REVIEW: ‘Elden Ring’ is a modern masterpiece of game design

The new video game “Elden Ring”, developed by FromSoftware Inc., sees its story set in a realm called Lands Between after the destruction of the magical Elden Ring and the scattering of its shards. The land once graced by the power of the Ring has fallen to the rule of the demigod offspring of Queen Marika the Eternal. Each offspring holds a piece of the Ring shard that corrupts them with its power. Players take control of a Middle-earth exile who has lost the grace of the Ring and is called back after the Shattering. Players must traverse the vast lands to collect Great Runes, reforge the Elden Ring, and become Lord Elden.

This terrain is immersive and, to say the least, showcases an incredible approach from the developer.

Traditionally, FromSoftware games tend to have a hands-off story that takes precedence over gameplay. The story of each location, boss, and enemy would be up to the player to piece together using dialogue with in-game NPCs or through text-rich lore, but the story of “Elden Ring” is more advanced. There’s still a lot of lore to be discovered through these traditional methods, but the “Elden Ring” quests are more like a piece of a cohesive narrative presented to the player, rather than something researched.

What immediately catches players’ attention is the beauty of the game’s visuals. Although it doesn’t have cutting-edge graphics or amazing performance, “Elden Ring” has a gorgeous art style. Everything from the in-game armor and weapons to the vast hills and hellscapes are reminiscent of Kentaro Miura’s manga masterpiece “Berserk.” It’s a particularly clear comparison as director Hidetaka Miyazaki has said on several occasions that he was heavily inspired by the late mangaka.

One of the most interesting game design improvements to “Elden Ring” is the way it allows players to artificially adjust the difficulty. Instead of letting players select the difficulty at the start of the game, players can instead choose whether or not to use certain mechanics in combat. For example, one of the latest additions to the game is its summoning system. This mechanic allows players to use certain Focus Points (FP) to summon different spectral forces ranging from a group of soldiers attacking enemies, or even an old man hobbling around luring enemies away from you. These summons are a good way to help players struggling with bosses or enemy encounters, but using them is completely optional.

Solid gameplay is at the heart of what makes FromSoftware games so compelling, and “Elden Ring” is no exception. The combat in this game uses the class and coding system of “Dark Souls”, the speed of “Bloodborne” and the stealth mechanics of “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice”. It’s this mix of gameplay ideas that makes “Elden Ring” feel like the game FromSoftware always wanted to make but never had the resources. “Dark Souls” is the most similar game, with the normal health, focus point (instead of mana), and stamina bars of those games. The item selection tabs at the bottom left of the screen and character stat categories remain the same.

“Elden Ring” also features a variety of new mechanics and quality-of-life changes that fans are enjoying. The game gives players a magical horse named Torrent that they can summon to the overworld at any time, opening the gates to faster traversal and the ability to double jump around ledges. This makes the game more unique and adds an interesting platforming challenge that previous Souls games lacked. On the quality of life side, “Elden Ring” removes the irritating durability system from previous games and allows you to not deplete stamina unless you’re in combat.

Players will need all the help Torrent can provide as they navigate the giant new open world. While previous FromSoftware games featured a semi-open world, “Elden Ring” offers players a full open world full of handcrafted enemy encounters and treacherous terrain as they navigate this populated world. Beyond the main quest, the open world is littered with caves, secret bosses, rare weapons, and giant dungeons waiting to be discovered.

The biggest complaint about “Elden Ring” is how inconsistent its performance is. While the game is mostly stable on PS5 and Xbox Series X, the game has struggled on many gamers’ PCs. Even gamers with high-end graphics cards and processors are reporting issues keeping the game at a playable frame rate, let alone stable. This shouldn’t be too much of a concern in the long run though. FromSoftware games usually come out with glitchy, underperforming PC ports that they fix over time. Given the immediate popularity of “Elden Ring”, these performance issues should be resolved soon.

Another small issue is the lack of a proper quest log in the game. It’s an understandable but cumbersome design choice. The option to have an optional quest log would likely save players time and effort that the current game lacks, but if players really need it, they might have to resort to outside notes.

“Elden Ring” is the culmination of over a decade of learned game design lessons. Looks like the game FromSoftware wanted to make but never had the resources to do so. It’s such a carefully crafted game that players and newcomers alike can leave the game satisfied. This title is so enjoyable that it serves as a new gold standard that open-world action games should attempt to follow.