Tomorrow sees the highly-anticipated release of Elden Ring, the latest Souls-like release by Japanese developer FromSoftware, and looking at the first wave of reviews, it's clear that the game is something special.
Elden Ring is an open-world fantasy romp set in the Lands Between, headed by Souls series director Hidetaka Miyazaki with writing from Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. Players are tasked with collecting the scattered shards of the titular Elden Ring after it has been destroyed in order to restore it, eradicating power-corrupted foes along the way.
As of writing, Elden Ring stands at an impressive 97 on Metacritic, one of the most critically acclaimed games in recent years, and the 18th highest-ranking title of all time on the aggregate site. Of the 45 critic reviews listed so far, 26 of them are 10/10 or equivalent.
In a 'Polygon Recommended' review, Michael McWhertor said "Elden Ring is FromSoftware's best, most approachable, and difficult game yet."
Eurogamer's Aiofe Wilson called the game "the best and brightest (often literally) the series has ever been," in a 'Eurogamer Essential' review, while GamingBible's Ewan Moore dubbed it as "an unmissable open-world masterpiece" in a 10/10 review.
"This is Elden Ring, and I am utterly besotted," Moore wrote. "The ambitious open-world successor to the Dark Souls series is maddeningly punishing, impossibly vast, and endlessly rewarding. It's also, I am delighted to report, FromSoftware's best game to date; a modern masterpiece that will surely go down as one of the greats."
Elden Ring's formula will be familiar to those well-versed in the developer's backlog, from the Dark Souls series to later efforts including Bloodborne and Sekiro. However, while the game is more approachable than previous entries, it still features that well-known difficulty curve.
"Newcomers have much to learn, but Elden Ring is a more welcoming game than its predecessors," said Simon Parkin in a 5/5 review for The Guardian.
"Provided you've wooed them correctly, friendly characters or other players can be summoned to provide support during the most challenging battles with the game's hellish monstrosities, and it's now possible to conjure a variety of spectral warriors to provide additional backup."
"Newcomers have much to learn, but Elden Ring is a more welcoming game than its predecessors"Simon Parkin, The Guardian
Eurogamer's Wilson echoed this, and said that the fact that Souls-like games can't escape the reputation for challenge they've built for themselves is both "a blessing and a curse."
"Fans wear their dedication to these titles like a badge of honour, while potential players look on and may still feel uneasy about whether they'll be up to scratch, or if they'll even find enjoyment in FromSoft's particular brand of moreish torment," Wilson wrote.
GamingBible's Moore said that players of previous FromSoftware games will "immediately feel at home with Elden Ring," and detailed the familiar mechanics, such as the stamina bar that dictates player combat, and save points used to restore health, level up and manage spells.
"Even the game's various classes and character builds feel based on Dark Souls archetypes, so if there's a particular one you already like, you'll have the advantage of knowing where to invest those precious skill points," Moore added.
Elden Ring does not have a quest log to keep track of missions the player has picked up, nor does it leave pointers towards characters or places of interest. Instead, players are encouraged to explore the world and make progress organically.
"There are no '!' markers on the map, no waypoints to guide you to them, and these characters don't always flag you down or initially want or need anything from you," IGN's Michael Saltzman said in a 10/10 review. "They're just people with their own agendas and goals, whose stories are impacted based on your own actions or inactions."
Polygon's McWhertor added that Elden Ring "eschews traditional open-world video game bloat" with this decision.
"Rarely will any character I meet in the world put a mission on my map or issue a demand," McWhertor said. "Instead, I fill in the details, discovering the castles and keeps for myself, marking new destinations and points of interest. Elden Ring encourages me to get lost and to make new discoveries on my own."
The contributions of revered novelist George R.R. Martin leads to questions about the game's narrative. Some commended the overarching plot, not wanting to give more details than necessary, while others said that was "impenetrable" and "hard to digest."
"Like the vast majority of FromSoftware games, Elden Ring's story and lore will no doubt prove borderline impenetrable to all but the most dedicated of scholars," Moore said.
He added that if publisher Bandai Namco hadn't promoted Martin's involvement with the writing, he may not have even noticed.
Saltzman at IGN agreed, and said: "Like other FromSoft games, the grand story is hard to fully digest on a first playthrough, especially because there's no in-game journal to refresh you on the events, characters, or unique terms you encounter across dozens of hours. There really should be, but it is a story I nonetheless enjoyed trying to piece together for myself."
"One of the best video games of the last decade, and an absolutely essential release"Ewan Moore, GamingBible
He added that it was the side quests that kept him most enthralled during his time with the game, rather than the overarching main plot.
The Guardian's Parkin added "don't expect House Lannister-style intrigue" as Elden Ring "is not a story game in any traditional sense," and noted there are no cutscenes or animated story beats, the narrative is told through the gameplay. Some critics were keen to keep story pointers under wraps; Eurogamer's Wilson steered clear of describing Elden Ring's overarching story, and said that it is "the type of experience that benefits from you going in as unspoiled as possible."
The player freedom combined with the sheer vastness and difficulty of Elden Ring has led to most critics racking up a sizable amount of playtime. A handful of reviewers did not have time to finish Elden Ring during its embargo period. The title clocked in somewhere between 70 and 80 hours; IGN's Saltzman said it took him 87 hours to fully beat the game.
In all, Elden Ring's critical landing has set it up to be one of the most revered games in recent history, perhaps of all time. It seems to execute FromSoftware's unforgiving approach with impeccable grace, while being ever-so-slightly more approachable to players who may be unfamiliar with its whims. All wrapped up in a vast, stunning open world, surprisingly free from the bloat that most games of its ilk are brimming with.
"Sumptuous visual design, dark and detailed lore and a vast-but-intricate open world are reason enough to venture out into the Lands Between," Eurogamer's Wilson concluded. "Add to that FromSoftware's unforgiving and unforgettable gameplay loop and this is something truly special."
GamingBible's Moore rounded off his review by saying that "Elden Ring is a constantly surprising adventure that has taken FromSoftware's tried-and-tested formula to delirious new heights," and called it "one of the best video games of the last decade, and an absolutely essential release."
Parkin at The Guardian said that video games "share a common goal: to conjure a compelling fictional reality, filled with beckoning mysteries, enchanting secrets, and enriching opportunities to compete and collaborate," and by that definition, called Elden Ring "the finest video game yet made."