Elden Ring – The Review

It’s our game of the year 2022, and all I’ve done is written about it here at at Fullsync.co.uk about why it surprised me and how wrong I was. There’s not actually an Elden Ring review on the site, and I think after proclaiming it the best game of 2022 (actually one of the best of all time), I should probably put some work in to justify that.

Note that I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s high on my agenda to do so early this year. Elden Ring is a beast and I’m still finding my feet in many ways. But damn, nothing has hooked me like this since Breath of the Wild (my favourite game of all time).

Every time I think I’ve made headway, I’ve just unlocked more to see and do. Every time I think I understand Elden Ring, it shows me I know nothing about it.

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Elden Ring – What’s it actually like?

I think that for those who haven’t played it, or only seen the “it’s from the Dark Souls people” angle, there’s a lot to be said about it that doesn’t really have anything to do with that. I’d go so far as to say Elden Ring is more like early 2000’s RPGs than Dark Souls. You know, these big fantasy worlds where you mostly had to find your way and work it out.

Where bosses are fights that require skill and determination. Where quests are what you remember form a chat with someone, not held in a log and throwing waypoints all over your screen.

Elden Ring gives you all the tools you need. All the time you want, and then says “off you go”. Much like Breath of the Wild. No hand-holding, little support or guidance and some serious “I could die at any minute” vibes. That’s the fun though.

This isn’t, in my mind, a massively new thing, its a back to basics, back to hardcore fantasy gameplay. The journey and adventure is borne of your personal journey, not of the story the game is forcing upon you. No AI assistants constantly telling you how to solve a basic puzzle.

Elden Ring is a proper fantasy RPG, and I think that’s it in the purest form. Absolutely deserving of the praise for being open and not holding hands. But it isn’t new, it’s just been so long since developers decided that players have to be shown everything all at once.

With a humongous map, with clearly defined biomes, massive interiors and dungeons. Elden Ring is huge from a “physical” sense. The world and everything in it is on a scale that you’ve possibly seen before, but not with so much detail. There are massive underground sections, items and one-off gear hidden in the most obscure places. Elden Ring is everything above, but crammed so tightly with secrets and things to discover, it’s easy to spend countless hours just researching and reading-up on what to do.

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The depth

Runes, runes, runes. Elden Ring relies on one key component for both currency and for XP. I’d suggest that with it being combined, you’re playing a meta game, prioritising your rune allocation against what you need.

You always want to levelling-up, but when you need to use those very same runes to enchance gear (along with other items in the world), or buy things from merchants. You’re playing this balancing act. When survival is key, everything is priority.

That makes it a personal approach, already. This is your decision alone on how to spend those runes.

Runes come from selling gear or killing enemies. Harder enemies/bosses equal more runes. So it’s risk and reward. But if you die, you drop your runes…..so now, is it worth going back for them? Or are you happy that the amount was negligible and it isn’t worth the effort of trying to get the back. You’re sometimes stuck in a loop trying to get them back, only to die and then going to try and get them back, over and over.

Using those runes on your character mean you can level up several different attributes to really create that custom build. I started out as a confessor on my second start, because I wanted to be casting spells or incantations. So no I can’t just worry about health and stamina, I need magic (FP) and faith. It gets deep, quick, and that’s how an RPG should be, right?

Elden Ring is clever in using the one currency for everything. Better still you’re only looking at a normal currency. No premium currency to buy online, no online store or any nonsense. Runes for everything, and you never ever have enough of them, so you have to work for them.

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Aesthetics

Elden Ring is a moody and dark game. Being polite, it’s quite grim.

But it’s grim in a beautiful way. Everything is detailed, lit and crafted with care. It’s evident no matter where you go. Between cave interiors, legacy dungeons and out in the open world. Everywhere looks and “feels” unique. You can tell where you are by looking around. For a game that’s so purposefully grim, that’s impressive.

Boss battles transporting you to arenas, like Renalla’s “water reflecting the big ass moon” arena, or even the bridge that you fight Margit on. You get a flavour for the design and the personality of these bosses. Honestly, it’s impressive.

The detail on interiors, textures, paintings, gravestones. There’s a lot of actualy craft and decoration gone into the entire world of Elden Ring and it shines through.

Scales of a dragon, fur of a bear, leaves off a tree. Sites of grace glowing in the distance. The Erdtree in the centre of it all.

Add to that the weapon and armour diversity. Elden Ring’s enemies (anything that moves, including jars….). The selection, the array of design and art. It’s incredible.

Musically speaking, I’ve found Elden Ring to deliver one of the best recent gaming scores. Albeit somehow able to stoke my nervousness when entering an area. It’s amazing how dialled-in to the play emotional state it can be. Stressing me out in a game that stresses me out even when I think I’m “safe”.

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Mechanically speaking……

Ok, Elden Ring is a game made by FROM SOFTWARE, and they’re best known for the Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice games. “Soulborne’s” if you will.

All of these games are renowned for difficulty. Tough boss battles, unforgiving worlds and general dismay and punishment.

They’re also known for incredibly tight and responsive controls and combat that is so responsive and well-crafted, that only you can be to blame if you die.

Well…..surprise! Elden Ring is no different. You run, you roll and dodge attacks like nobody’s business. This is where I’ve started to draw parallels, not just to old school RPGs but to the Monster Hunter franchise.

Every boss (like a monster in Monster Hunter) is a lesson. A study in movement, attacks and defence. You can’t win everything first time. You’re here to learn, and improve as you learn. Earning your victory, often through sheer will and determination (I’m not very skilled). Those hit-boxes are so perfect, that you get amazing moments where you duck and a massive blade misses you by a hair…..

Elden Ring, like the rest of the Soulsborne games has incredibly well-honed movement, input latency (the time it takes for the player on-screen to react to your button press) and hitboxes. It’s an art in itself.

Add to it the free-roaming. Using your horse to travel vast distances. Finding safe areas to jump from great heights.

Movement, based on gear weight. Weapons and attacks with animations varying by the weapon, size and style. Elden Ring does what it does, and it does it better than everyone.

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The story?

Ok, you could liken it to Destiny here because 90% of the time I have very little clue what’s going on. You’re a “Tarnished” and you’re going after the Elden Ring. To get that you need great shards, and the great shards come from killing big bosses.

Why? What do I want to do this for? Not really sure from in-game dialogue.

However, the lore is deep and it’s worth looking into. With help from Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin, it’s really hitting some big fantasy notes.

Everything exists for a reason within this world. The Lands Between. It just isn’t always apparent without some research.

Thankfully, reading about a game I’m into is as much part of the fun as playing it is. I become obsessed, keen to devour as much information as I can. Learning of weapons, enemies, locations and all of their parts in the world.

It is all there to be had in the game, but it’s not super-clear and requires some work.

Fact is, it doesn’t really matter. I play the game area to area or boss-to-boss. Loosely directed by the game and NPCs. It works for me because the challenge and the suspense gets me through. I’m hoping to learn more as I play Elden Ring through, but like Breath of the Wild, you’re a silent protagonist just listening and deriving what you can from what people tell you. The stakes aren’t quite as apparent, yet you can “feel” the world at you, oppressing you as you strive to become the Elden Lord.

Once you hit some of the main bosses and find some NPCs (that you could totally miss!), you get to see story beats, but no playthrough is the same, and on your first run I suspect it’s impossible to take it all in. But, that’s kinda cool that it has so much to offer.

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Should I play it?

Well….that’s a tough one. I’d say Elden Ring isn’t for everyone, and certainly not as accessible and friendly as Breath of the Wild. Elden Ring is way more accessible than other games in the Soulsborne genre, and the satisfaction from exploration is something that should be considered.

A bit of rune farming and some early bosses will give you confidence in the movement and controls. The depth of character building, the sheer amount of ways to approach the entire game. It’s what a triple-A title should be. Elden Ring is pure fantasy, and a real open-world RPG.

I’ve continued playing every day for weeks now. Unlocking, discovering, defeating (and dying!) and just chipping away and this monument to gaming.

If you’re Soulsborne curious, Elden Ring curious, or a fantasy RPG lover. Elden Ring is absolutely for you. It take a bit of time to click. It doesn’t guide you or help you really at all. But you can summon friends and random players for help, you have your trusty summons too.

Elden Ring is possibly the best game ever made and I’d implore anyone with a bit of curiosity to give it a go.

No doubt that it gets the ninjarefinery.com ranking of “Exceptional” because, it is exactly that.

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