Welcome to yet a new co-op piece where we tear through a particularly anticipated release and share our thoughts together. Elden Ring‘s been a long time in the making, so let’s not keeping you waiting any longer. Get this boat rocking, would you, creepy ghostly mariner boss thing!
*turns on the light*
Oh, I mean, is that you, Callum?!
Callum: Here we are again. How long has it been since we last got together to chat about a new From Software game? Six years? [Ed note: it’s been seven, actually!] Hard to believe it’s been so long already. After Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I wasn’t sure what to expect from them next. Seemed like anything was possible given how much Sekiro wasn’t just another Souls-style game. I appreciate that they’re continuing to find ways to iterate and refine the formula with each new project they make, though. Couldn’t imagine what else they could do after Dark Souls 3 (felt like they had more or less done everything they could with Dark Souls), but along comes Elden Ring showing how there’s still so much they can do.
My biggest question going into Elden Ring was how it was going to tackle open world design. An open world Souls game is an appealing prospect, but there’s so many ways it could go awry. Would stretching everything across a large space take away from the careful level design that’s defined From Software’s games? Would it feel bloated with filler to ensure the game hits some arbitrary hour count? Would the world itself actually be worth exploring or would it just be the same boring, static space that so many other open worlds end up being? Given the trajectory of popular open world trends and how homogenized it all ends up being, it was hard not to be at least a little concerned about what this would end up looking like.
I’ve poured a lot of hours into Elden Ring (too many, some might say) and, from what I’ve seen, all those fears were for naught.
Elden Ring‘s world is one that captures what I love about the promise of open worlds: the boundless sense of exploration. The ability to pick a direction and see what you come across and find a dozen different things along the way. It’s the thing that made The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so refreshing at the time, and part of what made Sable phenomenal. From Software’s spin on open world design is largely familiar, but the little ways they make it their own are key. A map that slowly unfurls, that lets you discover what lies in wait at your own pave instead of filling it with waypoints and icons is so perfect for the kind of design From Software operates in. It captures that same sense of dread and wonder that the Souls games have been incredible at doing and spreads it over a massive space.
One thing, though: this game is fucking huge. Like, holy shit it’s big. The scale is as impressive as it is frightening. The way the world map slowly unfurls is great, but it’s also like: where does it end? The first time I found a massive underground zone was one of the coolest discoveries I’ve made. An entirely new zone I just stumbled upon by pure chance that I spent hours exploring. That the surface map is already so big is incredible. That they also made a vast, sprawling underground one too? Utterly absurd. I love it.
I could go on and on about all the wild things I’ve seen and the events I’ve encountered, but I’m curious: how’s your trek through Elden Ring been? How’s the open world treated you so far? Anything of note?
Eduardo: Oh man, it’s been something, alright…
I tried to keep myself as unspoiled as possible coming into this, so much so that I ended up skipping their network tests so I would be able to start truly fresh, and I’ve been keeping it that way ever since my first run through the game began. I’m completely lost! And it’s been fun being lost, really, finding things out of nowhere and trying to figure out if I should be bothering with them then or just leaving them aside for later.
The thing about From games in the past is that you at least got a sense of your overall objective and some sort of way to keep track of progression, but Elden Ring has none of that. I have no clue how the hell I’m going to do anything to get me close to the end because I don’t know what the end is supposed to be. I know there is one, obviously, but the way there is nowhere to be seen. On one hand, that’s terrifying because this game could go on for a LONG time without me coming close to finishing it.
I’ve been playing it for over a dozen hours at this point [Ed note: well over 70 now, at the time this piece goes live] and have barely scratched its surface outside of killing a few bosses that happened to be milling out in the open world, trying not to get my prisoner ass handed to me. On the other, at this point in my gaming life, having a game like Elden Ring, which I can come back to and poke around with every so often is an intriguing prospect, if I can keep not looking for guides and such as I’ve been so far.
Speaking of the prisoner, what’s your playstyle been like so far? This is my first time really messing around with true sorcery in a Souls game and it’s been fun not hiding behind a shield all the time. I did play a pyromancer in Dark Souls 1, but this feels way different in a way that I’ve been enjoying quite a lot. Still hella squishy, though. Couple hits from a boss and down I go, but that’s how it works, I guess…
C: I went with my usual build: melee focused going all in on strength and dexterity. Been playing more aggressively than the Souls games usually allow, though, thanks to mechanics like “guard counter” and the fact that I can effectively dual-wield whenever I want now. Guard counter especially is nice because it means I can make shielding attacks an actual part of my offense instead of purely using it to tank a hit I likely wouldn’t have been able to avoid. Blocking and then immediately counterattacking feels so good — doubly so when it knocks my opponent down. Feels like a bit of Sekiro making its way into the Souls formula.
Probably gonna be messing around with magic later on another playthrough. Those dragon incantations I’ve been finding sound real fun. Maybe try an arcane-focused build as well at some point, now that the stat scaling on it has been fixed. I’ve almost thought about respeccing a couple of times to try out some of the wilder weapons and spells I’ve found since Elden Ring makes it pretty easy to respec a bunch, but I’ve gotten this far with my current build (despite some struggles here and there; some late-game bosses are really difficult to handle as a pure melee build), so… might as well keep going.
I feel like Elden Ring is a game that wants you to use the full bag of tricks you have, though. So many bosses are vulnerable to poison and bleed or can be parried or be knocked down with enough guard counters and charged attacked that it feels like they really want you to do more than just play it like you would traditionally play Dark Souls: just blocking and dodging attacks, getting hits in wherever you can. It’s like it’s trying to get people to break out of the safer, defensive play-style that came to be the default way to play these games. It’s definitely taken some adjustment on my part since I rarely rely on status afflictions or elemental damage or the like usually since it’s hard to tell when those will actually make a difference. Maybe it’s because the crafting makes a lot of those tools much easier to keep on hand? Don’t know.
Have you explored any of the “main” dungeons yet? I like how they are very much traditional Souls levels, but I’m struck by how complex they are. Stormveil alone has so many different avenues to explore. I kept wondering whether I was actually moving forward, exploring some side-path that would wrap back around, or if I was headed toward a dead end. They’re so dense — and not to the usual degree they are in other FromSoft games. It’s astounding the degree to which these areas feel like fully featured levels while still existing in an even larger open world, especially when contrasted against the smaller dungeons you find in caves and catacombs hidden throughout.
E: I’m impressed you’ve been doing so well with guard-countering and such. I’m positively awful at those, probably the reason I’ve had such a hard time actually beating Sekiro. Playing magic has been great because I can take more risks for a bigger payoff if my spells land on bosses especially. Feels fantastic to beat something without them ever touching me because 1) my magic kicked its ass 2) I managed to dodge it due to not being clad in heavy armor. It’s a way different approach than my usual Souls run, honestly.
As for main dungeons, you’re talking about the castles, right? I’ve only finished one of those so far in my run and am in the process of taking out another. But in my mind, there are other spots that definitely felt very traditional Souls-ish without being as complex as the castles. The university, for instance, or the manor. The latter in particular hit my pretty hard with nostalgia for how I felt playing Bloodbourne — it’s very gloomy, atmospheric, absolutely tense every step of the way. And I had to be careful about where I stepped, those traps are a handful to say the least.
Other locations that serve as “mini” dungeons are an amazing addition. They make for fun rewards for your exploration of the world, even if some don’t give you all that much in tangible benefits other than a number of runes and such. Others though, wow, they were surprisingly generous with some upgrades I was not expecting to find in a seemingly random and off the road cave, you know?
With that in mind, I wanted to ask if would you go out of your way to say that Elden Ring is the most newbie-friendly game that From has released so far, like some critics have claimed? Stuff like these out of the way dungeons, having fast travel being so good, the summons in form of ashes like the jellyfish and skeletons, and hell, a map. Do you think they’re elements that From added in to make this an easier entry to start out at or would they’ve been here anyway because of the sheer size of the game? To me, having experience with the other Souls game is definitely the big advantage you could have coming into this one, it can still be a kick to the balls regardless of what’s been added.
C: It’s easier to guard counter some foes more than others. Lot of regular enemies get staggered by them every time, which makes it easy to interrupt their attacks and get some free damage in. It’s harder against bosses since they can just shrug it off until you’ve done enough damage to hit whatever threshold to open them up for a critical attack is.
Main dungeons I consider to be anything the game is directing you toward via the guidance of grace. So like, the big castles, yes, but also the magic academy, the manors, hell even the underground areas might as well count too given how different they feel from the rest of the open world. I think it’s a great example of how strong the level design is that Elden Ring can have these large, traditional Souls dungeons that slot naturally into the greater world while also having a ton of smaller dungeons that feel just as finely crafted. Considering the sheer scale of this game, I feel like it was likely that any one area could have easily not gotten the level of care and attention they got.
Take the smaller dungeons, for instance. While they’re design feels very much in line with the Chalice Dungeons from Bloodborne insofar as they both feel like spaces assembled via the same set of building blocks arranged in different configurations, but where the Chalice Dungeons were a slog because they were long and waited a while to show any hint of an interesting idea, the various dungeons you find in Elden Ring are quick and often have some kind of gimmick that makes them unique. There was one where I had to lure enemies into pools of light to make them able to be hit, quite a few where I needed to avoid huge chariot-like contraptions to get around, and one that reused the same set of rooms over and over but made just enough subtle changes to throw me off until I caught on to what was happening. When I heard there were going to be a bunch of mini dungeons littered throughout the world, I was worried it just be a bunch of quick, hastily put together areas that would grow old quickly. But instead they made them all feel pretty substantial.
Doubling back to your question, though: I’d agree with that. The open world makes the game inherently more approachable because you’re rarely stuck banging your head against a specific roadblock. In previous From Software games, you have to get past whatever boss or area is in front of you. You have to keep trying until you succeed because there’s no other path to take. Whereas with Elden Ring, anytime you find yourself stuck, you can just go elsewhere for a while and come back later. The fact that Margit is the “first” mainline boss the game can direct you toward is a good example of how the game is encouraging that since it’s extremely unlikely for anyone to defeat him if they ran there right from the start of the game. Likewise with the Tree Sentinel literally right next to where you arrive in the open world from. Granted, that’s nothing new given Dark Souls technically did the same with how the cemetery and New Londo Ruins both are more or less impossible unless you know what you’re doing, but it’s not nearly as punishing here.
The presence of spirit ashes helps a lot as well. Co-op has always been a fantastic option to make things easier, but it’s entirely dependent on people dropping their summon signs where you are. Now, in addition to the summon pools that make it much easier to bring people in, you’ve got the ashes you can summon as well. Some of them are really strong, too! They can really trivialize some bosses and encounters if powered up enough.
Quick side-note: it is frustrating how even though this game is more approachable in some ways, they still haven’t added any basic accessibility features. It’s 2022 and they’re still making games without most of the absolute basic features (colorblind options, for example). It’s absurd how stuff like this somehow isn’t standardized yet.
E: I get you! There’s a lot in Elden Ring that make it one of From’s top games and certainly one of its more approachable for sure, but to me, Bloodborne will always be my favorite. I think having a more limited scope was the key to making it such an amazing experience. That and the ambiance to that game which is second to none.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m adoring Elden Ring so far, it’s really good and values all my experience playing this type of game over the years, but overall, Bloodborne will always be the best to me in all departments. Come on, Sony, make a sequel! >.<
(cough) Anyway, yeah, I also agree about the issues you brought up in regards to accessibility. Companies like Microsoft and Sony have made gigantic strides towards making their releases friendlier to people with all sorts of disabilities, so I’m hoping that other publishers will follow suit and it just becomes the norm making your games playable to as many folks as possible.
So, here we are, Elden Ring‘s been out for nearly a month at this point and the online community surrounding it is still busy picking it apart. There have already been a number of balance patches to even out some rough edges that came with release, but the general sensus is that the game’s a definite ringer. I’m not surprise, given From’s winning formula to their games and their constant evolution with each new release.
With that in mind, what are your closing thoughts on the game at this point in time? Do you see yourself playing it all over again anytime soon? I’m still a long way from finishing it, but in the back of my mind I’m already planning an entirely different character build I would love to tool around with!
C: Well, I’m already a ways into another playthrough with a new character since finishing it, so… probably still going to be playing it a bunch for a while yet.
I guess Elden Ring‘s biggest achievement is making me willing to see a game as big as this all the way through and not feel utterly exhausted by the end of it. I usually recoil at the thought of massive games that can take up to a hundred hours to finish. The whole Dying Light 2 thing where they were advertising 500 hours worth of content, for instance, is exactly the kind of thing that turns me off a game almost immediately because it signals the game is going to pad its length however it can to hit some arbitrary hour count. If Elden Ring had promoted itself similarly, I probably wouldn’t have been receptive to its scale.
Instead Elden Ring feels more like what it should: Dark Souls but spread across an open world. I had my reservations about how that idea might come to pass, but From Software clearly understands how to apply it to the framework of the Souls formula. It takes the sense of discovery and trepidation these games capture so well and successfully spreads it across an unfathomably large world.
I think the very final stretch of the game following the final dungeon is weaker than everything that came before it (feels like things suddenly start happening very quickly), and some bosses varying wildly in terms of being satisfying versus being simply Too Much, especially toward the endgame areas. I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with it so far, but I do hope they’ll consider continue retuning the game as needed.
I’m very curious to see what From Software will do next. There’s talk about them wanting to make Elden Ring into a proper franchise, which makes me worry we’ll see this follow the same road as Dark Souls and become a sudden trilogy. I’d much rather see them continue do something unexpected like they did with Sekiro and see them try new ideas in entirely new games instead of just making a sequel (or at least put some distance between this and whatever a potential “Elden Ring 2” could be). Either way, really hope open worlds aren’t going to be standard for all their games going forward. Much I like what they did with Elden Ring, I would like to see them continue with their traditional level design again so I can maybe finish something in half the time it took to finish this one.
E: What the heck? Have I ever told you you’re crazy, Callum? I probably have, but just in case, you’re nuts, man. Another playthrough already? Man, now that’s dedication. But I wouldn’t expect anything different from you, seeing that you’re such a fan of these games. As for me, I hope to finish Elden Ring sometime down the line in 2022, heh. I’ve already started experiencing some fatigue due to some of the harder fights, but that’s really due to me playing the game exclusively for weeks on end since release. It’s that good, but I’m going to start taking breaks from it so I can come back fresh and hopefully surpass particularly nasty obstacles, which from what you mentioned, I’ve got my work cut out for me in spades.
As for the news you mentioned about this being turned into a potential franchise, man, I’m not sure I’m down with that idea either, considering how well this turned out, would they have enough steam to pump another open world game that’s as good overall as this one? Doubtful, but you know From, if anyone can do it, it’s them. I would hate it if they had to take the route that you mentioned and just pad out content just for the sake of boasting X hours-long. It didn’t do Dying Light 2 any favors, I can vouch for that as the one who reviewed it for the site. I personally would prefer something different than Elden Ring next time, and in my wildest dreams, it’s Bloodborne 2. Long shot, I know, but I can dream!
And that’s it for another co-op review for Entertainium. A special thank you for Callum not just for joining me in another one of these, but also for jumping into my Elden Ring playthrough a couple of times and getting me out of a couple of jams I found myself in. These articles are always fun to put together and I’m very much looking forward to the next one! Take care, everyone!