When it was announced back in 2019 that Hidetaka Miyazaki was working on a new game it became one of the most anticipated games of the generation. Not only that but famed writer George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame was also attached to the project. So we had one the most respected dark fantasy game developers, working with one of the most popular and current fantasy writers of the time, combined into a single project. Once you add the praise the Souls/ Bloodborne has gotten over the years it became the next challenging dark fantasy games to get excited for.

After a few delays it’s finally here, and it’s praise has been universal across the board. Solid 10s and universal acclaim from nearly every major game reviewing website. The PC version has received some criticism due to gameplay errors and issues, but its console counterparts have been experiencing very high scores and I can understand why – to an extent. Elden Ring is a very good game, but that doesn’t make it flawless. I’ve been playing Elden Ring for about 30 hours now and I still have no idea how far I am through the game or how my general progress is going, but I’m at a point where I can safely give a solid opinion on Elden Ring, and spoiler alert. Elden Ring is not a 10, let me explain why.

Elden Ring takes place in a place called “The Lands Between” as you play as an unnamed ‘Tarnished’ and you must explore the lands to eventually and uncover the secrets behind the Elden Ring, it’s power, and become an Elden Lord. This will have you travelling far across The Lands Between exploring caves, castes, forts, dungeons, giant lakes, flaming plains and grassy plateaus to name a few defeating other Tarnished, collecting Great Runes and uncovering what The Lands Between has hidden. Now early in its game development I was curious into how this game was going to play, and was it going to be just another Souls like game. From Software have proven they can mix things up a bit with games like Sekiro, so I was hoping for something traditional, but enough to make it different from previous games. Elden Ring is an open world dark fantasy Rpg set in an open world, which is another way of saying “Do you like Dark Souls? Because this is Dark Souls in an open world”. I don’t mean to downplay what From Software have done, but it came as a surprise to me at how similar this game is to Dark Souls, but for all intensive purposes, Elden Ring is Dark Souls IV. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, and not everyone has played Dark Souls, and there are going to be people out there who haven’t played a single souls game and want some context, so let’s start with that first.

Elden Ring is an RPG game at heart. You explore a large untamed land finding new weapons and gear that will upgrade your attacks and defence, whilst also levelling up your character by using ‘runes’ which are acquired from killing enemies. Stronger enemies will drop more runes, but you risk losing said runes if you die. The higher level you get, the more runes it costs to level up, and the stronger enemies you have to defeat. As you traverse the world you find ‘sites of grace’ which are checkpoints in a way that gives your character a rest, refilling their health items and allows you to modify your characters abilities. It really is the classic video game formula, you are a knight that needs to defeat the ancient evil and save the day as it were. There’s really no way to simplify it down, but for anyone who’s played a souls game, all this comes as second nature, and of course most souls vets will remember the crushing challenge these games have presented in the past.

The combat of Elden Ring is one of its major features, as it would be with a From Software game. At times it can feel crushingly unfair, which to be fair – can get tedious – however some people will point to that these games aren’t hard, only challenging, and that is true in a way. Elden Ring will not hold your hand, provide an easy mode, or go on easy on you, the only way to progress in the game is to learn the game and what works best for you. Bosses will not just be hack and slash sponges like something in other fantasy games like Elder Scrolls or Zelda. Bosses can destroy you quickly if you go in with a hack and slash mentality and for most part it’s going to be very rare you kill a boss on your first attempt. Learning their attacks, their routines, their (sometimes) second forms is all part of the process and it can get extremely punishing at times. If you feel you’re not levelled up for that boss you can leave the area, level up, find some gear and try again later. But even then the boss will pose a challenge and requires quick reflexes in order to beat them. How you go about beating them is your choice however as Elden Rings gives you a lot of choice in how you go about building your character. When you start the game it will present to you a list of classes, all providing basic stats that vary such as Strength, Dexterity, Endurance and Vigor amongst others. These will all play a part in the type of character you play and what weapons work best for that type of character, but can all be changed as you progress with what attributes you choose to level up. I tend to go for Dex as I use more dodges and rolls with 2 handed weapons instead of the standard Strength with shields approach. Of course you can choose to down whatever path you choose, but all weapons are suited for their respected class and provide better damage depending on your current stars. For example, I have hardly levelled up my Faith which is primarily used for magic attacks, so even if I find a strong magic weapon, there’s really no point in me using it, as my stats aren’t a good fit. Of course it’s up to you to find what play style you find best and Elden Ring does a good job in letting your roam free and find out what works best for you, speaking of roaming free, let’s talk about that open world.

In the past all Souls games have had an open world in some way. It was lots of paths that connected areas to other areas and every now and then you unlock shortcuts making it easier to travel to new areas. Elden Ring expands this to a true open world allowing you to explore any direction you want, in the style of something like Elder Scrolls, the world is wherever you wanted to go. This also means exploration has now become a major part of the game with little forts, caves and dungeons littered all over the map, some as a time waste, some holding important gear, which makes them an important part of exploration as you’ll need to find better gear as your traverse the great lands. This isn’t to say the game is totally open, as there are choke points in the game map that will stop you progressing to the next area, usually with a boss battle. But luckily if you don’t feel up to the challenge the game map is huge and you can go off and explore some other parts of the map you are yet to explore. Because of this Elden Ring gives the player a lot of freedom in how they want to play the game. Don’t feel like attacking that boss yet? Go check out some other stuff. That cave you saw earlier? What was that about? That beefy knight that was giving you trouble earlier? Go back and give it hell. There’s A LOT to go back and explore and it could take ages to find everything. With this larger game map comes a greater sense of manoeuvrability, so for this we have our faithful steed – Torrent. Torrent is a magical steed that summons when you call him, as in he literally appears below you and will disappear when you get off. This isn’t like other games where you have to call in your horse with a whistle and hope the pathfinding AI makes it so the horse can get to you, you can summon it in every major open area (smaller areas such as caves and castles you cannot summon Torrent) making traversing the large game world an absolute breeze. Because of the expanded game world too jumping has become a part of the Elden Ring experience too. Your character has a decent jump height meaning climbing over small obstacles is pretty easy, and it works surprisingly well in combat too letting you jump over enemy attacks and getting behind them. Fall damage has also been greatly decreased so you can fall decent distances without dying (But there’s still a limit). Overall your player character seems a lot lighter in a sense, and easier to control, this is no doubt with the larger game map in mind with exploration being a major part of the Elden Ring experience.

And overall it’s a great time. combat is fun and rewarding, fine tuning your character with runes, abilities and ‘war of ashes’ (weapons arts) means you can make some amazing character builds especially with the large amount of weapons you can acquire. Building up your arsenal by upgrading your weapons makes going back to areas that gave you hassle earlier on feels so rewarding whilst eventually killing a boss that also gave you so much hassle is even more so. Elden Ring falls onto the classic manta of ‘git gud’ in that over time you will improve and eventually be able to beat that boss that was so difficult early on. A classic example was in Bloodborne with it’s final ‘Orphan of Kos’ fight, who’s first form destroyed me again and again, however several fights in I could defeat his first form without taking a single hit. It’s this learning process that Elden Ring also teaches and you as a player learn how the game works, and how different enemies / bosses work and the best way to defeat them.

So, what’s my problem with Elden Ring? It’s major strength is also its main weakness. Elden Ring is not a bad game by any means, but it’s just Dark Souls IV. Nearly every game mechanic is just another iteration of something from another game. The ‘Tarnished’ player character is just the ‘Undead’, The Sites of Grace you come across are just bonfires/ lanterns, the Cerulean tears are just the Estus flasks (they both refill at sites of grace/ bonfires), Ashes of War are just Sword Arts Runes are just souls/ blood echoes. Even the interface is extremely similar with the standard 4 way gear selection in the bottom left and many of the previous weapons make a comeback too. Even the odd not explained but we’re apparently meant to know what’s going on in the story is there too. A big selling point of this game was George R.R. Martin had worked with Miyazaki to help create this game, but honestly? I don’t see it. The story is the same dark fantasy epic with no context about great lords and broken lands and whilst it’s interesting, it doesn’t add anything overall. So I don’t really know what George R.R. Martins contribution was, and if it was something, it’s nothing the From Software team haven’t done before. This is ‘spoiler free’ review but due to the games usual extremely hard to follow style I could put major spoilers everywhere and it still wouldn’t be a problem as nothing is really contextualised in any Souls game. In fact in back in 2016 Bandai Namco offered $10,000 to anyone who could explain the story of the Dark Souls series, not that’s relevant to Elden Ring, but it shows how little explanation the story of the souls games really has. I don’t mean to go on, as Elden Ring is a good game, it’s a very good game, but there’s a clear lack of creative ambition and stuck a formula they know works, but in doing that they’ve lost some of Elden Rings identity, as s much is borrowed from the Souls games that preceded it.

But of course if you’re going to copy something, then Dark Souls is a pretty good game to copy, and no one has done it better than Elden Ring. It provides a huge open world with many nooks to explore, a strong character building system allows you to fine tune your player to your play style and challenging yet extremely rewarding gameplay when you get the hand of things. Elden Ring is a must have for any Dark Souls fan, but I’m not sure I could recommend it to non souls vets. It definitely would be an interesting start into your souls journey but as the old Dark Souls saying goes “Prepare to Die”.