Hello, and welcome to the first instalment of a series in which I’m calling That’s Good, That’s Bad, based on a joke in the Simpsons in which Homer buys a cursed Krusty doll from what I now see as a pretty racist stereotype of an asian person. The gag is still good though, good enough for me to form a sort of review process in which I alternate between saying something good about a game, then something bad about it. This time my game of choice is FromSoft’s open-world RPG Elden Ring.
Torrent is a very magical horse…that’s good.
Remember how in Breath of the Wild you would have to trudge all the way back to where you left your horse, meaning that you would go dozens of hours without it because the horse was on the other side of a gigantic mountain? Elden Ring also realised that this was stupid and made it so that you can just summon Torrent almost anywhere your wandering heart desires. Waist high obstacles are also nary a challenge for Torrent as they can jump not just once, but twice in a single leap. Torrent isn’t even fazed by the various poison swamps FromSoft like to churn out. Once, during a ride on Torrent, they said that they needed to get some diapers for themselves, I questioned why this was the case and they responded “so I don’t shit so hard over these other video game horses.” Harsh but true.
The combat fancies itself some Devil May Cry…that’s bad.
Yes FromSoft, I really liked it too when I was able to juggle demons with gunfire while wearing a cowboy hat and glowing red scarf, but this obsession with hyperactive combat has to stop. Bosses in particular now fly around the arena doing very anime things while you have to wrestle with absurd input buffering, a camera that sometimes acts like its in a washing machine and a temperamental lock-on system. The bones of this game was meant for slow, methodical fights, and FromSoft seems to be pretending that’s not the case.
Elden Ring is the open-world fatigue cure…that’s good.
I expressed concern when it was announced that Elden Ring was going to be open world, since the open world comes with the stink of dull level design and waves of checklists to go through, but my fears were unfounded. The lands of Elden Ring are rich with areas to explore that feature varied and distinctive looks, but the greatest benefit of this new layout is how much choice you have in where to go. Over the years, FromSoft games have been getting a bit lacklustre in this department, but if you ever find yourself facing a brick wall of a boss in Elden Ring, you can just pick a different location and go do something else.
See that unblockable attack, because I don’t…that’s bad.
There's usually a trend with these games in which a really good idea in a previous game is – for no reason at all – dropped. The idea this time was to have a audio and visual cue for unblockable attacks, introduced by Sekiro and subsequently deleted by Elden Ring. So, how was I supposed to know that a certain thrust attack from a certain enemy was actually unblockable, and thus led to me losing half of my health bar as well as receiving a nasty case of Scarlet Rot?
I’m my own best friend…that’s good.
Of all the new additions to the Souls formula, the ability to summon phantom buddies to aid you on your conquest is one of my favourites. Your choices range from spooky kooky skeletons to the humble but endearing floating jellyfish. And of course, standing at the tippy top of the NPC summon tier list is the Mimic Tear, which creates a copy of yourself, albeit one with about 15 times the health. This makes it perfect for distracting bosses as you wind up for a series of sneak attacks, or time to back off to recover some health.
Hell is other laggy people…that’s bad.
The knock-on effect of NPC summons being so good, is that enlisting the help of other humans becomes less of an attractive option. Other players – much like myself – are fragile and die easy, meaning sometimes all it takes is a single swipe from a monstrosity to knock them out of the fight. But on top of this is the opportunity for lag to strike, which can cause bosses to suddenly Instant Transmission themselves around the arena. Simply put, my Mimic Tear does the role of a player, but better. So score another one for robots replacing human jobs I guess.
My opponent is a cartwheeling frog man…that’s good.
So what made you question what the fuck you were looking at in this game? Was it the hooded ladies riding big angry ants or the jars with arm and legs that attack you by spinning really fast? For me, it was the hands, which were actually three hands melded together to create something that was akin to a spider deciding that eight legs simply wasn’t enough extremities, and grew ten more. I constantly have to give FromSoft kudos in making my brain dispute what my eyes are telling it when something nightmarish appears on screen.
Blocking engenders getting smoked…that’s bad.
Ever since Bloodborne, FromSoft’s stance on shields has been known, which is bad news for me because I like nothing more that a big chunky piece of metal to hide behind like a heroic coward. And back in Dark Souls 3, I started to notice enemies farting out magic projectiles at me like an erupting volcano. With ferocious chip damage and a cavalcade of status aliments, sometimes it just don’t pay to play the defensive game in Elden Ring. But the final straw for me was the boss who heals every time you block their attack, in which I admitted defeat and announced “fine, I’ll dodge roll like everyone else then!”
My spiky mace does double bleed…that’s good.
Weapon customisation was always a bit inflexible in FromSoft’s prior work, so it is great to see it being a bit more adjustable when it comes to Elden Ring. Previously a weapon’s skill was locked to that particular weapon, but now with the Ashes of War system, you can swap skills on and off of most weapons and shields whenever you are at a Site of Grace. Furthermore, you can jam in and rip off status aliments on weapons, meaning my Morning Star could be poison Morning Star, a holy Morning Star, a magic Morning Star, a Morning Star that shocks my enemies’ asses and a Morning Star that asks the question “do you bleed?”
My spiky mace also needs to be upgraded 25 times…that’s bad.
97! That’s the amount of Smithing Stones you need to upgrade one normal weapon. Why make it so damn many? Especially considering that summons and special weapons only need ten of their respective upgrade material to reach max level. Even when you can buy the stones, the prices aren’t cheap, meaning you aren’t going to be able to experiment much with different weapons as you progress. Yes, there has been a patch to reduce Smithing Stone costs, but much like the original Bloodborne loading times, I’m still going to complain about it.
Oh, this is an actual Dark Souls level…that’s good.
The cost of an open world usually comes in level design, since with so much land to make the first thing to go is meticulously crafted areas. Not so with Elden Ring, with castles, dungeons and cities coming with that classic Dark Souls taste of branching paths, hidden rooms and shortcuts leading back to rest points. Despite all these years, FromSoft can still knock out an enthralling labyrinth for the player to lose themselves in.
Oh…I don’t have the stats for this…that’s bad.
Question: if the game gives me multiple chances to respec my character, then why have stat restrictions at all? It’s not like you can just pick up a weapon and use right away since it needs to be upgraded (25 times by the way, I’m not sure if I mentioned that), so why does the game get all fussy about it? And you can’t even see spells in action if you don’t have the requirements, which led to me levelling up Faith to 32 to find out that yes, Ancient Dragons’ Lightning Spear is indeed garbage.
I reunited a jellyfish with her sister…that’s good.
For all of the grand storytelling about mending the Elden Ring and becoming the Lord of Fire/Dark/Elden/Blood/Ninja or whatever, it’s the small character moments that hit the hardest for me. The story of the blacksmith at the Roundtable was one in particular that yanked my heartstrings, and actually made me question whether if my character’s ambitions were worth the cost it was obviously incurring. Lay out your arms one last time people…
My crafted poison throwing knives aren’t doing anything…that’s bad.
I remember being in a pickle when I ran out of arrows and desperately needed some projectiles to kill an enemy before I crossed a very narrow bridge. And so, I finally put that crafting system to use and made some throwing knives coated in poison. It took so damn long for the enemy to succumb to the poison and die, and this was just some jobber enemy that my mace could kill in three hits. What is the point of most of this stuff, I mean, has anyone actually used the firebomb that you can throw backwards?
I’m looking at a fiery blood-soaked hellscape…that’s good.
Much like with the level design, FromSoft hasn’t dropped the ball whatsoever when it comes to making vistas that are like scented bubble baths for the eyeballs. Art direction stands tall here, beating its mighty chest with golden fields that feature massive spectral banners, an ornately designed castle that stands high above a mist-covered lake and the ruins of a civilisation perpetually caught inside a huge whirling storm. It’s enough to make even the most cynical dullard be overcome with an almost poetic joy.
I’ve seen this prank before Miyazaki…that’s bad.
You know the drill Souls veterans: an item or an enemy with its back turned towards you, begging you to run forward without checking your flanks first. But checking your flanks is exactly what you are going to do because we’ve all been here before. It gets to a point where enemies feel less like they are the cursed denizens of a rapidly decaying world, and more like cogs of an elaborate hoodwinking machine.