Elden Ring has arrived to a crescendo of rave reviews, with its rich open world, lack of hand-holding, great sense of discovery, and the game that has taken what The Legend of Zelda Breath Of The Wild did, and has taken it to the next level. I’ve put about ten hours into the game and so far I’m really enjoying my time. Today I am going to bring you my first impressions of Elden Ring.
I’d like to say upfront, I’m not a veteran of From Software games. I’ve played some Sekiro, Dark Souls, and Demon Souls. I’m very bad at these games and haven’t really fallen in love with the style of gameplay. I was hoping Elden Ring would be the game where I turn the corner, and finally master a From Software game.
In Elden Ring, you start out in the Lands Between in a cave, you pick your class, ranging from a Vagabond, Warrior, Mage, Samurai, and many more, run through a short tutorial, and then step out into the beautiful, yet dangerous vast open world. This is a world full of discovery. Unlike other open-world games, you aren’t explicitly directed anywhere, the Lands Between are yours to discover yourself.
When you start you learn a few basic mechanics. The tutorial is actually very easy to miss, Elden Ring is a game that doesn’t go out of its way to explain mechanics and features to you. For example, when you start out, you’ll meet a ghostly character in a chair and they simply say “Take the plunge”. The first time I played through the start, I ignored this, went out into the open world, and met a character on a horse. I’d later find out this is the terrifying Tree Sentinel, a mini-boss that roams the open-world, licking his lips for newcomers to the Lands Between, to teach them a very harsh lesson. Everything in this world is going to kill you, quickly too if you haven’t prepared.
I switched up characters and started again, and this time found the tutorial. It runs you through the basic mechanics of light attacks, heavy attacks, using your shield if you have one, and also dodging. Then it’s out into the open world, where you find a grace point. These are similar to bonfires, where you can rest, pass time, level up, and learn magic spells amongst other things. Grace points are dotted all over the map and they are useful tools for fast traveling as well as powering up your main character through the collection of runes, and then investing those runes into various attributes.
That essentially is the underlying gameplay loop in Elden Ring. Explore, discover, battle, and gather runes. The more runes you get, the more you can pump into different attributes. Leveling up various attributes allows you to take advantage of different skills and abilities in the game. Strength and Dexterity allow you to use bigger and better weapons, whereas intellect and faith allow you to learn more magic spells. I’m still very early on and am discovering my playstyle, and I’ve got a lot more to learn about builds and how to spec my character.
I learned very early on you have to plan and prepare for battles. Going in there and trying to take on multiple enemies at the same time is a quick way to die. In the very starting part of the game, there are the Gatefront Ruins, and this is a good microcosm of Elden Ring. There are roughly ten to twelve enemies here, with a powerful enemy patrolling the middle. If you are a skilled player you can probably roll in here, parry, dodge, and take them out pretty quickly. For me, I had to sneak in and take out enemies individually either drawing them out one by one or sneaking up behind them and stabbing them in the back. Once you have removed the danger, there are some caves to explore and loot to acquire.
While Elden Ring doesn’t explicitly tell you where to go, there is a big looming castle in the background, which looks very tempting. So far I haven’t been inside, I have ventured near the outskirts, but not yet in the castle. I’ve decided to take my time and explore pretty much everything outside in the surrounding areas.
There are a couple of good locations to visit before you get too far into things. Just north of where you start is the Church of Elleh, here you are going to find a vendor who sells a couple of useful items including a crafting kit and a torch. The torch is useful if you want to explore caves. When you’re on your way to the Church, make sure to avoid the Tree Sentinel, he’s the big guy on the horse with a tendency to eliminate you very quickly. Gatefront Ruins are good because of the Map Fragment as well as The Ash of War weapon ability. When you start out in Elden Ring the map is covered in clouds and you have to find all the Map Fragments to uncover the map and these are located next to a pillar.
There is a Grace near Gatefront Ruins and once you get here you get a visit from a character called Melina, who gives you access to Torrent, your horse-ish-mount. I would say horse, but he or she seems to have horns like a goat, plus he can double jump. Torrent is one of the most useful things to get early game as you can then travel around the Lands Between nice and quickly. Be careful though, as there are also enemies on horses too, usually with massive swords.
The combat in Elden Ring feels similar to other Souls games, timing is everything, it’s pretty tough but ultimately satisfying when you take down whatever is standing in front of you. There’s plenty of variety with melee attacks with Swords, Axes, Claws, Daggers, Halberds… there’s something here for everyone. Magic is very useful in Elden Ring, with plenty of spells, plus they give you good range if you want to stand back from fights.
While the combat may feel familiar, exploration feels completely different. Direction is very subtle, but mostly you are left to find your own way in the open world. As you make your way to the big looming castle there’s a field full of massive Trolls. They must be 20ft tall, and they pack a real punch with their fists. Not only that when you have their energy down about half, but they also get fed up with fighting fair and bring out their massive swords. Another good location to check out very early game is the pond in the middle. Be wary of this though as a Dragon lives there, so if you do want to explore the pond just make sure you keep your eyes peeled. The dragon can be beaten the early game, but he’s going to breathe fire and cook you in your boots if you’re not careful.
The scale of the scope of this game amazes me every time I open up the game for a session. Given the lack of direction you are given, it’s up to you to make your own quest log and define your own experience. For some players, this has meant keeping notes in a pad, or you can keep digital notes, which I would recommend given you can search for keywords, plus the naming convention in Elden Ring means a few similar-sounding names. There’s a good chance you’ll speak to one character, then forget about them as you move to your next location, and there’s no in-game quest log to keep track of all these things. From a discovery point of view, this can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it makes the discovery in the game thrilling, as there are surprises around every corner. While on the other hand if you are someone who gets overwhelmed by choice, this system may well not gel with you.
One of the most challenging elements I’ve found with the game isn’t the bosses or the enemies, it’s maintaining focus on my goal. The world is full of interesting distractions, things to discover, secrets to find, and getting teleported to hellish locations full of semi-invincible enemies with murder on their minds. The sense of wonder and discovery when you find a new area, scour it from head to toe to find the chests filled with loot, and more often than not Guardians who aren’t going to be pleased you are there. A good example of this is when I made my way over the bridge south from the starting area, I came across a village with Zombie-like creatures. I found a chest guarded by rats, and one HUGE Rat, went back to the village only to be greeted by the former villagers with fire lasers from their eyes.
I’m roughly ten hours into Elden Ring and I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface of the game yet. I’m yet to face off against a boss, having spent most of my time exploring and trying to level up before I get there. I have found some mystical weapons, battled Trolls on horseback, died to a Dragon, fought an undead Wizard in a Dark Forest, and discovered friendly NPCs hidden in caves. Elden Ring is a game I’m thinking about when I’m not playing it, but I do have to get over a couple of roadblocks. I’m still dying too much, so I need to learn how to parry and move around a battle more effectively. I’m also leveled, so taking on even minor bosses at the moment feels like a chore. I’ve got plenty of work to do, but I’m not put off. I’m wandering around the world at my own pace, and at this rate, I’m going to be playing this for at least 100 hours the rate I am going. Whereas I have fallen off previous From Software titles, I’m determined to finish this one. I can’t recommend Elden Ring enough, and if you are remotely interested in playing I think you should check it out.