Release Date : February 25, 2022
Developer(s) : FromSoftware
Publisher(s) : Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms : PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Unless you’re totally closed to video games – and that’s not a crime – you’ve obviously heard about the Elden Ring phenomenon. FromSoftware’s latest release was highly anticipated not only by Hidetaka Miyazaki’s fans – Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, that’s him – but also by those looking for recognition from their community. Some of them even became real salesmen to sing the praises of the game and tell their exploits on social media. Before taking Elden Ring seriously, we decided to wait for the excitement to fade away to better understand its qualities – and there are many – and especially its weaknesses. Because they certainly exist.
Within a little more than a decade, FromSoftware has changed the entire video game landscape. At first, it was a niche reserved only for PGMs, but today, Demon’s Souls and Returnal are great leaders for a PS5 hungry for exclusives. What can I say, I guess difficulty has become a trend.
But then, will Elden Ring, with its promises of accessibility and its open world, be one more game that will animate the debates about the lack of difficulty in games on our usual social networks, or on the contrary, will it manage to make everyone agree? That’s what we will see in this review!
A RING TO RULE THEM ALL!
Elden Ring presents the story of a simple person (you) who will revolutionize and turn a whole world upside down, the in-between lands. If the plot can be summed up in a few lines, make no mistake, the universe created for Elden Ring has a rich and complex story. But, as usual in FromSoftware productions, its narration will be cryptic and will require an effort on your part, by reading almost everything available in the menus and objects, to shed light on all these events.
Most of which have already happened before the game starts. Elden Ring is actually a bit more informative than the usual FromSoftware productions. The intervention of the famous George RR Martin in the creation process must be a reason for this. In any case, when you hear an NPC talk for long seconds about the fate of one of the families of the in-between worlds that you are hearing about for the first time, you think of the famous Heroic Fantasy saga of the writer and its multiple plots.
ELDEN RING, A UNIQUE CREATION?
To tell the truth, the story in Elden Ring is so cryptic that it could be considered a spin-off of Dark Souls by some people! Then, anyway, if your thing is to defeat monsters without calculating too much about what’s going on next to them, the game can work very well like that: many epic and beautiful scenes. The overall design is breathtaking, and the audio atmosphere is equally impressive: in addition to the masterful main theme created for the occasion, Elden Ring is not stingy with the music.
Even if it is less present than in most games in general, there is a little more than usual here than in the rest of FromSoftware games. Demon’s Souls PS5 and its VF got us used to a little too much comfort… In short, in terms of design, we remain on something quite similar, but there are still a few particular inspirations that are specific to this Elden Ring, which make it a unique work! But don’t worry: without reaching the level of fan service of Anor Londo in Dark Souls III, the references to the previous productions of the studio are legion!
You don’t change a winning formula. At best, you make it evolve. That was the case with the Dark Souls saga, as well as Bloodborne, and Sekiro on a much smaller scale. Elden Ring will therefore take up almost everything that makes the beauty of a Souls game: experience loss at death with only one chance to get it back, a dark and vast world where you don’t really know where you have to go or what you have to do, campfires used as save points that reset the game world and opponents, advanced RPG elements providing the possibility to develop several different protagonists… It’s all there! You can also find a few elements from the previous games, such as some 3D enemy models and animations, as if the game was a combination of the previous ones. The white ghosts, the messages on the ground, and the cooperative components – which may well simplify your adventure – or competitive.
With the controller in hand, the game feels just like the Souls, and the controls are almost the same! Of course, you start the adventure by creating your hero, and if we note that efforts have been made since Dark Souls III, the Elden Ring editor suffers terribly from the comparison with the Demon’s Souls remake, with a clearly inferior technique, and the impossibility to create a “beautiful” hero. It will inevitably be a bit ugly, and not very well modeled… Several classes are available, and you can choose a bandit, a warrior, or a prophet… but in fact, it doesn’t really matter, because you can make your hero evolve as you wish. Special mentions to the samurai, with his armor and his katana, and to the prisoner, who seems to come straight out of the Berserk manga.
A NEW SKIN FOR AN OLD PAN
Some new features are obviously in the program. The most notable ones are the possibility to crouch and play ninja like Sekiro, a jump button, which will open the way for platforming phases with random jumps and jumped attacks, runes for your weapons that unlock special moves, and others for your hero… Let’s also note that the fall damages are more permissive than ever (we thought we would die a lot of times!) and that the lock is completely broken, and allows you to spot your enemies from an unexpected and significant distance. Also, in our Demon’s Souls review, we complained about the fact that you have to farm your potions. Here, it’s completely the opposite, since they recharge themselves after some battles! This is a real-time saver and practicality, since in an old Souls, you would have gone through the campfire again…
And if you can always play the adventure as a PGM, low level, or try a speedrun, the most lazy players, including this guy, will be able to cheat a lot by exploiting the various flaws of the game, like an enemy too big to pass a door or who doesn’t want to go out of “his” zone, or even, create an improbable magic tank or call on other players to finally manage to defeat those tough bosses! Whatever your way of victory, and Elden Ring offers several of them, the intense joy and satisfaction of overcoming the system is always part of the recipe that makes FromSoftware games so addictive. And if it is globally more accessible, it is no less easy…
THE ELDEN GARDEN?
But it must be said that the main innovation brought by Elden Ring to the Dark Souls recipe is an open-world architecture with no visible loading time. No more corridors from Demon’s Souls, no more vertically entangled worlds from BloodBorne and Dark Souls, and no more vast successive levels from Dark Souls III. Here, what is impressive is the extent of the map. You can go almost everywhere from the start. And if the progression is rather linear in the end, your choices are not, and some fights are required to move forward, we take real pleasure in wandering in the in-between lands. The variety of the scenery is surprising, and the proposed activities, and road bandits, are all exciting, epic, and impressive.
We’re always pointed to a tall tower, a mountain, or a castle in the background, and later on, we’ll visit this building. Also, you can feel that games like Zelda Breath of the Wild or Monster Hunter have been there, and that FromSoftware teams have played them: the world is full of life. There are many ways to approach battles, resources are available here and there and many contextual actions have been greatly simplified. You don’t lose stamina outside of combat, for example! You even have a horse on your back that you can ride across large areas, but also fight! Traps, ambushes, and giant monsters are everywhere, the bestiary is extremely varied, and there are many secret areas.
The map is composed of multiple zones, and even some undergrounds, and you won’t suspect its extent until you’ve seen it all! More classic dungeons are available, and this is where you’ll find a more classic level design in the Dark Souls style, with entanglements, verticality, elevators, and shortcuts, in a more modest scope of course. The day and night cycle brings variety in the design and the monsters on the map, and if it’s easy to miss a campfire (there are so many!), the boss is never far away, unlike in Demon’s Souls… The map available in the menu is clear and precise – except for the dungeons – and its use is quite pleasant. Finally, you should know that it will take you some time to see everything and attempt the 100%: more than a hundred hours for a first complete classic run, a duration that is more or less the norm since Dark Souls.
WITHOUT MASTERY, POWER IS USELESS
Unfortunately, this is a big black spot that will take up a good fifth of this test: the technique is clearly perfectible. On PC, gamers have been complaining – and rightly so – since the release. On consoles, it’s not great either: we played it on PS5 and PS4, one of the first models. If the amazing design obviously makes up for any technical deficiency, they are there and we’ll have to detail them. Let’s start with what works: loading times, barely 5-6 seconds with an SSD in your device. On PS4, this is also very reasonable since they do not exceed 25 seconds. Often, when you take a big central elevator like “fire-light sanctuary”, it is faster to use teleportation from the map than to wait for the end of the elevation! On the other hand, we are used to FromSoftware, if everything remains artistically beautiful, we are on lower technical standards than other AAA productions.
ELDEN RING, A FALLIBLE TECHNIQUE
On PS5, the “graphics” mode offers a 12 FPS experience, even worse than the one on a PS4 FAT, on Sony’s old console, which doesn’t offer any settings, it’s not unplayable, but we think that you’ll still sometimes rage against some action frames that made you miss a specific timing! With the performance mode, everything becomes smoother, but there are still many drops, and we are clearly not at 60 FPS, but rather a coughing 30. The popping of elements far or near, as well as textures and lighting is a classic of games that screw up, and let’s note again a ragdoll at best amusing, as well as a foam AI that forgets you when you play the infiltration and gets stuck in a door when it chases you. Finally, you should know that if there is no cross-play. You will be able to continue your game indistinctly on Xbox One or Series but you will not be able to switch from a PS4 version to a PS5 copy at Sony. So, if you have, like me, started on PS5, you will be able to play the game again on PS4 and unlock the trophies again!
Elden Ring is a great game. It takes the concepts of Dark Souls, meaning exploration everywhere, difficult and demanding fights, and an ultra-complete RPG with cryptic mechanics that you have to search for yourself, where you can become an eternal brute as well as a delicate magician. It adds to all this an open world, made of multiple activities, each more surprising and epic than the other, as well as more classic dungeons. The universe and the design created for the occasion are still as cryptic, the game is still poor in narration, and you’ll have to go and find the story by yourself, in the menus, in the texts! But the whole thing remains quite beautiful! And fortunately, the technique is not up to the level of all the other aspects of the game and prevents it from reaching a near-perfection: on PS5, no Dualsense, a framerate that coughs, and dated graphics. On PS4, it’s not unplayable, but it’s worse. With all this, will Elden Ring be perfect on PS6? Nothing can be said for sure!