When you play a lot of open-world games, it's easy to get cynical about their tried and tested tropes, but luckily Elden Ring is here to put some joy back into your gaming experience and kick that cynicism to the curb.
There's been talk in the gaming world about the 'Ubisoft formula' that has been mastered over multiple open-world games in the Assassin's Creed and Far Cry franchises (plenty of other developers have come to rely on these same familiar tools, of course, but Ubisoft seems to be the easiest target).
Although the trappings might change with each new entry in many open-world franchises, players generally know to expect a sizeable map with plenty of obvious points of interest to investigate, objectives to complete and collections to assemble. There are question marks on the map, and if that's your idea of fun, you'll go around and tick them all off. If you've played one recent open-world game, sometimes it feels like you've played them all.
But as you'll know if you've already started playing it, not many of us have experienced anything quite like Elden Ring before. Its developers FromSoftware have created a world that is bigger, better, barmier and far more mysterious than any of the others you might have explored in recent memory.
After a very brief tutorial that introduces you to the basic combat mechanics, Elden Ring chucks you out into The Lands Between, a vast and varied landscape that Game of Thrones' George RR Martin helped scribe the backstory for. And if you were wondering, that lore is just as deranged and devilishly dense as you'd expect from a collaboration between Martin and the team behind the Dark Souls franchise.
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While players of certain franchises might expect a mini map with a very obvious objective marker to tell them what to do, Elden Ring only gives you the vaguest suggestion of which direction you should head in, and there's nothing to stop you from totally ignoring that pointer. In fact, going off the beaten track is encouraged, and you'll be rewarded for your curiosity at almost every turn.
You might have heard that FromSoftware games are gruellingly difficult, but let's set the record straight here — although the boss battles in Elden Ring are hard and even smaller enemies will kill you if you're not careful, the game goes to great lengths to make you feel supported and safe as you explore The Lands Between.
If a combat encounter is too much for you, you can almost always run or fast-travel away from it and do something else. And it's in the 'doing something else' part that the game really shines. It feels like there is surprises waiting around every corner. And while some of those surprises are big monsters that want to kill you, other surprises in the game include beautiful landscapes, epic weapons and utterly unexpected treats.
To reel off to many of these surprises will spoil the fun for you, but let's just say there are portals that will take you to weird and wonderful places. There are supremely strange characters to meet, eerily designed creatures to gawp at, and entire quest lines that you could've totally missed if your curiosity hadn't got the better of you.
It's not just the stunningly well-designed world, and the fact you can avoid a lot of the combat, that makes this game impressively welcoming to those that haven't jived with FromSoftware's previous titles. A special shoutout must also go to the brilliant multiplayer system that runs through the very heart of the game.
Once you've unlocked the ability to do so, you will be able to summon other players into your world if you want a hand in a sticky situation. You'll also be able to see messages on the ground that other players have left behind, some of which could help you avoid traps or find hidden treasures that you might've otherwise missed.
In this reviewer's experience, the community of players that is currently inhabiting Elden Ring seems to be very supportive for the most part, and its a joy to play with them — and online gaming isn't always our fave, so that's saying something. On a couple of occasions, we needed help from randoms to overcome boss battles, and receiving that help felt very wholesome and enriching of the overall experience. It felt like a community coming together in the best way.
This game is joyous in many ways, and the wholesome feeling of calling on more experienced players to lend a helping hand is just one of them.
Not only do the graphics look great and the controls feel just right (whether you're swinging swords, firing arrows or casting spells), but there's just something special about how it all adds up.
The orchestral music score is brilliantly atmospheric. The systems for upgrading your character are easier to understand than you might think, and it's very rewarding to watch your stats and capabilities grow over time.
The joy of discovering something new and unexpected feels particularly fresh, especially compared to some of the more formulaic games out there, and there's nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment that erupts inside when you finally see a massive boss giving up the ghost after dozens of attempts.
To put it simply, we'd be very surprised if this didn't end up topping almost all of the 'game of the year' lists. So don't let the supposed difficulty put you off. Give Elden Ring a chance if you haven't already, keep an open mind, and we promise you won't regret it.
Elden Ring is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. We reviewed on Xbox Series X.
Read more on Elden Ring:
- Elden Ring multiplayer - how does it work?
- Elden Ring PC requirements - minimum & recommended specs
- Elden Ring classes - what's the best starter?
- Elden Ring demo - network test recap
- Elden Ring bosses - top tips on facing them
- Elden Ring difficulty - how hard is it?
- Elden Ring length - how many hours do you need?
- Elden Ring trophies & achievements - the full list to unlock
- Elden Ring weapons - best early weapons
- Elden Ring keepsake - which starter gift to pick
- Elden Ring server status - error message explained
- Elden Ring map - everything you need to know
- Elden Ring runes - how to get rich quick
- Elden Ring smithing stone - where to find them all
- Elden Ring staff - the best staffs in the game
- Elden Ring armour - where to find the best armour
- Elden Ring Ashes of War - how to get the best upgrades