Every now and then a game comes along that seamlessly combines flawless gameplay, a wonderful world, incredible tone-setting music and unparalleled art direction. That game is From Software’s Elden Ring, an action-RPG that channels the best aspects of the studio’s last decade’s work into one massive package. This absurdly ambitious open world captivated my curiosity, enticed me with puzzles, secrets and mysteries, and provided incredibly satisfying moments as I experienced one of the most extraordinary adventures of all time. From my first foray into the world to the last moments, every step of the journey is a note in a personal epic that kept me coming back for more. This journey through dark and twisted fantasy is an endless exploration, continuously serving up sensational sights that only get more captivating and fantastic as the journey progresses.
The Lands Between is a world of discovery, and while there is a clear path forward for those seeking guidance, wandering unobstructed across the land with no set goal in mind often brings surprises. I would often have a spot to explore marked on my map and get off track along the way, sometimes leading to brand new areas and zones with many features. Elden Ring isn’t an open world theme park style where every ride is backed by breadcrumbs so they won’t be missed – there are key areas, bosses, dungeons, and other huge reveals to pass through, making these finds even more delectable. Even after more than 55 hours, I know I’ve missed enough. Instead of pining for what I haven’t found, I’m inspired to keep investigating. The grandiose world is packed with characters, quests, and various dungeon crawls ranging from tiny catacombs to massive multi-tiered tombs. As the journey begins with small caves, mines, and other dungeons, these experiences become more complex. Two-room cases eventually turn into complicated teleport puzzles or scenarios where you discover unusual ways to interact with the environment, such as learning to use traps to travel through or track down secret walls.
Even the most basic of overworld dungeons contain hidden boss rooms and treasures, in addition to their standard yields, which reward the most curious of adventurers. Finding creative ways to travel to places that seem inaccessible until the standard path leads you there feels remarkably refreshing, and more than one area yields picturesque vistas upon arrival. Looking over a new area for the first time and realizing that you can go anywhere is breathtaking and overwhelming. Some of the open world inhabitants like Churches, Ruins and Erdtrees feel a little familiar from rich to rich, but make no mistake, there are countless and unique points to explore and get lost for hours on end. From mysterious castles to haunted magical grounds, the world is full of exciting distractions.
Your character is incredibly adaptable, which I found very rewarding. You can link different skills and scaling mechanisms across the board so you can really create your own vision of a traveling hero. Re-specialization and customizations allow you to finely tweak your creation without worrying too much about experimentation as you arm yourself with everything from explosive jars to potent perfumes to replenish your ever-expanding arsenal. Combat varies widely from player to player and build to build, but the precise dance of melee combat is more refined and diverse than ever. With a staggered behind-the-scenes system that rewards players for taking chances with timing, the flow of battle makes the unique spammy strike a lesser choice in the face of a daunting foe.
The open world is majestic, dripping with flavor and atmosphere, and full of fantastic finds. However, the ancient dungeons are legendary and often connect to the outside from multiple points. This compound sprawl is a dream to dissect, and Elden Ring often offers several ways to maneuver through these areas. For example, in one of these gigantic dungeons, I discovered a completely different way to “solve” the route to the final boss – then went back and found a different path through a different environment, leading to a wealth of fights, bosses and loot. Sometimes access to certain areas is the last place you look, but the route to excavate it is fraught with even more enticing trails to follow.
While some monster and boss designs are reused, Elden Ring’s scope and scale is huge, making the repetition easy to ignore. I feel like I ran into about a hundred bosses in my playthrough. I am not exaggerating. Some of these may feel mundane and uninteresting, at the end of a small dungeon, like a returning cave troll or magma dragon, but the overall diversity of encounters meant I never knew exactly what I was going to run into at the end of any given expedition. Maybe I’ll run into a knight in a different skin, but I can also battle something really astronomical.
The big bosses, usually found at the end of ancient dungeons, feel like beautiful wars against demigods. These brilliant battles are thrilling exclamation points to a frenzied odyssey, absolute spectacle and masterful combinations of suspense and triumph. Elden Ring stands out for having the best and most challenging boss battles in any From Software game to date. Hidden and optional, this encounter caused me to wake up in the middle of the night to come back and crash into its beautiful and terrifying destruction over and over again. After finally defeating this opponent, I let out a triumphant victory roar there as I sat in the dark, wearing my pajamas, wanting nothing more than to relive the encounter. This example shows how incredibly immersive and compelling Elden Ring is; I put it down regularly with the intention of doing something else and found myself back in minutes. There’s always a nagging mystery to unravel, another boss to defeat, and another hidden route to find.
Elden Ring challenged me, captivated me and enchanted me, an unyielding avalanche of discoveries and artistic vision unfettered. Elden Ring represents a truly amazing combination of different game elements that all come together to create something fascinating, special and unforgettable. Elden Ring isn’t just this year’s best game; it is one of the best games ever made.