Fight The Unknowable Evil
HIGH The third attack spell is basically a cheat code.
LOW Losing to the first boss because he kept locking me in place.
WTF I beat the game and still have no idea what was going on.
Sometimes I wonder if making a game’s narrative oblique is a crutch to hide a lack of depth. Elden: Path of the Forgotten is a perfect example of an experience that keeps its player in the dark about the plot, and as I worked my way through the campaign, I was left wondering whether everything was fuzzy and inexplicable because the developers wanted to intrigue the player, or was it because they didn’t want to bother with writing a story?
Elden kicks off with a memorable image — the main character’s mother has been messing with forces beyond her understanding, and a portal to something horrible has been opened. It’s up to the player to grab some weapons, beat back the beasts from beyond, and rescue her. This is accomplished by wandering aimlessly around a large map until a key or switch turns up, then fighting a boss. Repeat this two times, and the credits roll. No notes, no dialogue, and no explanations of any kind.
Elden‘s gameplay is simple to a fault. The player has three weapons — a balanced sword, a long-range but weak spear, and a short-range but powerful axe. They also have a friendly bird by their side, who’s kind enough to fly in a circle around items that can be picked up or interacted with. This a particularly useful ability since items can be difficult to visually pick out in the messy underbrush that decorates most of the levels.
I wouldn’t have found the item hunting to be such a slog if the combat had been a little better-implemented. There are about ten different enemy types, and while the melee is manageable via the Souls-like stamina-based combat, ranged foes are another matter entirely. The developers have given every ranged enemy the ability to fire almost continuously, forcing the player to constantly dodge if they don’t want to die.
Since enemies can be staggered and interrupted this wouldn’t be a gamebreaker except that the player is not invincible while dodging. In practice, this means it’s impossible to ever get close to a ranged enemy without taking at least a couple of hits, and usually more than a couple. It’s not so bad at the beginning, but when tentacle monsters and dragons show up, a perfect approach will result in consuming at least 30% of the health bar most of the time, and a single mistake can mean instant death.
Adding to the problem is Elden‘s perspective. The isometric angle is fine for twin-stick shooters, but the POV makes it incredibly difficult to discern player’s and enemies’ hitboxes in melee — I’ve gotten smashed countless times when I thought I was clear and whiffed on enemies I was sure were in range. The only thing that kept me going was that each of the three levels has a monstrously overpowered magic spell to find and unlock. There’s a trophy for beating the game without using magic, but I can’t imagine anyone is going to bother unlocking it.
I did manage to beat Elden, and I’m still not entirely sure what was going on. There was a forest, a desert, a mountain, and then some caves. I killed the same handful of monsters over and over again, then got stunlocked to oblivion by bosses that shoot immobilizing gloop. If it was longer than it is, I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing and I can’t say what I played was worth it — whether it was a crutch or an intentional choice, the whole thing wraps up just as bafflingly as it began.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Onerat and published by Another Indie. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is Rated T and contains Blood and Violence. For a game with such a low-detail art style, it’s surprisingly gory! There’s brutalized corpses everywhere, gruesome death animations, and horrible abominations that are difficult to look at. Maybe aim this one at older teens.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. There is a sound cue that lets players know when enemies are going to shoot projectiles, but it’s matched with an animation that’s easy to spot. There is no text to be read.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. The avatar is controlled with the left thumbstick. Face and shoulder buttons handle attacking, dodging, and using items. The D-Pad switches weapons and items.