If Elden Ring were the size of a normal From Software game, I’d have finished it by now. I’m 30 hours in — longer than my entire first run of Bloodborne — yet I’d be surprised if I were more than a third of the way through.
Every time I begin to feel as though I’m getting a sense of Elden Ring‘s scope, it continues to expand. Tiny blips on the map can encompass an entire Boletarian Palace’s worth of dungeon-crawling. New maximum altitudes are discovered at an alarming rate. There creeps a slow awareness that every single patch of land that can be seen on screen is a location that can be visited — and as the sheer size of the thing unravels, it gives me chills.
So, unfortunately, our full Elden Ring review will have to wait, as I still have a long way to go, and our editor wants me to make sure the final boss doesn’t pull a Sekiro before I hand out a perfect ten.
Elden Ring is very possibly my new favorite game of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. It presents what feels like the best possible version of what my previous favorite, Dark Souls, established. It takes the mechanics that influenced a decade’s worth of action RPGs and presents them on a scale to rival Breath of the Wild. Every second of it feels perfect, nothing is redundant, and there is so much of it. I can’t remember ever playing a game that felt so tuned to my specific tastes.
And believe me when I say that I’m not falling victim to hype here. Despite my status as a longtime FromSoft fan, I followed none of the pre-release coverage outside of the initial trailers because discovering a FromSoft game is part of the appeal to me. After the network tests a while back, I’d heard it described as Dark Souls 4, which is both accurate and misleading. That makes it sound like it’s in line with the previous two installments, when it instead restores a sense of wonder to a now very familiar formula.
Get used to the “Dark Souls meets Breath of the Wild” comparisons, because that’s exactly what Elden Ring is. Games are so big these days that it’s not worth comparing hard numbers. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey may very well have the greater square mileage, but few points are given for that when it’s the same handful of activities duplicated ad nauseum. The thing about Elden Ring is that regardless of how many virtual acres it contains, it feels as big as anything I’ve ever played because all of its spaces matter. It never stops being interesting.
I will add that the atmosphere rivals that of a Team Ico project – beautiful, mysterious, dead, and overwhelmingly massive. There are times when Elden Ring’s sense of scale legitimately made my stomach drop, and it’s partly because I know that none of it is set dressing. If I see a massive structure casting shadows over mountains in the distance, it’s not just there to look cool. I’m going to be exploring that entire thing at some point in the future.
In fact, I would actually say that Elden Ring feels closer in spirit to a modern rendition of the original Legend of Zelda from 1986 than anything else, even including Breath of the Wild — partly because it invites exploration by being so seamless and unsegmented, and partly because it’s the uncommon triple-A game with the guts to go (more or less) completely plot-free. Previous FromSoft titles have had branching paths, but they’ve remained linear enough to funnel players past some semblance of a story. In Elden Ring, we’re set loose to absorb any flavor of the world, in any corner we choose. It’s pure adventure.
Speaking of which, players really can go anywhere right from the start, and I’m stunned by the level of trust that FromSoft places in the player to follow, ignore or miss cues. I skipped over a building at the beginning because a particularly nasty enemy was patrolling near it, and wound up going 25 hours without knowing how to craft as a result. A bit farther down the road, I missed a turn and wound up bypassing the Lothric Castle-sized dungeon that was obviously meant to serve as the proper opening level. Instead, I landed in a tougher area first, resulting in a greater sense of satisfaction when I got through it anyway.
While we’re on the topic of difficulty, FromSoft has been slowly narrowing its audience by ramping the challenge of their titles higher and higher, while making it the point. As an example, I’ve abandoned multiple late-game replay saves in Sekiro – a game I otherwise love – because I decided it wasn’t worth forcing myself through those irritating final bosses again.
However, I’m pleased to say that they’ve eased off the gas significantly for this installment. In fact, it’s a little shocking just how smooth and frictionless Elden Ring is. It’s appropriately brutal, of course, and full of the evil pranks we’ve come to expect from this team, but the sheer openness of it means there’s no wall to run up against. If something’s too difficult at the moment, there are a million other options.
Besides the flexible difficulty curve, FromSoft has made changes in other related aspects. For example, there’s zero item degradation that I can detect — meaning no risk of a my favorite weapon breaking. Sekiro skeptics will be glad to hear that Elden Ring has the world’s easiest parrying system. Players will slide into a groove with remarkable ease, and once we’re on our way, it doesn’t try to impress us with big-name actors and exquisitely mocapped performances because it knows that an adventure this rich makes for a good story in and of itself.
Speaking of story, I’m not sure why George R. R. Martin was involved during Elden Ring‘s creation process. As far as I can tell, Hidetaka Miyazaki hired him to write material that feels like it could have come from Miyazaki himself. It’s a bit like when Ennio Morricone was asked to score The Thing, and it sounded exactly like something that John Carpenter would have come up with on his own. That’s not to say that Elden Ring’s lore isn’t fascinating — it is — but it’s interesting in ways that don’t feel notably different from previous FromSoft titles.
There’s so much more that I want to say about Elden Ring, but for now I leave its prospective players to discover it for themselves. The full review will come when I’ve rolled credits, but I hope I’ve made clear that this is the dream game of any FromSoft fan. And to those who’ve felt that the recent Souls games and soulslikes have clung too hard to the git gud angle, my guess is that that they’ll be surprised by how flexible Elden Ring is. It’s an incredibly generous experience, and I have yet to find a single thing that I don’t love about it.
Assuming FromSoft doesn’t completely blow it a little further down the line, this may be their crowning achievement. And considering the developer’s resume, that is frankly staggering.