This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Elden Ring.
I've had a lot of trouble with elden ring, but my doctor tells me it's perfectly natural for my age, and I should add more fiber to my diet. "Very droll, Yahtz; now tell us if this fucking game's any good so I can decide if I'm taking this gun out of my mouth!" Umm... well, yes; it's a FromSoftware Souls-y game, and therefore, good, and characteristically light on overt storytelling. But this time, I told myself I was going to really concentrate on parsing the dialogue and item descriptions and figure this shit out upfront. A little later, that vow kind of fell by the wayside, because chiefly what I remembered of the prior two hours was getting mashed into farmhouse chutney by a dude that looked like an owl pellet got rogered by a semi-truck.
Turns out, Elden Ring's hard. "Is it, Yahtz? Well, hold on while I run cold water over the blisters that searing insight gave me." Look, I've been getting run over by the Souls train for years; I'm a fucking vet! And I swear, ever since we all figured out the "roll behind them when they attack and stab them in the bum" cheat code, FromSoftware have been upping the bullshit difficulty with every new game. Seems like a lot of the early bosses fall back on what my schoolyard chums used to very inappropriately call "spazzing the fuck out" and wail on you too fast for you to react or keep your guard up, like everyone's taken the Manus, Father of the Abyss correspondence course and grafted on at least one extraneous limb.
But let's roll back a bit: Elden Ring is open-world Dark Souls. None of that Sekiro-brand piddling about with grappling hooks and stealth elements; this is mainline Dark Souls classic, meaning you're an immortal dude in a decaying medieval fantasy setting where all the dragons are dying of crotch rot, and you've got a sword and a shield that spends more time in front of your face than your prescription spectacles, and if your spine doesn't yet resemble a McDonald's logo, then you haven't dodge-rolled enough.
With the usual fussy bitch alteration of terminology, we collect Runes rather than Souls, Crimson Tears instead of Estus, and to upgrade our weapons, instead of Titanite Shards and Large Titanite Shards, we collect Smithing Stones and Smithing Stone s. That's fucking weak, Elden Ring! What, is it the sequel to Smithing Stone ? This is a communication issue; the first time I picked up a Smithing Stone [2: This Time, It's Personal], I assumed I'd picked up two Smithing Stones. That was an embarrassing moment to the blacksmith's shop.
If you are a Dark Souls vet, the old instincts will require a little adjustment; it takes two button presses to switch to two-handed mode now. Ugh, how unintuitive! Fucking ruined forever, FromSoftware! They've had to rearrange the face buttons a bit to accommodate the "Jump" button. Ho yes; a linearly-structured environment might be able to get away with a "Jump" control that feels like playing lawn darts with a bag of damp cement, but in Open-World Land, you need a proper "Jump" button in case we get caught between a hitbox and a hard place. Sensible, but little did Elden Ring know it had sown the seeds of its downfall with that little addition. Here's my beginner's gameplay tip: never heavy attack if you can jump heavy attack, 'cos it's all the damage with none of the windup time, and stuns anything with Poise below ten squillion. If it's in range and not fast enough to hop out of the way, then it's getting cobblestones for breakfast. Not a universal strategy, but it gave me enough edge to counteract the Spazz-Out Brigade.
And of course, the open world also brings with it horse-riding and mounted combat, another thing that's fairly easy to cheese; how can it not be when you can attack and then be two post codes away before the victim can so much as glimpse your license plate number? That's probably why your horse disappears as you enter one of the more traditionally Souls-like sprawling castles or dungeons, like a fussy dad is insisting we take our shoes off at the door. Fun though it might've been to ride my charger straight through a skeleton-haunted catacomb like a snow plow in a popcorn factory, riding around the open world feels like being let out into the playground for recess, until we eventually have to come back inside to get once more bent over the vaulting blocks for the P.E. class that never ends.
I had my misgivings about Dark Souls: The Open World; felt like, if anything, the Souls-ies should've been above the general industry trend to gravitate everything to arsing about in a bush. My misgivings about the fucking crafting system, I was quite justified in mishaving; usually, when you find stuff in Souls-y games, it's a time for celebration. "Ooh, new weapons! Ooh, upgrade stones! Ooh, a small porcelain cat with a mummified finger in its mouth! Don't know what the fuck this is, but maybe I'll just yeet it at a boss and see what happens." Not so much of that in Elden Ring when, half the time, it's just more fucking crafting materials to add to the six tons of garbage we're hauling around in our horse's invisible U-Haul trailer.
But generally, this isn't the laundry list of grindy busywork that Ubisoft calls a "sandbox" when it can get a word past the dicks in its mouth; this is a case of "pick a direction and ride, and adventure will ensue". See, when the game signposted the path to the first castle, and the bouncer at the door greeted me the way a starving chimp greets a satsuma, Elden Ring was trying to tell me something, I eventually realized; it was saying, "Don't follow the signs! Go off-road; explore! You'll get stronger; you'll get experienced; you'll get pounded into wet sand by a giant crab with anger issues." So, I explored; I took what paths I could find until I hit a difficulty wall, saved the spot for later, and then tried somewhere else. It was like that thing you do with choose your own adventure books, where you keep your fingers marking eight previous pages in case you're fucking things up.
Elden Thing's open world actually feels like an elevation of the trademark Souls-y spectacular backdrops and drop-tacular backstabs, and there's a lot more to it than can be discussed in five minutes, or indeed, played in one week. Sadly, my time with it ended on a sour note; I'd just gotten to this one puzzle boss fight where you can't hurt them 'til you break their magic shield by finding the three random low-level minions powering it and smacking them 'round the head with a rolled-up newspaper, and it felt like a fucking "do the thing three times" boss from Super Mario, but whatever. Every FromSoftware game gets one weird shitty boss; it's in the company charter, I think. But then it turned out, oh, this was just the first phase, and the actual boss fight comes after. And every time that boss killed me - usually quickly, 'cos I was still trying to learn their patterns - I had to do that whole fucking first phase again, which wasn't fun or interestingly hard; it was just a slog! I'm here to serve up a sizzling footlong of meaty death to this moony cow, not run around her minions for ten minutes, handing out finger sandwiches!
And then I ran out of time before I'd beaten it. So it's a shame my last memory of the game had to be two pillowy mouthfuls of buttock; maybe I'll try to get through the game in my one hour of daily spare time after the kids have gone to bed. So ask me again how I feel about it around the time California slides into the ocean, or... George R. R. Martin puts another book out.
- The once and future king: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Cue all the comments saying I was only like two percent in and I missed the really good boss fight near the end with a giant disembodied tit on a shelf
- But who, among all the Elden Ring players, has the prettiest pony