Elden Ring (PS4, 2022) Review

Looking back at the history of games developed by Fromsoft in the mold of Demons' Souls, Elden Ring strikingly lacks the distinct identity that set Bloodborne and Sekiro apart from the series that inspired them. At its base Elden Ring is just another Souls game, and the introduction of an expansive open world feels like the next step for the series. Not to mention the overlapping lore tropes. The setting may be entirely new with a lot more meat to its lore, but in spirit Elden Ring is effectively Dark Souls IV. Yet many elements of gameplay, lore and setting are very reminiscent of Bloodborne - to the point where I find myself inclined to believe that a sequel to Bloodborne might have been in development, and that what was left over was directly used for the development of Elden Ring. Elden Ring may be a new IP, but the game may as well be called Dark Souls IV: Bloodborne 2 edition.
Not like this is to the detriment of the experience of playing Elden Ring. I just have to admit that I expected this fresh IP to take a greater departure from the Souls formula.

My feelings on Elden Ring's open world are mixed. While I liked that the game is more open than ever, that there are many great views and for a good part enjoyed exploring the maps, making sure I would check out every region of the game felt increasingly bothersome as the game went on. Treasures may be hidden all over the world, but the locations that house them all come from a scarce set of assets that are used over and over again. And the items to discover themselves are often only useful for certain builds and playstyles. It wouldn't have hurt the game were the maps half the size. On my second playthrough I quickly found myself using the wiki, going through its lists of items, and working out a check list of items and spells I would need to grab with my new character. For the most part the open world serves to pad the game more than anything.
Exploring the minor dungeons was still fun because the developers were pretty creative with their designs and gimmicks, but a little more variety in visual assets would have been nice. The crypts are all surprisingly well lit, although the lighting engine in general works better than it did in Dark Souls III. Parts of caves with no light source are actually pitch black. However I would have loved to see more of such atmospheric use of lighting (or rather the lack thereof) throughout the game. Fighting skeletons in oppressive darkness was one of my favorite parts of the original Dark Souls, and there should have been more if it in Elden Ring.

The legacy dungeons on the other hand feel just right. They're never too short or too long, have their own share spoils to discover and feature the usual variety in visuals. They're decently challenging assuming the player isn't overleveled. Exploring the underground cities, caverns of Ainsel River and Lake of Rot were my favorite part of the game along with stealthing through Leyndell.

The new mounted combat is decent. It doesn't hold a candle to traditional combat, but works well enough for the game. It's silly how much it trivializes the field bosses however, as playing hit & run on them with the mount is surprisingly effective.

Fromsoft went all out on the RPG mechanics this time around. How boss fights feel depends even more on how the player approaches the game than it did in previous Souls games. The endgame was a decent challenge for me, only dealing what felt like chip damage to bosses with a slow sword. But I know others have had an easy time killing those same bosses in just a couple quick combos or spell casts. Boss fights feel like a step up from Dark Souls III. Bosses employ similar combo attacks, but have more varied attack patterns in general. Some bosses felt as agile as you'd see in Bloodborne, so resistances can go a long way if your build doesn't allow you to quickly dispose of your target. I found myself wearing protective talismans and using protective spells for the first time to deal with some of the late bosses. Personally I felt pretty underpowered (despite being at max level) against a couple of bosses and fighting those was somewhat frustrating. Overcoming these challenges felt a lot more satisfying in Bloodborne and Sekiro. In Elden Ring they feel similarly misplaced as they did in the Ringed City DLC of Dark Souls III.

The lore? Much, much better than that of Dark Souls III, but just as annoyingly ambiguous in places where I would have preferred it to be a bit less obscure.

Overally at its best Elden Ring is a lot more memorable than Dark Souls III ever was. Its world has a lot more going for it, from awesome locations to quests with actual substance to them. The balancing may have some rough spots, but the game offers a lot of diversity in how the player may approach it. It's a good game. But I sure wish they had taken its best parts, gotten rid of the open world and made Bloodborne 2 instead. As it is Elden Ring employs the concept of quantity over quality a bit too much for my taste.

This is silly.