GAME REVIEW: Elden Ring (According to a Working Parent and New Souls-Like Player)

Developer: FromSoftware Inc.
Publisher: FromSoftware Inc., BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Release Date: February 25, 2022
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Steam, PlayStation 4|5, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed On: Xbox Series X

I had never played a single game in FromSoftware’s library before Elden Ring. Like many, I’d heard the talk about Souls-like games, about their absurd difficulty, cultish following, and morbid content; but until now, I’d never taken a chance on one. This past year, I secured an Xbox Series X to be the companion console to my launch model Nintendo Switch. I made it my personal mission to “get my money’s worth” out of the next-gen console by playing every major release, even those from franchises I’d never taken an interest in before.

I knew I’d try Elden Ring eventually. The game was just too hyped to ignore, and it would surely be a Game of the Year contender. Then the reviews started coming in, and I realized pretty quickly that Elden Ring might be a generational game. I pre-ordered immediately.

Look. There’s a lot of reviews of this game out there. The internet doesn’t need one more piece singing the praises of Elden Ring; but what I do have to offer is the insight of someone new to Souls-like games and the experience of a full-time professional with two careers and two children. I am decidedly not the target audience for FromSoftware’s latest mega-sized RPG. Yet, I have been playing video games since the Nintendo Entertainment System was my first console in the 1980s. Elden Ring just might be the greatest video game I’ve ever played.

Source: BANDAI NAMCO

Disclaimer:

I’m nearly fifty hours into this game and am nowhere close to finishing the mainline story, let alone discovering the entire map. I’ve defeated a number of major bosses and enemies and explored many of the regions. This piece will focus on my experiences playing the game thus far as busy professional and active parent.

Synopsis:

George R.R. Martin teamed up with Hidetaka Miyazaki to take players into the dark fantasy realm of the Lands Between. A broken, medieval world, the Lands Between were once ruled by Queen Marika and her children, the Demigods. Her reign was peaceful, but doomed. The Elden Ring, an all-powerful force of balance, is destroyed. Chaos and destruction descend upon the Lands Between as war breaks out among the Demigods (an event known as The Shattering). You, a Tarnished, are called back to the realm to gather the shards of the Elden Ring and restore order.

Gameplay:

There’s so much to say about the gameplay in Elden Ring, a game that certainly belongs within the impressive lineage of FromSoftware titles; but in many ways it’s clear the developers paid close attention to the successes of other open-world games and built upon what worked. I won’t even try to cover everything (It’s a battle for this working dad to find time to play, let alone explore the myriad of gameplay options and experiences afforded the player). I’ll just say that I chose the Samurai character because I loved the sword and enjoy using a bow in games. I also was intimidated by figuring out how to use magic on my first playthrough!

Image: BANDAI NAMCO
The Overworld

This game is massive. It’s easy to sink fifty, sixty hours into a single region of this gargantuan overworld (and just when you think you’ve discovered everything—there’s an underworld covering the same area!). I won’t gush here, but safe to say–it’s breathtaking in its beauty.

One of the aspects of the overworld I love most is how alive it feels. It’s not uncommon to come across raging battles between knights and beasts, soldiers and hordes. At times, I find myself hiding in the undergrowth simply to watch an epic clash unfold like I’m at the movies.

These experiences are perhaps most notable when approaching legacy dungeons (large castles or developments) that function like real population hubs. Sneaking past patrols, discovering paths through barricades and roving squads of soldiers, and witnessing the drama inside the fortresses is intoxicating. It is environmental storytelling at its best.

Legacy Dungeons feel like real, functional locations within the overworld.
Why the Game Works for People with Busy Lives

It would be easy to write this game off as one for “other people,” an experience too demanding or complex for someone with a busy career, little ones that have endless needs, and early mornings that just won’t quit. The idea of taking on an 100-200 hour RPG might seem a fool’s errand.

Thankfully, FromSoftware gives players a myriad of ways to engage with the gorgeous open-world and to have a good experience, even if that comes in 20-minute chunks or late night sessions with eyes propped open by caffeine like a medieval torture device.

Image: Players can safely take breaks when resting at a Site of Grace.

Save stations called “Sites of Grace” populate the map in fair proximity. Players never have to travel too far before coming to a place to rest. Furthermore, as long as you are not being actively attacked by an enemy, you can fast-travel to any previous Site of Grace by simply selecting the location on your map. This feature is huge for accessibility for those of us unable to play for hours at a time. When my kids are awake, there’s just not a lot of time for myself; but I can usually fit in half-hour here or twenty minutes there by journeying between Sites of Grace.

The open-world format means players don’t ever have to stay “stuck” when facing a challenge. If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard a lot about how challenging Souls-like games are. That can be a huge turn-off for trying Elden Ring for parents who don’t have an abundance of hours to “git gud” as veteran players say. The wonderful thing about Elden Ring‘s open world is that even when players collide with a seemingly unconquerable enemy, they can simply go somewhere else, find an alternate route, or simply come back later.

There’s always something to do. In a manner that far exceeds mega-hits like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the open world in Elden Ring is teeming with life, quests, resources, and surprises. Even when you only have a short time to play, you can always find something worth doing that will advance your overall quest to complete the game.

Personally, I have found that planning out my play sessions really helps. When I’m making dinner, stuck in traffic, or doing one of the many side-quests of parenting, I like to think about what routes I’ll take to explore the Lands Between, which quests I want to focus on during my next play session, or how I want to farm resources for my next upgrade. So the message here is that even if you’re really busy, you can do this. You don’t have to miss out on this once-in-a-generation gaming experience.

Combat Experience

This aspect of the game is the part about which I worried the most before playing. It’s not that I didn’t think I could succeed (I have been gaming since the 1980s after all); it’s that I didn’t want to pay eighty dollars for a game that I found too frustrating or too time consuming to play all the way through. Would finally buying a Souls-like game be a waste of money for me personally?

The short answer: my fears were overblown. Yes, the combat is demanding—there are no cheap victories in Elden Ring. But the game is fair when it metes out punishment, and I never found myself feeling wronged when I died. Death in Elden Ring is the player’s greatest tutor, and those who are willing to reflect and learn will find a rapid improvement in skill quite possible.

Slaying a dragon for the first time is quite the memorable experience!

And oh that feeling of elation, that—I am unstoppable—feeling when you finally defeat an unyielding enemy in combat. Elden Ring makes you earn your victories, and when you do, that payday is sweet indeed. The difference in experience between playing a Souls-like game and other games that don’t push the player so much surprised me. It wasn’t the difficulty spike that caught me off guard; it was that I felt respected. I came to savor the experience.

Final Score (5/5 Stars):

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Put quite simply, Elden Ring is the greatest achievement yet in the growing art form of video games. What it accomplishes from a technical perspective, visually, in user experience, and in storytelling is simply a masterpiece. Despite providing a game that could take years to master, FromSoftware made Elden Ring a game immediately accessible.

No, not everyone will enjoy the trials of elevating their skills and rising to the challenge of defeating the brutal enemies in this game; but here’s the thing—they can if they want to. And that’s a beautiful thing. FromSoftware has provided the largest, most intricate gaming experience to date, but gave even overworked parents like me a way to join in the fun. I’ll be journeying through the Lands Between for months to come; and in the post-shutdown apocalypse of 2022, that’s a journey for which I’m deeply grateful. Do yourself a favor and buy this game. We can all use a Site of Grace in our lives.

David Lasby is the Editor-in-Chief for Boss Rush Network. His favorite video games franchises are The Legend of ZeldaHalo, and the Aliens franchise. You can find him on Twitter to talk all things Nintendo, sci-fi / fantasy, and creative writing.

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