much more. You are also able to quick travel to any of the Sites of Grace that you have discovered during your journey right from the moment you begin the game proper. There is no special item to find, nor boss that needs to be defeated. Fast travel is open and available to you immediately. Upon death, you may return to the nearest Site of Grace, or you may be asked if you want to revive at a Stake of Marika. These little statues are essentially acting as checkpoints in the Lands Between. They do not grant you any of the benefits of the Sites of Grace and only serve as a closer respawn point. Depending on your situation and what you need to change, choosing to respawn at a Site of Grace, though further away from your point of death, may be more beneficial.

Crafting is another key feature included in Elden Ring. There are a ton of flora and fauna to scavenge materials from throughout each environment. As you progress through the game and explore new areas, you will often come across various Cookbooks that expand the list of items you are able to create. Craftable items have several important uses that range from causing harm to enemies, to healing harmful status effects, to even giving you or your armaments some temporary buffs. I also want to mention here that I found several of these cookbooks during my time with the game and the number of arrow types that I'm currently able to craft is kind of staggering. I never tried out a bow and arrow in the game, but FromSoftware seemed to go in hard to make a bow and arrow build a very viable option for players.

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I wish I could talk about some personal experiences with the game's multiplayer, but I just can't. Since this was played before the world could get their hands on it, the means of getting a multiplayer session going just did not pan out. Reviewers and others with early copies were just too few and far between. However, I can share that multiplayer does have some nice things going for it in Elden Ring. You can, once again, place down summon signs and get random people to pull you into their world for some jolly cooperation. Alternatively, you can use an item called the Furlcalling Finger Remedy to reveal nearby signs to pull people into your world for co-op play. There are some level restrictions at work here. You will only be able to summon or be summoned by those who are close to your level range. These levels were not specified to me. These restrictions are based both on character level and the level of your highest weapon upgrade. This information is stored on a per character basis.

You can also activate things called Summoning Pools at Martyr Effigies scattered all over the lands. These statues, which depict a crucified human, will show a glyph on the ground nearby that allow you to access any co-op players who have also put their Summon Signs into that particular pool.

Players are also free to make use of passwords and group passwords for co-op play. This will allow you to see summon signs only from those using the same password as you. If you are using a password, there is no level limit on who you can summon. However, the host will serve as the base level for these passworded co-op sessions. If they summon in a friend that is of much higher level than them, that friend will have their stats temporarily limited for the duration of the co-op session.

It should be clear by now that a lot of work and attention to detail went into Elden Ring. In my experience, this is one of the more polished major game releases I've seen lately, especially since the whole work from home thing started to put a real damper on game development across the industry. Unfortunately, there is one rough spot in this otherwise shining beacon of a game.

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The performance on PC is not quite 100% stable. I did have the game crash on me a few times during my play sessions. The game likes to pop up a warning on next boot saying that there is a chance this could cause some measure of corruption if you don't exit the game properly. My save remained intact, and it never happened during a critical moment, but it shouldn't have happened at all.

Elden Ring is also locked to 60FPS at max on all capable platforms. This includes on the PC. You cannot go higher than 60FPS, which is a huge disappointment for those of us who have high refresh rate monitors. And while the game was mostly locked to that 60FPS limit, there were a decent number of times where I encountered severe hitching, occasional pauses, and even brief moments of severe framerate drops below that 60FPS mark. These would happen regardless of the visual settings I set for the game, including testing with everything set to the lowest settings possible. I was also able to replicate these hitches and framerate drops at several specific locations in the world.

Though I am running just a GTX 1080 Ti at 1440p, the GPU usage never seemed to be anywhere near 100% usage at any point while running on the high (not maximum) settings. My CPU also should not have been an issue as it is an AMD Ryzen 9 5900X. I did install the latest drivers from Nvidia prior to most of my testing but the framerate woes continued same as before and in the same spots.

These framerate hiccups were rare. I want to stress this point. I also want to stress that they did not negatively impact my enjoyment of the game at any point. As well, at no point did I feel as though my hardware was inadequate for the game because aside from those rare times where I witnessed lower than expected performance, the game ran at a solid 60FPS without breaking a sweat. I do not know how well a beefier GPU may handle this game. I suspect that those with better GPUs will be able to max every setting out but will still run into the occasional hiccup same as I did. Of course, I will defer the technical breakdown of the game, flaws and all, to the experts at Digital Foundry whenever it is that they get their video out for Elden Ring.

Those periodic technical issues aside, I didn't have any issue with Elden Ring. It's quite refreshing to say that. Like, I'm actually super relieved that this game feels so polished right out of the gate, especially at a time when so many major game releases are janky at best and outright broken at worst.

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It's honestly a little difficult to just put into words how much I enjoyed playing Elden Ring. Those 38+ hours I spent playing weren't done due to an obligation. They were done because I just wanted to keep playing. I lost many hours of sleep playing this game because I always wanted to give just "one more" attempt on a boss encounter, or I wanted to conquer this new dungeon I discovered, or I wanted to see what lied just around the next bend in the road. I wanted to keep playing. I want to play right now in fact, but I must finish this review prior to the embargo lifting in just a few short hours. Though I may not have finished Elden Ring in time for this review, I feel fully confident in the score I have given it. I just cannot imagine that the game does a complete 180 between where I am and the ending.

If you were at all on the fence about this game, don't be. It's great. It's quickly become my favorite FromSoftware game ever released. Frankly, it's quickly become one of my favorite games period. This gorgeous fantasy world crafted by Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R. R. Martin absolutely must be experienced for yourself. Do not pass this one up. Play it. Take your time with it. Enjoy it. I know I sure did and I know I will continue to do so right after this review goes live.

5 out of 5 stars

Additional Information
  • Elden Ring
    • Developed by: FromSoftware
    • Published by: FromSoftware and Bandai Namco
  • Price: Starting at $59.99 (USD)
  • Platform reviewed on: PC
    • Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, 32GB DDR4 3600 RAM, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti
    • Also available on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
  • Release Date: February 25, 2022
  • ESRB: M for Mature 17+ (Blood and gore, language, suggestive themes, violence)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

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