Elden Ring Remains Exceptional

Anthony Geiter, Freelance

Elden Ring, the 67th game released by Japanese game developer FromSoftware, recently had its one-year release anniversary Feb. 25.  

An expansion for the world and story has also been announced and will be released sometime in the future.  

This game has tested my patience and threw what felt like insurmountable challenges at me, one after another. Yet, after putting in substantial effort, I walked away to the next objective every time with a new sense of accomplishment and pride. The game is considered a masterpiece by many, including myself, and is a culmination of many great aspects from previous FromSoftware games.

It might not be for everyone, and it wasn’t for me either, especially since I had no experience with other games of the same genre. However, I quickly became accustomed to the difficulty and developed the skills required to make it all the way through, just as any other player can.  

Elden Ring has won 331 Game of the Year awards and is the most awarded video game of all time. The game is unique as its genre, referred to as a “Soulsborne,” was created and popularized by FromSoftware themselves in 2011 with the game Dark Souls, and later Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. With multiple game releases since then, it’s given FromSoftware time to perfect and expand upon their original ideas and it shows in Elden Ring with more refined gameplay and a new open world. I enjoyed the gameplay loop present throughout the game, and Soulsbornes in general, where I explored the expansive and relatively stagnant world (in this case, named “The Lands Between”) sleuthing through many unique landscapes, and defeating enemies for “runes” to purchase items or level up stats that gradually made me more powerful.

You start as a nameless character that you get to fill in the details for, referred to as “tarnished.” War has been waged in The Lands Between for years and you are tasked with restoring the order of the world. Whether or not that order reverts to the original or a new one is up to you and the choices you make throughout the game. In each main area, there are landmarks and structures to comb through with secrets, items, and even hints revealing information about the greater, over-arching, yet cryptic, narrative. There is typically one main boss fight in each area that progresses the main story along with the side-quests of story characters, and I felt proud and fulfilled after defeating each of them, along with the less powerful mini-bosses that are also spread throughout the land. 

One of the best aspects of the game, as well as one of the most important factors that defines the genre, is the combat system, which is unique, highly variable, and can mold to fit the player. I enjoyed the large variety of equipment and the way it allowed me to make a completely unique character that fits into the story in some way. There are 308 weapons, 171 spells, three main types of shields, and 559 pieces of armor to choose from, and with the amount of time I put into the game, I still was not able to find them all and experience everything the game has to offer. From colossal swords that feel as sturdy and heavy as they look, to dexterous twin-bladed swords that almost make you dance elegantly and swiftly, I was always interested in using and mastering a new weapon.

Another great aspect is the art direction and boss design throughout the game. One of the most interesting land regions that I explored during my playthroughs was Caelid, the home of what is also one of my favorite bosses in the game, Radahn. With Caelid being a completely war-torn area of land afflicted by a rot that has spread afar, the atmosphere completely grabbed my attention and made me question how it got to that point. The sky is vibrant red, the land’s resources are completely decayed, and grotesque enemies are around every corner which made it the most interesting to explore and constantly made me feel on guard in an engaging way. Radahn is also one of the most cinematic, dramatic, and memorable bosses to me due to his spectacle of magic abilities, his incredibly impactful melee attacks, and his sheer overwhelming size that takes up much of the screen when you get close enough to attack.

The last positive for me, and yet one of the most controversial points of discussion for the game is about the narrative. As someone who loves to research and dive deep into anything I find interesting, the story of Elden Ring was perfect for me. Nothing in the game is spelled out to you, and while this encompasses gameplay as well, it’s the most obvious in the story. The game includes very few cinematic cut scenes, and most of the game is spent with you in control. There is no menu in the game to explain quests or actions you need to take to progress which contrasts many modern games.

This left me putting a lot of time into reading item descriptions and paying attention to environmental storytelling that revealed facts about main characters and events throughout The Land Between’s history that you would not learn otherwise. I enjoy this deep-dive approach to storytelling, and instead of focusing on just combat, it allowed me to slow down at times and learn about the world I inhabited at that moment. 

Even for those that would appreciate the cryptic narrative, it does have its downsides, and they can make things confusing for the player. For one, the parts of the story not written by George R.R. Martin were made in Japanese. Consequently, Elden Ring has a good number of translation errors. From vague statements made by characters that are hard to translate to English that slightly change the meaning of some plot points, to whole chunks of dialogue changing which even affected the implications of one of the endings you can get. That leaves English-speaking players at a slight disadvantage for fully understanding the main themes of story events or game endings. I would have been left confused on certain details had I not researched the story further online which is generally more than a player should have to do.

Another point to consider is that due to the open-world nature of the game, the cryptic story telling style that FromSoftware is used to using doesn’t function quite as well as it did in their more linear games. Some storylines are harder to follow and can be blocked off by others without the player really knowing until it’s too late. It has been a problem for FromSoftware in the past, but it never felt like a major problem until Elden Ring’s size made it a problem. At times, quests that I was in the middle of have even been cut short without explanation due to things as simple as defeating a boss.

Another negative part to consider is that the game has unfair moments when you get into the later portions of the game. Some boss fights feel like they belong in another game due to their unrelenting attacks that are hard to read. One of my least favorite boss fights in the game was the Godskin Duo, a double boss that feels very unbalanced due to the way the health bar was shared by both enemies, and after some time, each of them would resurrect if you defeated one. This led to me defeating about 4 of them total before the fight was over.

A final point to consider is that the performance of the game varies depending on what you play it on. Complaints have arisen for the PlayStation 5 and Steam versions of the game due to excessive drops in framerate and stuttering that occurs at inopportune times, specifically during combat. It is not consistent for everyone, but it has happened to me leading to unnecessary mistakes during combat, and for people that play on these versions, it is something to keep in mind. 

Overall, the recognition this game has gotten is fully deserved. The game developers have released fixes for the game since its original release and don’t seem to be stopping any time soon. For anyone that wants to challenge themselves, this game is a perfect introduction to a genre that’s main goal is to feel oppressive and impossible. It will frustrate you, but it is meant to, and it does it well. It will teach you lessons from experience alone and forces you to improve to progress. With an expansion set to be released in the future, it is the perfect time for anyone that finds that kind of experience appealing to give the game a chance and put in the work to completing it.