Elden Ring

It’s weird to play a sea change, but that’s what Elden Ring feels like – a game so demonstrably and profoundly successful that it’s surely bound to change the industry in the years to come.

This is, for now, the culmination of all that FromSoftware has managed, not just a coming together of its design ethos but also the shattering of a threshold that it had been faced by – the open-world format.

While From’s games have long involved complex areas that inter-connected in clever ways, they’ve also generally only offered a few potential routes forward at any given point. You might find hidden ways and optional bosses, but the critical path was largely hard to avoid or ignore.

In Elden Ring you are dropped into the Lands Between and handed some pointers in terms of your final destination, but it quickly becomes apparent that there are instead nearly countless diversions to tarry with.

Part of the game’s genius (and, make no mistake, this is the best game released in years) is that while the vast majority of its dungeons and side-bosses are not necessary to finish its story, all of them contribute to its world and your journey.

You might find an ancient tomb, plumb its depths and discover a hidden dagger that makes your enemies bleed as you fight. You could happen upon the defender of a sacred tree and fell it, to receive a teardrop that can make your spells free to cast, very briefly.

Or you could make a treacherous journey across slippery rooftops to find a new staff that you won’t be able to use for hours and hours, but which promises untold power if you can earn that right.

Each will spin your head, alerting you to new possibilities in terms of approach and how you build your character, each will demand that you consider whether your current equipment is the best choice, and this sense of questioning is to be found in every corner of Elden Ring’s world.

The hand-drawn map you will explore and slowly expand is enigmatic and artistic enough to draw you to new locations, and each area is hand-designed with ingenuity that will be the envy of developers around the world.

The visual flavour of that world, meanwhile, is of an astonishing order – the philosophy from Breath of the Wild that you should always be able to see something interesting is upgraded and paired with sumptuous art design, high-fantasy splendour, and incredible detail.

A lonely ruin might hold a short cave system to explore, but could just as readily transport you to a massive underground cosmos full of shamanic ritual and long-dead ancestor beasts, and the puzzle of just which demi-god you can feel sympathy for is a complex one to unfurl.

As you explore, the Souls series’ best combat yet sees you vying with beasts, monsters and enemies of all shapes and sizes, never sure whether your first attack on a foe will decimate it or reveal your foolhardiness by chipping away a tiny slice.

Alongside it all you have the constant option of summoning in help from near-anonymous peers, or allowing yourself to be summoned to render aid, and these temporary alliances are memorable beyond any right. Invade someone’s world to stop them in their tracks, and you’ll discover a darker sort of thrill.

The temptation to discuss particular areas and moments in Elden Ring’s yawning, enormous swell of stunning exploration is nearly irresistible, so instead just read and heed this – play this game, at any cost, and be sure you persevere past its rough edges and lack of explanation. It is the game of a generation.

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