So, I’ve played a good chunk of Elden Ring and it’s fair to say it could have just been titled Dark Souls 4 if the developers wanted. Mechanically it’s just another Souls game which comes with many of the same charms and problems. I do my best to view games as their own thing but this is too similar to Dark Souls to ignore. There are however some new features.
A pointless, vague story told through items that carry hidden lore put it right alongside Dark Souls as a mechanic focused game. Apart from the fact that there’s an intro cutscene and some harder bosses the game has very little direction. There are also NPC side quests which are easy to ruin just by going in the wrong direction, this was the case in Dark Souls but not quite as bad. The NPCs in this game offer more than I’m used to so the lore is a little more accessible.
Combat is slow, built very deliberately and is rewarding to master. There’s a mix of melee, ranged and magic attacks that both the player and enemies can use. The focus of this sort of game is largely on boss combat, some are good, some are bad but the impressive thing is the sheer amount of them.
There’s a jump button. Holy God! This is a massive development from Souls games which had a jump button combination which was over complicated to use. A proper jump button revolutionises how movement works.
We also get a horse in this game. It speeds up travel across the sizeable open world and is a boon for players that want to go faster. The best bit, the horse has a double jump which helps it super jump in some areas.
An open world is obviously something different from the Souls games where everything is quite linear. The open world has its strengths with exploration bringing new surprises but I’m not a fan as the game feels unfocused and a lot of content is left feeling like filler. Some bosses do feel right which is great but a lot of them feel like levels and weapon upgrades are how to win, not skill. Progression and the balancing that come with it also feel off because a player can go anywhere.
The world is very pretty but too much of it looks too similar with the worst part of Dark Souls (the swamps) being all over the place. It is good how bosses can be encountered out in the Wild though instead of just arenas.
A map with fast travel and some pointer lights are a huge help for players as they explore. There’re map markers that add enough to give the players something to look for.
The Physick tear vial is a new mechanic. Working similarly to an Estus flask in how it’s used, the vial acts as a one time use buff which the effect of can be changed at Grace points.
Spirit Ashes are also new. Summon creatures to help in battle. This is restricted to certain areas so isn’t as overpowered as it sounds but because the enemies are often clustered together it’s nice to have something to distract them.
For a game about fair play there’s a lot of unfairness like enemies attacking through walls, moving faster than the players and flailing about like there’s something wrong with them. These things were the same in Dark Souls but it still shouldn’t be the case that already grouped up enemies get these advantages.
Overall, Elden Ring is mechanically fantastic. It’s weak on story like Dark Souls but the open world to me damages the experience. It’s not easy by any means but the structure plus new features mean it’s more accessible for someone to just give it a go. I’d say the game is very good but the lack of focus holds it back from me calling it great.
I’ll admit, I struggle to get into these games mentally but when it hits right they’re a lot of fun.