ELDEN RING Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Hannah tries finger, but hole.
I hate FromSoftware games. I remember a time when I was blissfully unaware of their instruments of torture and then, on one fateful day in June 2014; I booted up my Xbox 360 to see what free games I could nab, and there it was, Dark Souls. Its grim scene of a dishevelled knight stood over a roaring bonfire intrigued me. I watched eagerly for three hours as the download bar crept across my TV, and then, finally, it was time. I booted up the game, imagining the quest ahead as the soothing menu music washed over me. I spent twenty minutes deliberating over my class, before finally settling on Isildur the Thief, watched the opening cutscene with wide eyes and loaded into the Undead Asylum, whereupon I was immediately beaten to death by a walking corpse. Oh.

I never did beat the first Dark Souls game and spent the longest time thinking that the game was broken. It wasn’t until Dark Souls III was released that I realised that this game was a) part of a franchise, and b) definitely meant to be punishingly difficult. The Soulsborne series is the videogame equivalent of that recurring nightmare where you turn up to work naked, except instead of laughing at you, your co-workers proceed to mercilessly kick the shit out of you, stopping right before you succumb to your injuries; only then laughing until you die of sheer fucking embarrassment.

You may think, dear reader, that this was the point where I realised these games weren’t meant for me and went back to Skyrim. However, I am a glutton for punishment, and have since put many painstaking hours into all of the games FromSoft has released. Hours upon hours of grinding the same patch of land only to stumble across the first boss: a behemoth with guns for arms and legs, laser eyes and status effects oozing out of every known orifice (unknown too). Meanwhile, despite all my levelling, all I have to defend myself is two wet noodles which I’m too weak to wield and a damp flannel sellotaped to my slacked jaw.

The problem is, I’m a sucker for world-building and game lore, and the Soulsborne series has that in spades. Not that I ever really got to experience any of it first-hand, but I gorged on YouTube deep dives and official media releases until I had the Gospel of Dark Souls burned into my brain. Unfortunately, none of this helped me beat the games and I have since felt a deep sense of longing. The world is so meticulously crafted, and the characters so rich and memorable, and I would never get to interact with any of it. Felled by my own inadequacy.

But then, a light shone through the darkness; Elden Ring was coming. It would be easy to assume that like all the lights that had come before that it was, in fact, a train; but I’m a glass half full kind of person. You know what? Thank the Outer Gods that I am, because Elden Ring is a dream.

Taking place in the fictional realm of ‘The Lands Between’, we are told of the titular ‘Elden Ring’ and how it brought peace to the land. Until Queen Marika threw a tantrum and shattered it, that is. A war broke out over the shards of the ring and Marika’s children - ugly remnants of their previous selves - now rule over a darkened, grim landscape. You, brave Tarnished, must return to your homeland to teach Marika’s children a lesson, repair the Elden Ring, and take your place as Elden Lord.

The mechanics of the game are near identical to previous Souls Games: instead of frantically seeking the respite of a bonfire, you now frantically search for ‘Sites of Grace’; you consume Crimson Tears to replenish your health instead of Estus, and instead of having your ass handed to you by the ‘Lords of Cinder’; Shardbearers now crush your feeble body beneath their heel. Everything that hardcore gamers loved about the previous entries is still alive and well in Elden Ring. The difficulty level is as insane as ever, even if fans claim that it’s easier than previous games, my death counter begs to differ. I still struggle to memorize the different attack patterns of each individual enemy type and find myself, more often than not, rolling directly into the path of their weapon. I still have to hold myself back from throwing my controller at the television as ‘YOU DIED’ mocks my valorous attempt at bopping a giant with too many arms; my characters death gargle echoing across the desolate landscape.

So, what’s changed? Because it clearly isn’t my skill level. How did I - who couldn’t beat the Cleric Beast in Bloodborne despite grinding to level 40 - manage to send Marika’s offspring to the naughty step before attempting to claim the throne?

Part of the long answer to this lies within the fictional world. The Lands Between is big. You collect map fragments as you traverse the world, each map fragment unlocks a new area of the world to explore, and there are twenty map fragments in all. It’s huge. For reference’s sake, The Land’s between is roughly 2.5x the size of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule. It’s also completely open world. That’s not to say that previous FromSoft games weren’t, but they certainly violently encouraged you down a fairly linear path. Elden Ring still has areas that are more difficult and dangerous to explore when you’re starting out, but unlike previous entries in the Soulsborne series, you no longer have to rely on your wits to get you out of difficult scrapes. Instead, you are gifted Torrent; a spectral steed who can outrun most enemies you come across in the Lands Between. Died one too many times to a magic wielder or mounted enemy? No worries, pull Torrent out your back pocket and zoom on past; live to fight (or run away from) another battle.

Also tied into this is the idea of rewarding you for exploration. I know, I know, a novel idea, right? However, due to my lack of skill, my previous experience of FromSoft titles is thus: straying off the beaten path rarely leads to good things happening; more often than not, all you are rewarded with for traversing the road less travelled is a trap disguised as a shiny object. It’s refreshing that, for the most part, ‘try jumping’ hints in Elden Ring tend to lead to item discovery as opposed to the discovery that your body is fragile, and people are mean. There’s a child-like glee in solving some of the trickier puzzles in Elden Ring; stumbling across an illusory wall; or even following a beam of light to a dungeon. Every nook and cranny of The Lands Between contains a piece of the lore puzzle; be it through item descriptions, enemy types or even the crumbling structures that are dotted around the landscape. It is, overall, a much more fulfilling experience than previous titles.

The game has been out for a couple of months now, and after exploring every conceivable inch of the Lands Between through multiple playthroughs; I feel confident in saying that Elden Ring is one of the best games that I have played. If you, like me, were planning to give this game a wide berth due to its developers and their sadistic idea of what makes a video game fun: I strongly suggest you reconsider. Elden Ring’s story is rich and immersive; its exploration is expansive and rewarding, and most importantly, it doesn’t require you to ‘git gud’ to enjoy those aspects.

Preferring the company of fictional characters to living, breathing people; it should come as no surprise that Hannah is a connoisseur of all things geek. Whilst their body resides in the capital of Wales, their heart resides in Middle-Earth and their mind remains firmly lodged in the memory of that embarrassing thing they did when they were eight.

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