Six hours with Elden Ring - Formidable, Fantastic, and Frightening

Elden Ring is a formidable beast, but one that is expansive and beautiful, but also dingy, disgusting and horrifying all at the same time. I already couldn’t wait to play the full thing - but now I’ve had a good six hours with a non-final build, that feeling is even more intense. I also learned a lot about the nature of this new direction for Souls. I failed a lot too, but that was to be expected. I explored, and was introduced to so much lore that I desperately wanted to know more about. I loved every minute.

If you’re a Souls veteran, loading up the game feels like coming home. That classic look and sound of a Souls menu. Then, the obsession-allowing depth of character creation. It’s here that the differences begin to rear their head, though; the classes are so vastly different to what I was expecting, and offer so many more choices than Dark Souls. I played it safe, and chose Hero, hoping it would play in my favour. (It did not.) 

It hits a wonderful juxtaposition. Elden Ring feels like home, but it also feels like being a stranger in a strange land.

The opening cutscenes are stunning, with a cinematic flair that’d hopefully make contributing writer George R.R. Martin proud. It is exciting, dark, and shows a world in peril once more. It gets the adrenaline pumping, and ready to start your journey forward into Elden Ring. 

You start off in a dark and dingy dungeon, already achingly alike FromSoftware’s previous works. There is an additional tutorial zone, named the ‘cave of knowledge’. After the first few minutes of the game, you get to push open heavy doors. There’s a fun juxtaposition of old and new here; the hefty double doors are familiar to all Souls fans, but what waits beyond is an experience like no other. This is an open world experience that has never been done before. The Dark Souls experience has always been a challenge, but Elden Ring has a new layer. It’s learning where to go, who to meet first, and what decisions lay before you.

The way bosses are laid out before you are experiences that you will not expect in the slightest. Finding them in the overworld as well as off to the side as usual, and realising that you may have to do some serious farming of resources before you can get to where you need to. There are characters that are absolutely essential to your journey, that you may not even realise until you come across them. This was the case for me, and it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out how to level up. The game doesn’t hold your hand in the slightest, and it’s up to you to figure it out every step of the way. 

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There are many different ways you can deal with the enemy that are either all-new or significantly improved over previous Souls titles. Stealth is a very viable option in Elden Ring, and you can sneak around ruins backstabbing and taking out enemies quietly if you wish. It is a very useful option, as some of the mobs can be very powerful and take over quickly. There’s the option of using a bow and arrow, or just going in guns blazing close up. With all the new classes, there are a lot of choices to experiment with.

A huge part of the joy of this new, exploration-driven formula is in the content you just don’t expect to find. It’s always exciting when you find something new,and that in turn makes the exploration you undertake to do so feel like a gift. The world is overwhelmingly beautiful and surprisingly varied, from spectacular vistas dominated by eerie supernatural trees to the dark and dingy environments that we all know, love, and secretly dread. 

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Again, it hits a wonderful juxtaposition. Elden Ring feels like home, but it also feels like being a stranger in a strange land. There’s an enormous amount to do at any given time, whether it be grinding for runes and getting materials to craft items, or trying out fighting one of the bosses, being invited to a player’s world, or just exploring the vast landscapes in front of you. And the real beauty of it is that the game feels truly open in what you choose to do and when. It’s not just an open world in terms of where you can go, but also in terms of what you can do. The possibilities feel endless. 

The tone and mood of the game spur you onwards. The sound design is immersive, driving you on both in exploration and when things ramp into pitched, challenging boss battles. Sometimes bosses crop up where you least expect them, but music explodes into action and tells you that, you know, things are getting real. The soundtrack will definitely be something I’ll be listening to even once I’m done with the game, which I suspect won’t be for a long while.

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There’s something to be said for quality over quantity, but… why can’t we have both? Elden Ring might be that rare game that manages that feat.

he NPCS you run into are all unique and beautiful in their own way, and pay homage to the FromSoftware NPC style. Their stories are fascinating, and the quests you accept can be 
anything from grandiose to minor. Some will help you along on your main quest, while others seem to only exist to point you in the direction of thrilling side content. Either way, each feels  worth meeting and talking to for their own reasons, bringing something unique to the table. Some of them are spectacularly eerie and contribute to the story in a great way, and I can’t wait to see more of them and their journey, and what they have to reveal to us along the way. 

Is six hours enough to really get to grips with Elden Ring? Absolutely not. Six hours is enough, however, to already know that Elden Ring is a formidable experience. There’s something to be said for quality over quantity, but… why can’t we have both? Elden Ring might be that rare game that manages that feat. In fact, there's so much content there in front of you that it is so easy to get overwhelmed and just lost in the world in front of you, sucked in from the get-go. 

That’s what I love the most about the game already. There’s so many different routes for you to explore; the chains of linearity aren’t just broken, they are disintegrated. Dust. It’s up to you to decide where you go first, and it could lead you on a completely different journey to where your friends go. There is no right or wrong answer, no yes or no. It’s all for you to decide. 

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