By Ronald Gordon
I am over 100 Hours into Elden Ring and have reached Level 100+, yet I still feel like I am nowhere close to an ending of any sort. The more I play Elden Ring, the more I feel as though this game will continue to ramp up and kick my butt 16 different ways before I can even press the dodge button. Yet every time I taste defeat I keep coming back to the game, time and time again.
I wouldn’t really call this a review of Elden Ring. Sure, there are a lot of things I want to say about this game from a review standpoint: the overall feel of the game is great in that its world feels vast and unsafe, the music is powerful and emotional enough to make you feel the presence of the enemy you’re fighting, and the combat is fantastic because the movements are fluid. After a while you become aware of a boss or enemy’s patterns and it makes them all the easier to counter. I could go on for ages about what I like and dislike about Elden Ring’s structure, but for now I want to focus on one big topic that’s been on my mind for a while: What is it about this game that astonished me?
I’d like to start off with the overall mood of the game. There’s a strange sense that something is lurking over you. It might be the size of the map or the expansiveness of the world, but the game makes you feel small, and I don’t mean in a bad way. Not only are many of your enemies huge, but you feel as though your impact on this world is as small as you are in comparison to them. It’s up to you to prove you can make a difference at all.
Elden Ring forces you into the role of someone with no choice but to steal away the powers that others have come to covet as Godhood and use it however you see fit. Yet it justifies this by showing you the flaws in the logic of the current powers that be. Scarlet Rot, a destructive disease that eats away at everything, runs rampant in the Caelid Wilds. The peasants that have toiled for years have chosen to revolt against the Royal Capital, the Mages in Raya Lucaria have lost themselves to the madness of the magic world, and everyone wandering the Lands Between (what this world is called) has their own goal to achieve. That is where the Tarnished ( that’s you) comes into the fray. Eventually there comes a time when kings are dethroned and gods must descend from their heavenly seats, and it’s your job as a Tarnished warrior – an apparently insignificant mortal – to force them into swallowing this reality. The goal may appear hopeless, and it may take you a while to feel like this game isn’t out to get you, mainly because it very much is. Elden Ring must challenge you, a lowly Tarnished, because your task isn’t easy, and therefore neither is the game.
There’s a surprising variety of bosses, ranging from legendary enemies to Demi-Gods; there doesn’t seem to be a boss type that repeats itself. If I were to list my favorites, they’d have to be either Mohg, Radahn, Rykard or Godrick the Golden. My least favorites are either the Bell Bearing Hunter, Dragons or Runebears. Godrick the Golden is an absurd boss, not only because of his lore and the multiple body parts he has grafted onto himself, but also because he’s a real challenge after Margit, whom you’re pitted against as a starter boss. Margit is there to show you how hard this game is; Godrick is there to show you how preposterous this game is going to get. The lead up to Godrick tasks you with having to trek through hordes of enemies that can demolish you if you’re not careful, only to find out that the man himself is even worse. The first phase is hard to get past, but once you get to half health, Godrick pulls out all the stops and cuts off his own arm in order to attach a dead dragon’s head in its place, allowing him to shoot fire at you.
The designs of each armor set and weapon are steeped in detail. The weapons feel like extensions of the enemies you got them from, boss weapons especially since a lot of them have abilities and lore-heavy descriptions that bring new meaning to the weapon now in your hands. The armor, too, is treated with respect. Each set is a copy of the one on the boss or enemy you’ve taken it from, and it, too, has a small bit of lore to add to the history of the NPC in question. A favorite set of mine is the armor of Blaidd the Half-Wolf, loyal servant to Ranni the Witch, whose fur-cloaked armor spoofs Frozen with a playful joke about how “The cold bothered him anyway.”
I thoroughly enjoy discussing the non-playable characters. Elden Ring has a vast number of interesting NPCs who all have fully voiced lines and unique clothing, but most of all they have their own goals. Some NPCs manage to find themselves a place where they can belong. That goes to show you that despite the Lands Between seeming like an unforgivable expanse of torment to you, some people can manage to call it Home. There are plenty others besides you making a journey through the Lands and trying to find some sort of purpose or meaning within this dangerous place. Their stories feel impactful and genuine, and the NPCs you meet all have their own hopes and dreams, their own regrets, and (in the most unfortunate cases) their own self-destructive habits. The quests they send you on may sometimes end in tragedy, but at the end of the day they’ll have fulfilled their personal journey one way or the other, and it’s up to you to aid them in seeing that through.
All in all, Elden Ring provokes a slew of emotions thanks to all its parts blending together into one awesome game. It makes you angry at how gruesomely challenging it is, sad about how some of the stories for the NPCs can end, awestruck by the vast and diverse regions of the Lands Between, and overjoyed when you overcome a boss or make it through a tough area after many, many failed attempts. Someday soon I hope to start up other game save just to pursue the other endings I can’t access in my current playthrough. I know that things will be different each time I play because of how many things you can do differently in the game. I hope all the other players out there are enjoying their playthroughs as much as I am, and that those that haven’t yet picked up the game will enjoy it whenever they get their hands on it.
Ronald Gordon is a New York Videogame Critics Circle senior intern. He was the first of our writers to complete an internship at Rockstar Games.