Software, Inc.’s Elden Ring has been built with the combined efforts of Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of the Dark Souls game series, and George R.R. Martin, author of the fantasy book series that was adapted as HBO’s Game of Thrones. If you know anything about those various bits of entertainment, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this gamemaker’s latest offering is like. As with all of the Souls games, it’s a dark fantasy action RPG that challenges players to battle against massive, armored foes and grotesque monstrosities that get harder and harder to best.
The game’s story takes place in a fantasy realm called the Lands Between, a place that was once kept peaceful thanks to the power of a magical Elden Ring. But through conflict, that ring was shattered and its pieces were doled out to the demigod offspring of the land’s vanquished queen. Each shard (or Great Rune) gave these rulers power but left them corrupted.
Gamers enter this world as a Tarnished—an exile from the Land Between who’s summoned back to traverse the realm, gather the Great Runes and restore the Elden Ring to its former glory. And if they can best the warring demigods, thus restoring the ring and the land, they become the Elden Lord.
The mechanics of Elden Ring are again very similar to the various Dark Souls and Demon Souls games that have come before. Players wander an open world with whatever sharp-edged weapon they can find, battling a seemingly endless parade of foes and taking respite to regain strength and save the game at small campfires—called Sites of Grace in this game. Along the way they craft needed items and potions and upgrade their armor and weapons from the items they gather, including plants, animal skins, bodily organs and bones.
The game offers a new set of advantages, however (as compared to the Souls games). Gamers are gifted with a spirit horse that helps them quickly traverse long distances and can make attacks against large or mounted foes much more nimble and quick. Sneaking and hiding from foes is emphasized in Elden Ring, too, which can be very helpful in getting the first strike on a foe.
At certain spots players can also summon spirits of other fallen warriors for a little companion help with difficult foes. And if they come upon any of the scores of hidden-away summoning Spirit Ashes, they can also call forth a variety of ghostly helpers in the form of a pack of wolves, a large hawk, an archer, etc. to distract and take small chunks out of the really tough enemies they face.
Of course, it’s that uphill, ever-more-difficult battling that’s at the core of this game. Early on, the foes can seem fairly easy to sneak up on and defeat—especially with the summoned helpers by your side—but the difficulty curve quickly heads upward.
Even though Elden Ring’s world is dark and gloomy and filled with dank things, its central goal is to ultimately bring healing and light to that broken place. From that perspective, the game does have a somewhat lighter feel than the aforementioned Souls games. And it also eases players into the very difficult task at hand, rather than dropping them into overwhelming situations from the very start.
That said, this is a game of dying. Over and over. As challenges get more and more difficult, players are supposed to lose repeatedly until they can determine their massive foe’s patterns and find a small chink in its armor.
Even in the less difficult moments, however, Elden Ring does not skimp on blood and gore. Characters use deadly swords, scimitars, halberds, arrows and the like to impale and hack at foes. Blood spurts and spews at every strike as enemies cry out in pain. The game also depicts slashed-off limbs and uses severed fingers and tongues as collectable items.
Magic attacks can be used against enemies as well, and the Lands Between itself is a place swirling with dark, rancid magic and spirituality. Foes are pretty dark and rancid, too. There are various forms of armored knights to hack at, but many of the creature foes are twisted and deformed, ranging from cockroach-gnomes to massive hawks with swords for talons to humanoid fiends to spider-beasties made from severed human limbs.
Players get some glimpses of monstery female flesh, too. And you’ll encounter a few uses of rough language—including the British crudity “bloody” and the s-word (though dialogue is generally kept to a minimum).
Elden Ring is definitely and purposely a deeply shadowed and extremely difficult game. Gamers should also note that it earns its Souls stripes and M-rating. And playing it is not a sunshiny trip.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.