How do you talk about Elden Ring, the year’s most anticipated game in a tremendous year for gaming, without giving away all of its surprises and qualities? I’m torn between waxing poetic about this great work of art and remaining as obscure as possible so that others can be as surprised as I was by how good it is. TL; DR for those who don’t want to read spoilers or simply want to get to the point: This game is nearly impossibly amazing, a watershed moment in open-world design, and everything you hoped for. It’s also a good place for new players to start, as long as they’re prepared for less hand-holding than in nearly any other large game.
Elden Ring was announced in 2019 as the next “major” game from From Software, the developers of the Dark Souls series. After completing the great Dark Souls 3, blowing off some creative steam with the fierce Sekiro, and witnessing the recreation of precursor Demon’s Souls, from promised a grand new adventure – with none other than George R. R. Martin’s creative aid. It was evident what we were looking at when gameplay was eventually demonstrated and described: “Open World Dark Souls.” Many people were taken aback by this. After all, open world games might be dead and empty, or they can be massive task checklists or aimless sandboxes.
Could From, with its ability in constructing frightening and claustrophobic constructions and locales through which the player walks in a more or less orderly fashion, create a better-feeling open-world game than the others? After around 30 hours of gameplay, I’m delighted to report that yes, it can be done. Elden Ring is not just the best open-world game ever made, but it is also the best game of the year, and it may displace some beloved titles off many people’s top ten all-time lists. From has hit a grand slam, dashed to the mound, and pitched a no-hitter.
There are two caveats: First and foremost, I’ve been a fan of this sort of game and tale since the first Demon’s Souls, so I may have rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the series’ normal quirkiness. Second, I’m just on my second “big” boss, partly because I’ve been having so much fun exploring, but also because she’s quite difficult. So, for all I know, the game could utterly sink in its second half, and I’ll look like a fool for recommending it. But I doubt it because this is one of the most beautifully designed worlds and games I’ve ever seen.
Without giving anything away, I’ll remark that the characters and tale, while authentically Dark Souls in theme, are weird and unusual. It’ll be interesting to see if this game includes a character as memorable as unofficial series mascot Solaire (“Praise the sun!”) or a boss battle as memorable as Ornstein and Smaugh. Pot Warrior Alexander is one of my favorite characters, but his story is just getting started in my game. However, the enormous world has more room than ever for more stories and more settings in which to tell them.