Elden Ring review: So good that it hurts (over and over again)

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

Title: Elden Ring
Developer: FromSoftware Inc.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed on), Xbox Series X|S, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: February 25, 2022

I don’t consider myself a “Souls” expert. I was late to the genre but have since played Bloodborne, the Demon’s Souls PS5 remake, Dark Souls III and a bunch of other Soulslike titles. I’m now hooked on them. To date, Bloodborne has been my favorite, but then I played Elden Ring.

Elden Ring is a fantasy action RPG from the brilliant minds of Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of the Dark Souls series, and George R.R. Martin, author of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (better known to most people as Game of Thrones).

At its core, Elden Ring is a Souls game. It’s got all the same mechanics that fans of the genre are familiar with, although it renames them to fit the fantasy theme. Bonfires are now Sites of Grace, Souls are now Runes and Dark Souls 3’s Weapon Arts are now Ashes of War. Combat feels similar as well, although there are some new mechanics.

Elden Ring - Site of Lost Grace
Bandai Namco /

But if there’s one thing that’s most recognizable in this game, it’s the big a** bosses that’ll beat you into submission, over and over again until you’re ready to chuck you’re control at the television. As I mentioned, I’m not a Souls expert but I’ve beaten enough of them where I’m not totally inept. They’re difficult, but one of the things I love about the Souls series is the euphoric feeling and sense of accomplishment after finally slaying the boss that has killed me dozens of times. Elden Ring retains that feeling, and perhaps even more so because these are some of the toughest bosses I’ve ever encountered.

I’m no stranger to dying. In Elden Ring, I’ve probably died over 50 times so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was closer to 100, but who’s counting? This game is hard. But it does some things to help you overcome your struggles.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

For starters, as with any Souls game, if you find yourself dying over and over again, you can simply grind for runes and level up. The open-world nature of Elden Ring gives you the freedom to go where you want when you want. This sense of exploration replaces the boredom of tedious grinding.

The world in Elden Ring is massive. And there’s a whole underground system that is nearly as big as the aboveground portion. There’s so much to do and see in this game that leveling comes naturally.

I wasn’t just running around the same lower levels, killing enemies, rinse and repeat. I was exploring a fascinating, gorgeous world, filled with all sorts of hidden secrets and unique creatures. There are ruins, underground tunnel systems and caves, massive towers and fortresses. As you clear these areas, you’ll be rewarded with quite a bit of runes and usually a special item to help you in your journey.

I love the sense of freedom this game offers. For the first couple of hours, I found myself just running around the map, uncovering secrets and making note of difficult places that I knew I’d be returning to when more powerful. As I encountered areas that seemed right for my level, I would dive in.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

I became engrossed with the world of Elden Ring. There were times when I would be ready to log out, only to encounter an intriguing point of interest that I just had to explore right then and there. An hour and five deaths later… I finally beat the boss. This basically sums up my Elden Ring experience — hours of frustration offset by moments of jubilation and wanting to continue my adventure.

It helps that the gameplay is top notch. Again, combat will feel familiar to Souls fans although there are some new mechanics that elevate the experience. For example, there’s a new guard counter, which is basically parrying for dummies. Other games have had the ability to parry, but you would have to time it just right. In Elden Ring, you can hold the block button and when the enemy attacks you, you can respond with a heavy attack right after. This deals some pretty significant damage and it’s pretty darn easy to pull off.

As someone who was never good at parrying in other games, this was a welcomed feature for me, even though there are some attacks and magic you can’t block with a shield. Not to mention, this doesn’t work on every boss, so you’ll still have to learn to roll.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

Speaking of rolling, there’s tons of it in Elden Ring. The weight of your items will determine the speed of your roll. The heavier your armor, the slower your dodge roll but the more damage you should theoretically be able to absorb. With less armor, you take more damage but are much more nimble, so it’s a trade off you’ll have to decide between. Personally, I feel like every boss does insane damage, so I’d rather have the faster roll.

I mentioned this game has some of the hardest bosses I’ve ever encountered. Usually when I encounter a new boss, I play pretty cautiously to observe their moveset and learn their patterns. It’s not really much different in Elden Ring although I do feel like the bosses are a little more unpredictable in their attacks. While they still perform a certain set of moves during certain phases, the order in which they attack with them seems to be much more random. Of course, with practice (and enough deaths), you should be able to pick up on the little nuances of each move.

If you’ve leveled up a ton and still find yourself struggling against bosses, another thing Elden Ring does well is provide you with enough variety in weapons, items and magic to approach the game with a playstyle that fits you.

Ashes of War are especially important, and you get these by defeating bosses or tougher enemies. These are special abilities that you can attach to your weapon, but perhaps more importantly, they can also change the properties of that weapon so that it scales off on a specific stat. By applying different Ashes of War to a weapon, you can truly customize your character to fit your preferred playstyle. Or perhaps use it as a way to counter a boss your struggling against. There are so many tools you have at your disposal in this game, it’s all about finding the right approach.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

But for a game that seemingly encourages you to explore different builds and styles, I wish it would allow you to experiment more freely. In my playthrough, I found no way to respec my character’s skills. I went Vagabond with a ton of strength first, so if I found a weapon that required dexterity or intelligence, I couldn’t use it.

For example, while I could get a Halberd to scale on strength, but I didn’t have enough dexterity to even wield it properly. This is especially disappointing because I found some really cool weapons that I’d have loved to use midway through my playthrough, but I was basically forced into using my swords. Sure, I could grind some additional levels to get the required strength or intelligence, but those later levels cost a lot.

In addition to Ashes of War, you’ll also acquire summoning Ashes. These are basically ghostly spirits that aid you in combat. While helpful early on, I found that in the later stages of the game, they were too weak to do any major damage and died in just a few hits.

There’s also the return of Power stances. This allows you to equip two weapons of the same class and attack with both at the same time with a unique moveset. Best of all, there are no additional requirements. You can just do it. I absolutely love this. With the ability to freely swap between my shield and secondary sword, I could quickly adjust on the fly to any encounter.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

And this basically sums up what Elden Ring does so well — it maintains its Souls-like difficulty while trying to implement quality of life improvements so you aren’t just pounding your head against the wall.

If you die, there are Shrines of Marika. This is a secondary waypoint system that seems more focused on getting you back into the action more quickly. These shrines are usually located in difficult areas so that if you die, you can respawn at them and you’re almost right back to your corpse. Unlike Sites of Lost Grace, you can’t rest at these to recover your health and flasks.

Elden Ring also has a map, which is definitely helpful. With how massive the open world is, I can’t imagine playthough through it without a map. The trade off is that you need to collect Map Fragments to uncover areas. These are found around the world pretty easily as they are already marked on your map.

Elden Ring’s map is surprisingly large. I continuously found myself amazed that after completing an area, the map would continue to extend into a new area. And when the above ground ended, I would usually find some underground tunnel system.

With how bit the map is, I was greatly appreciate of Elden Ring’s fast travel system, which allows you to select any Site of Lost Grace and teleport instantly to it (as long as you aren’t in combat). There’s also unlimited stamina when not in combat.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

You do also get a mount and this is another aspect of the game that I love. In addition to making it easier to explore, I found the mounted combat — while a bit clunky — to be quite fun. And in some cases, I found myself preferring to take on a boss while on mount just because it allowed me to move more quickly.

When it comes to combat and exploring, Elden Ring does everything almost perfect — at least by Souls-like standards. It definitely feels like the most fleshed out Souls game, but there are some drawbacks, especially for newcomers.

While the quality of life features definitely make this game more approachable — especially for people who are new to the genre — the vagueness in system and item descriptions can certainly lead to some confusion.

Elden Ring
Bandai Namco /

There’s also a lack of clear direction. While the Sites of Lost Grace do point you in the direction of specific points of interest that you’ll want to check out, you’re basically on your own in terms of going where you want. For me, the mystery of Elden Ring is what makes it so appealing — but it’s understandably not for everyone.

For the most part, Elden Ring was bug free, although I did encounter a few glitches and some frame rate issues at times. Nothing game-breaking, although I did have to teleport to a Site of Lost Grace to get out of a few wall clippings. The load times, while not terribly long as a one off, can start to feel long after you’ve died multiple times. Once or twice, it’s fine, but waiting for a load screen on your 15th boss death can feel a bit agitating.

Elden Ring has blown me away. I expected it to be good, but I wasn’t prepared for just how good it actually is. Get ready to die, and die, and die some more. It’s going to hurt, but it’s a good hurt.

Elden Ring (PS5) Score: 9.5/10

Elden Ring is the next evolution of the “Souls” genre. It feels both familiar and truly unique. Fans of previous “Souls” games will feel right at home, while appreciating the new features, mechanics and quality of life improvements the game has to offer.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.