Video Game Review: Elden Ring

Clementine Allen // The Watchdog.

Initially announced at E3 2019, the wait for FromSoftware’s newest title, “Elden Ring,” has been far too long. Often described as “big ‘Dark Souls,’” it would attempt to take challenging Souls-like gameplay and combine it with nonlinear open-world progression. I’ve played pretty much every major FromSoft title up until “Elden Ring,” and the Souls series is possibly my favorite combination of gameplay and word building to date. “Elden Ring” seemed to be almost the perfect game for me, and I was wholeheartedly a part of the game’s massive hype train.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some true tragedies unfold as games were announced, hyped up, and then released in a broken and unfinished state. Titles like “Fallout 76,” “Cyberpunk 2077,” “Battlefield 2042” and more come to mind. The anticipation for “Elden Ring” was just as strong, if not stronger, than the excitement for these games. I was afraid that “Elden Ring” would suffer the same fate as these other massive titles. Despite these fears, I made my pre-order and put my faith in FromSoftware’s development team.

Finally released on Feb. 24, 2022, thousands of gamers, including myself, rushed to play the title. First off: when they say “big ‘Dark Souls,’” they really do mean BIG. As soon as you exit the tutorial area, you are greeted with possibly one of the craziest landscapes I’ve ever seen.

“Elden Ring” seems to have taken some amount of the infamous “Skyrim” mantra of, “See that mountain? You can climb it!” to the next level. Almost everything you see you can eventually travel to. It is admittedly overwhelming at first, with the only thing to guide you being the “light of grace” — an abstract form of a quest marker that merely points you towards the next bonfire you are “supposed” to travel to. That said, although it was a lot to take in, I found it very manageable. The game makes it very clear if an area is going to be too difficult for you at this time through the classic punishing Souls-like combat. Precise tuning for the difficulty makes “Elden Ring” a perfect example of a show-and-don’t-tell game design. 

The combat is probably the most balanced of any FromSoft game to date. The studio took all the best aspects of “Dark Souls 3,” “Bloodborne” and “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,” and created my favorite blend of the formula to date. Sorcery has finally hit that sweet spot of ‘not too broken, but not useless’ that it’s been struggling to find up until this point (as long as we don’t count the perfect balance of “Dark Souls 2”). Along with this, the addition of horseback combat on the player’s horse, Torrent, makes fighting large enemies in open spaces so much more dynamic.

The Watchdog interviewed Bellevue College student Jacob Taylor to hear his thoughts on the game. He said, “‘Elden Ring’ was the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long time. The game was absolutely massive and full of life. It wasn’t nearly as linear as the Dark Souls games tend to be, and had a reasonably digestible story. It’s like my favorite part of every FromSoft game was put into a single title. [It was] absolutely worth the wait.”

Though it did face many delays, I agree that the wait was worth it. Patience and time lead to a fantastic game in the end. Taylor adds, “While my play time has dropped off a bit now that I’ve beaten the game once, I’ve already put around 90 hours into ‘Elden Ring.’ I’d 100% recommend it to anyone who hasn’t played it or any Dark Souls game before.”

A magnum opus is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, “a large and important work of art, music or literature, especially one regarded as the most important work of an artist or writer.” FromSoftware has made a series of excellent and incredible games, but “Elden Ring” is by far the most significant in their portfolio. It shows how they’ve learned from their mistakes, listened to what their community wants in their games, and continuously evolved and expanded upon a successful formula. That is exactly why I personally believe “Elden Ring” is FromSoftware’s magnum opus. It’s difficult for me to imagine how they’ll improve from here, and although that sounds cliché, I think it’s true. Between the limitations of modern computers and the natural limits of what a video game can be, I don’t know how FromSoft will continue to expand their signature formula further. That said, I will be here patiently waiting for it all the same, and in the meantime, “Elden Ring” will provide me with hundreds, if not thousands of hours of gameplay. Even if you have never played a Souls-like game before, I would 100 percent recommend you give “Elden Ring” a try.