From Software's Elden Ring has an atmosphere already so immense and mysterious that it feels as though it is part of the fantasy game itself - talk about metamarketing!
The hype wrapped around Elden Ring almost feels like it’s already been and gone - I suppose that’s what happens when an announced game has been in development for this long. But with FromSoftware’s (yes, the legends that made the Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro) medieval fantasy open-world ARPG title merely weeks away from release and a stimulating but somewhat vague story trailer just published, the game coming out to Xbox and Playstation come the 25th February, that electricity is returning with answers sought after and sparks crackling.
Since E3 2019, it has been a long time coming for Elden Ring; the fandom theorising, toying with speculation. The time for theory is drawing to a close, official proclamation made and all – the mighty Elden Ring is approaching, and I doubt you could even imagine it.
What on Middle Earth is Elden Ring?
The ethereal expanse known as the Lands Between is ruled by Queen Marika the Eternal, mother of the Demigods. In the wake of a series of perfectly executed assassinations, the Elden Ring - a product of the map's enormous central feature, the luminous Erdtree - is in fragments known as the Great Runes; demigods fell, with it the Golden Order. Players enter with but a few allies a bloody war aimed at gaining control of each of the lonely six regions and their concomitant Elden Ring fragment. The fact that this is a FromSoftware action-RPG, a Soulslike, already speaks to the quality of this game yet better still the game’s mythos and foggy seas were also contributed to by fantasy writer George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones, a mastermind in weaving stories with incomprehensible power and political intrigue – not a bad resume, eh? Our primary undertaking relates to the restoration of the Elden Ring, a task that would confer us the title of Elden Lord – an untouchable being capable of restoring order to the kingdom.
What does Elden Ring gameplay involve?
We are a Tarnished, an individual banished from the Ring’s Grace, ostracised from the Lands Between. Classic features of blood-related games such as Bloodborne play a vital part in Elden Ring; exploring, discerning and executing enemies and bosses; summoning from an expanse of spirits to strategically aid you in battle, and also procuring equipment and marking points on the map to give you the necessary resources to adjust your build accordingly, a key facet of successful combat. Speaking of, Elden Ring will follow the challenging Dark Souls 3 approach in battle, revolving around stamina, performing close-quarters melee and spellcasting, mounted attacks from horseback, and the deployment of stealth. Players first must choose their class; warrior, bloody wolf, champion, enchanted knight and prophet, each category determining where your strengths lie as you enter the Lands Between. Mere men and a whole slew of magical creatures and longer battles stand in the way of our Elden Ring odyssey, demigod bosses included… and enormous dragons, witches, spiders, and trolls. The 30-hour plot arc (OK – next joke? Expect more like 60!) developed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R. R. Martin sounds as testing but entrancing as all our wishes combined. Yet even for those not accustomed to Soulslike titles, taking their first dip in the genre via Elden Ring, the game has a widely appealing gravity with a suitable air of inclusivity regardless of prior experience. It takes some doing to interest both ends of the spectrum, to be the one inaugurating new players into the fantasy ARPG genre – but some doing is exactly what FromSoftware has been achieving for years.
A closer look at combat
In the opening minutes of the gameplay trailer below, our knight leaps on horseback from canyon bottom to clifftop using the traversable launch pads, rides down a grassy knoll and runs into a towering and rather irritated Dragon, magnificently composed of a million scales. Anyhow, let's focus on the fighting. It is here where we can see graphics and movement mechanics fuse into a whole far more valuable than its sums; fast-paced, swift, tremendously powerful, only to conclude with a brutal execution with our cape flung by the force of our sword thrust. Elden Ring encompasses open-world fighting at its finest - it really, and I can't stress this enough, doesn't get much better than this. Players, as aforementioned, deploy an arsenal of melee weapons, roll, dodge, dash, parry and counter, utilising special strikes and spells, and the environment around them, leaping off a rock to gain the height advantage and plunge your sword into a stunned enemy - you know the drill.
How does the Soulslike game look? Any good?
Let me begin by saying that the character design in this game is virtually flawless, as too is the ever-changing world design; our protagonist is polished with ray-tracing, subtly detailed in how they move and appear. Elsewhere, the Lands Between are often baleful, dark, dingey - mired by fog and death, even in 4K and 60FPS, but juxtaposed with a vivid magical radiance and an oft sanguine and striking landscape teeming with history, secrets, machinations, and danger. Take a look at General Radahn for example, Conqueror of the Stars (how cool is that title?) and one of our supposed allies; the General has been crafted with magnificent detail and prowess, carved out by a hive-mind with superlative creativity to produce a visually immense being. As one would expect, the in-game graphics are crisper than a frosty morning, not dispensing size and quantity for quality; responsive water mechanics and nuanced fire visuals, even the blades of grass are textured and shaded. In terms of mythology, art style, and narrative, it is easy to see why Elden Ring has been compared to Lord of the Rings; dramatic and foreboding land features; a realm imbued by magic; burning skies full of fiery neon and the prescience of ancient landmarks, but in truth, Elden Ring puts these pieces together in a way of its own, wholly ensconcing them in the lore and milieu of the Lands Between.
Anything else I need to know?
Journeying these lands peppered with Sites of Lost Grace with an unprecedented level of build freedom makes for an enthralling adventure; near enough 100 skills to be applied wherever you see fit, various acquirable casts, a broad and beautiful open-world map and, while you will encounter a community of NPCs, exploring the Lands Between is a solitary, revenant-like existence. Elden Ring looks to be one of those games you could quite easily become hypnotised by, we’re more than happy to watch the metronome on this one. Solitary as the narrative may be, accompanied with co-op modes, Elden Ring doesn’t have to be something you tackle alone. Oh yes, and you can also conjure up your horse from thin air and gallop away Witcher style into a cool sunset whenever, wherever you please. Not bad.
It is usually glaringly evident if a company has developed a game in a perfunctory, rushed manner; on the other hand, the people at FromSoftware are notorious for instead donning for the diametrically opposed approach, imbuing their heart and soul into making some of the finest games accompanied by fiercely loyal fanbases. Elden Ring will be for many more than worth the wait, excelling in the visual, design and narrative departments but still rich in that distinctive Soulslike feel endemic to the genre – a triple-AAA title marrying the allure of the open-world and the maze of lore you’ll find in the greatest Soulslike titles. Brilliant!