The Will Of The Two Fingers Guides You
This Review Contains Light To Medium Spoilers
Every now and again there's a video game that becomes larger than the confines of which the game allows itself. A game that keeps a player's interest while playing it as well as influences the meta of gaming itself. Elden Ring was always determined by its hype long before From Software officially released the game. Elden Ring was a new chapter in the long-running Souls series and a chance to gain new fans. What they got was something that no one expected, an entire ecosystem of players.
With an all-time peak of close to a million players and a quarter million on average, it's safe to say that Elden Ring is a GOTY frontrunner. What is it about this game that is giving everyone a craze? As someone who didn't grow up with the Souls series yet played Souls-like games, I was the perfect audience to ask this question. As with most From Software games, the primary topic was its "difficulty." Unfortunately for Elden Ring, its reputation preceded it as many reported the unfair difficulty mere hours after the game's release.
Elden Ring began like most Souls titles would in the past. You're defenseless, lost in an unknown area, and a boss is going to kill you in the next 30 seconds. Of course, death is not the end as you, the Tarnished, wake up at the bottom of a tomb. This is where your journey "officially" begins, but let's say some things played out differently.
What if you somehow did defeat that Grafted Scion? Congratulations! You've earned a sword and a shield, both very decent starting weapons for your Tarnished. Now you get to explore all that The Lands Between has to offer! It would be a shame if your victory was cut short by a crumbling cliff, sending you to your death, would it? What do you know, that's exactly what happens. For every crowning victory, there will be something close by to humble an unsuspecting Tarnished. This is the first lesson that Elden Ring teaches you and the second is to trust the world around you.
There's an entirely skippable tutorial that players will miss should they not jump into the void below them despite the signs telling them otherwise. The Tarnished who takes the plunge will be rewarded with an introduction on how to play the game. This is complete with a mini-boss that allows the player to utilize what they learned. Upon completion, the area loops around itself and it's back to the starting location. Leaving the area, there's a room shrouded in white mist and a peculiar imp statue next to it. The imp requires something called a Stonesword Key, which the Tarnished does not have.
Despite this being a starting area, this foreshadows that this location will be important later on in the Tarnished's journey. So far, the player has been taught not to give up when it comes to fighting stronger opponents. They've been taught to be aware of their surroundings, identifying traps and advantageous locations. Finally, backtracking is expected and encouraged as a gated location will entice the player to return when ready. This is all within the first half-hour before the player even gets a chance to see the outside. Multiply this by at least a thousand and this is Elden Ring.
Elden Ring Has The Biggest Over (and Under) World Map I've Explored
This is a game about discovery and exploring, something that many games have attempted yet failed in the past. There's nothing extraordinary that Elden Ring does that others failed before it. It follows a simple formula of guiding the player without holding their hand, as attributed by the Lost Graces. Trading Bonfires for Graces, their usage is the same as a way for the player to heal and replenish flasks. Players will notice that they are unable to level up quite yet, encouraging them to explore until they meet Melina. While Melina only shows up a handful of times, she allows the player to level and most importantly gives them Torrent.
Once the Tarnished gains access to Torrent, the vast world of Elden Ring opens up to the player. What the game wants you to do is go to Stormveil Castle and challenge Godrick to get his Great Rune. What most players wound up doing was exploring the entirety of Limgrave. Each Lost Grace found is a checkpoint, most sharing beacons of light that points to the next site of Grace. So long as players "follow" the light, they won't get "lost." Whether or not the Grace will lead them to a location that they can't get out of is up to how strong the Tarnished is. Regardless, there's a point of interest at the end of the Grace-bow.
The concept of discovering extends to the game's map, which begins as a barren uncharted parchment. As the Tarnished discover places for the first time, they will appear on the map as landmarks in real-time. A detailed version of the map is found with map pieces located in their respective areas. However, these pieces only reveal the area where the player currently resides. A map found in Dragonbarrow, for example, will only show Dragonbarrow. If players want to know where they're at, at all times, it's in their best interest to look for these maps as soon as they enter a new area.
The World Isn't An Oyster, It's An Entire Sea Broil
When I say "the world is open to you as soon as you get Torrent," I wasn't exaggerating. I'm not a math guy, but I'd say roughly 30% of the entire map is open to the player. This includes all of Limgrave and Caelid, two locations that are as different as night and day. Limgrave is a sprawling prairie complete with coastlines, mountains, and forests. Most of the enemies fought here are humanlike, save for the occasional troll and large bear. Caelid is the exact opposite with the sky permanently crimson due to scarlet rot. The enemies here are far more monstrous and locations range from mountains, volcanos, and diseased lakes. If Limgrave is meant to be the "beginning area," Caelid is for the intermediate players.
While the challenges in Caelid are daunting, there are many areas where players can "farm" for runes. One such early example is a giant iron ball that will chase the player, killing them at an early level. With trickery, the player can force the iron ball to roll off the cliff, netting them a sizable amount of runes. There's a conveniently placed site of Grace nearby, meaning players can farm this one spot by doing nothing. Later on, there are far better farming spots and methods depending on where the player is in-game. With the inclusion of summonable spirit ashes and power magic obtained early game, Elden Ring begins to feel like a fair game. A far cry from the "difficult" game that it makes itself out to be.
I touched upon this during my "mini-view" and I'll repeat it again now that I've beaten the game. So long as the player is having fun and isn't blatantly cheating during online PVP, there's no wrong way to play Elden Ring. I still cross-reference Fextralife for things I may have missed and I do so unapologetically. My Tarnished has been a Dark Moon Greatblade, Moonveil, and Rivers of Blood katana user. I've used Mimic Tears and Tiche spirit ashes. The only thing I haven't used was Sword of Night & Flame pre-patch but having a portable Comet Azur sounded cool. I would have definitely used it.
Elden Ring Is Meant To Be Played...How You Want To Play It
The point I'm trying to make is that Elden Ring is open to many different playstyles and it's impossible to think of the game as "difficult." There are many ways to cheese bosses should you, as a player, feel tired of dying for hours on end. Even if the player has completely messed up their build, they can always respec their stats. There are many RL1 (Rune Level 1) players who have found ways to beat the game. Some of the most broken builds are hilarious to watch. Elden Ring is a game that's for everyone and there's no penalization for taking one path over another.
It's a fun title due to its open-endedness and its challenges when it comes across to the player. A personal example of this wasn't with Malenia, but with Dragonlord Placidusax. For starters, he remains a fight that you have to go out of your way to even "have the right." Accessing the fight is easy but it requires players to explore the lower levels of the area. It then requires the player to "lay down," setting the stage in a dramatic way.
Now, I'm not a fan of fighting dragons (which foreshadowed the final boss for me) but the entire set-up was chaotic. Even the fight was bathed in chaos as he would disappear and reappear with a deadly claw that will one-shot you if you don't dodge. It kept me on my toes and it was a fun fight. You could farm levels until you have 60 Vigor but the game will still find a way to humble you.
The Story Is Intentionally Vague And Left To Interpretation
I didn't mention much of the story because I want to keep this review as free of heavy spoilers as possible. It is however one of those stories where the characters make the plot rather than it being fed to the player. Every NPC the player meets has their own story and ambitions, most of the time overlapping with each other. Some NPCs represent different philosophies and factions that have a direct conflict with each other. There are at least two NPCs who will betray you to further their agenda and their motives won't be clear in the first playthrough.
This is one of these games where I'll recommend a second playthrough plus going on TV Tropes or any information website/video. There are a lot of things that went over my head the first time that made sense the second time. If I ever thought "why did this person attempt to stab me in the back," that question was answered by their personality themselves.
If I was to summarize what I felt the plot for Elden Ring was, it's simply those in high powers who look down on those who are lower than dirt. The protagonist becoming Eldenlord means they can keep the status quo, change it fairly, or drown the world in chaos should they choose. There are multiple endings, each relying on the conclusion of an NPC quest. The ending I received could be defined, colloquially, as the "waifu ending." Those who know, know, but even then I was confused by its implications.
Elden Ring's Community Is The Cornerstone Of Success
The community reception to Elden Ring has been magnificent, consisting of memes and fan art. Every turtle you see, whether it's real or in game, is now a dog. Any locked door you come across? "You don't have the right." After the 100th wall, you'll still hit the 101st wall when you read "Hidden Path Ahead." While leaving messages is the cornerstone of any Souls game, this one being no different, it's the direct multiplayer that births the community.
Aside from fighting others, players can summon other Tarnished to assist them in boss battles. While there's no traditional co-op like Bloodborne, this feature alone has birthed an Elden Ring legend. In the past week, there has been an unclothed Tarnished with a jar on their head, welding a Rivers of Blood katana and an uchigatana.
Their name is LET ME SOLO HER and they remain a summon sign to fight Malenia, Elden Ring's most infamous boss. The absurdity of the description plus the player's track record turned them into a living legend. As with most legends, there are imposters, but the fact that such a legend was birthed by the community shows the reach Elden Ring has within two months of its lifespan.
Elden Ring is one of those titles that have a lot to enjoy for those who give it a chance. There are many ways to play the game, with no two builds alike, and many ways to tackle the game. It's not uncommon to hear that players spent tens of hours before fighting the first "story boss." It's not a race to the end, it's a marathon and one that I encourage everyone to run. Those who have been hesitant to touch a Souls game due to intimidation should give this one a try. The Two Fingers will always accept new Tarnished who are brave enough to journey the Lands Between.
Elden Ring is now available on the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S