After my initial review of Elden Ring, I realized I owed myself and to those that read my site, a better review. One not filled with heat, but rational discussion on the shortcomings of greatness. It is not a masterpiece as so many raved, but it is a very good game with a strong foundation. If I may compare it to a 10 course meal, I could better explain it.
Imagine you’ve heard some celebrity chef is opening up a new restaurant, and everyone’s invited to try his brand. He is offering a 10 course dinner, personally prepared by him, and it’ll have all the ingredients you’ve always dreamed of. You’re beside yourself with excitement, eagerly anticipating the day you can go. It arrives, and you show up to a swanky display, the chef went all out. They sit you down, and give you your first dish. It is beyond heavenly. It is exactly what you wanted, and were promised. It can only get better from here, you think. The second dish comes out, it’s different, but still as amazing and exactly what everyone said it would be. After the third course comes, you’re incredibly ecstatic. Then the chef comes out. He asks you to close your eyes as he has a little something special prepared, and to open your mouth. He puts in a spoonful of something, and as you bite down, you realize that it’s a spoonful of shit.
You spit it out, gagging, asking him with a bewildered look, “What the hell was that?”
He smiles, and offers it to you again. You look around and everyone is nodding along. You have to eat it if you want to continue with the meal. Begrudgingly you swallow it down, and then steady yourself. That experience dampened your entire mood. The rest of the dishes no longer have that appeal to them. Yes, each one was amazing in their own rights, but all you can think of is the fact you were forced to eat shit. Gradually, the feeling passes, and on dish eight, you’re back to feeling like this is the best meal you’ve ever had.
Now we’re approaching the end, you wonder what these last two dishes could be. You know one of them is optional, a dessert. You ask for it. Again the chef asks that you close your eyes. This time he grabs a teaspoon, and places it in your mouth. You can immediately tell what it is, and spit it out. You decline this time, and this time, he allows it. You can say no, and still get that final dish. It is scrumptious. Then he offers you the position to return again to his restaurant, for another course prepared by him, but this time you can skip out on the large spoonful of shit. And I did.
Elden Ring is like what I just laid out for several reasons. The game starts out incredible, the entire world is available for you to go out and explore. It encourages it. The first area new players will find themselves in is called Limgrave, this is essentially that first dish. It gives an expectation of what’s to come. The very first boss you come across is meant to teach you to avoid it, and return when stronger. To encourage exploring. You can attempt to fight it if you wish so because at this point, the game still has that illusion of choice. After that area, you can go northerly to the lakes, or easterly, to the red hells of Caelid. If you go east, you’ll be eating the spoonful of shit sooner than those that went north. The main boss of that area suffers a fundamental design flaw that’s replicated again and again in end game bosses.
Personally, a role playing game means that within the confines of your system, I can do whatever I want in order to proceed. That I am free to create whatever build I want, and it would work against the enemies you have designed. This is why games like Skyrim are a huge success. Unfortunately, Elden Ring’s shortcomings during the end game showcase that you cannot in fact do whatever you want and that is because the bosses are not restricted to the same system as you are. I cannot stop an attack command that I triggered until it is done, yet I watched several bosses break their combo midway to punish me for trying to heal during it. Coding bosses to read inputs means you have taken agency away from me as a player. I am no longer losing because of mistakes I made, but now you’ve subjected me to pure luck. Same with including one-hit moves that cannot be avoided, that only result in death. I could do everything perfectly right, but because the boss used that one move, I will lose my life and my time spent. When I die to the bosses by my own mistakes, I don’t get angry. I laugh. Like, “ok, I shouldn’t have done that.” But having me lose to something outside of my control, results in anger because you cost me time for no reason other than that philosophy that seems to have cropped up of “fuck you, player.”
I eventually got past that spoon of shit, and not by playing how I wanted to. I found myself a little bit flabbergasted that so many online discussions praised the fight. Sure, it is cool to see, but the execution is terrible. These people are the nodding heads at the restaurant, “Yea! Eat that shit, it’s so good, Hidetaka Miyazaki can do no wrong!”
See, once I got past that hurdle, it turned out there was so much more content locked away. Almost six more dishes worth. Entire hidden areas, secret bosses, and much more. It was phenomenal and yet, all of it felt sullied by that spoonful. I felt like I just wanted to get it all over with. It gnaws at your mind, this world. It is pure horror, there is nothing worth saving here. Eldritch entities and cosmic ones, malformations of humans, the only beauty to be found is in the stark horror of it all. At the same time, I question a man who likes to create these kinds of fantastical worlds, who likes to mess with the players playing his games. I never once felt like that with the Witcher 3. Since I brought it up, there can be quite a few comparisons between the two.
All the praise Elden Ring gets for its minimalist approach is great, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it’s the first to do so. It is the first to force you to play its way, and not give you the option of freedom. In Witcher 3, you could go into settings and disable the HUD to your heart’s content, disable markers on the map, and make it similar to Elden Ring’s entire premise. Elden Ring has cool lore, but the execution of its story is trash. I got two endings and I still don’t understand what’s going on besides “This world is fucked up and we need to remake it in somebody or something’s image.” The assortment of characters I met along the way were all depressing individuals, often demented and warped beings, George RR Martin’s hand clearly displayed. Nobody to identify emotionally with, I didn’t care for what happened to this world. Witcher’s world is vibrant and alive, and a plethora of characters to emotionally identify with.
Where Elden Ring excelled was that feeling of exploring a new land, of acquiring the tools needed to survive. That’s why the first 80% of the game is a 10/10. But as you play on, the cracks start to form, until the rivulets of sweat from your hands deepen them into streets you can walk on. I can’t beat Rahdan or Malenia without using specific builds or items, I can’t run around the late game world without using at least two specific talismans that cannot be removed or I’ll be one shot by many denizens. I need to have a ranged weapon to get the attention of certain enemies. Arcane is flat out bugged, and doesn’t work correctly. And too many bosses have moves that either stun-lock, or instantly kill that I know that Hidetaka Miyazaki no longer follows his philosophy of ‘tough, but fair’, and has adopted the “fuck you, player” mentality.
And yet, despite all that, I went and beat it once, and then beat it again in 3 hours and 24 mins. The point that I’m at is so far ahead of the average player that the only reason I’m having fun is because of the extreme time sink dedicated to leveling my character. The average player won’t do that. They’ll reach certain bosses and call it quits, or not even, they’ll get annoyed at the regular enemies that pose as much of a problem. And people like this only come to this game because of the word of mouth calling it a masterpiece, a 10/10. Therein lies the problem, it is not a masterpiece. That would imply a perfect experience from start to finish, but the ending is such a chore, that I only finished because of the sunk cost fallacy.
Overall, yes, it is a phenomenal game, but a 10? No. It is an 8 for sure, and with a little updating and a balancing of bosses, a solid 9. Do I recommend this in its current state? The answer is still no. And if I were to recommend it, it would only be if you were a fan of the previous games by the company.