Review: Free-form ‘Elden Ring’ Is Hard, But Worth It

Game’s open-world design gives players more freedom than similar games, making it great for both new and seasoned players.

Screenshot from the popular new game Elden Ring

Thomas Cerny, Contributor

This week I have been playing Elden Ring, the newest release from FromSoftware. This game came out earlier this year, but I just got it last Sunday.

I really enjoyed playing Elden Ring, because of how much freedom you get to choose what you do. Unlike some of the other games made by FromSoftware, Elden Ring is not a linear one, where areas usually fit together with specific entrances and paths.

Instead, it is an open world that players travel across by horse. This open world design is great for newer players, because Elden Ring can be a pretty hard game.

Since you can go anywhere, though, if you get stuck on a hard boss or area you can just go do something else, find a whole new part of the map, and come back later. That’s different than the more linear game Dark Souls 3, in which most areas come one after another, with maybe three areas that aren’t on the main path.

This is the first time the company has made a game that is an open world, and they did a good job. The world is massive, with several main large areas with lots of enemies, caves, dungeons, and roaming bosses.

The story of the game is interesting, because the backstory of the world was partially worked on by George R.R. Martin, whose epic fantasy novels were adapted into the TV series “Game of Thrones.” But it is definitely still the work of Hidetaka Miyazaki, who directed the game.

The setting of the game is the Lands Between: a large map made up of six main areas ruled by different demigods, who are some of the main bosses of the game.

Another of Elden Ring’s rich and detailed environments (Thomas Cerny)

The gameplay is a more refined version of the style of combat the studio first did in Demon’s Souls (2009), and has improved upon in several other games. There are many ways to go about the combat, from different types of magic, weapons like daggers, halberds, swords, crossbows, and bows.

There are also some new additions to this game that change the combat formula, like horse combat, and spirit ashes that let you summon a Non-Player Character helper who can take many forms: skeleton warriors, wolves, a jellyfish, or a mimic of you.

There are many different ways to approach the challenges you face in the game. In the first area, you learn lessons about how to approach the game, like with the Tree Sentinel boss just outside of where you spawn in the area. This boss helps you learn that sometimes if you can ignore enemies, maybe you should – or come back later, when you have better weapons or armor, or have leveled up. 

The game also is just great looking, with many fantastic bosses, enemies, and environments. Design is important to any game, but here it is also important to telling the story, since players learn new information from the areas and enemies.  

One example of this early on is that the very first boss in the game is the Grafted Scion: a flailing mass of limbs on a once-humanoid body, some wielding weapons. Within Stormveil Castle, location of the first demigod Godrick the Grafted, you see another of these enemies, and parts of the castle where there are many bodies and limbs separated from bodies.

All of this environmental storytelling leads into a great first main boss, with the reveal of his twisted form. With many extra arms attached to his back and arms and too-long legs, and hands with many mismatched fingers, the first of the demigods you fight is the first actual member of the divine family that shattered the Elden Ring and went to war with each other.

He’s a shambling, lopsided, delusional ruler – the weakest of the demigods. To hide his weakness, he resorts to replacing more of himself with other people’s body parts.

If you feel like it, you can skip him and his entire castle by taking a path around it. You can choose to never fight this boss, because not all of the demigods are mandatory fights. 

I really recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a long game that can be challenging, but with perseverance isn’t that bad.