⭐ Games that receive this star have a score of 95% or above. This is purely from a game design perspective and is not in any way related to our morality evaluation.
Open world games have become increasingly numerous these days, so it almost feels inevitable that FromSoftware would make one of their own and show us all how it’s really supposed to be done. Elden Ring is the latest game from the developers of the Dark Souls series, and it feels like the devs took everything they’ve learned over the past 13 years of their games and made a love letter to their community and their past games. Combat, exploration, and story have all been incredibly refined for a game that feels like the ultimate FromSoft game.
Elden Ring puts the player in control of a Tarnished, a forlorn and meek being guided only by Grace. Grace, in this context, is defined rather nebulously at the start of the game, and could easily be Catholically interpreted as the grace of God. In gameplay, it’s much more tangible in the form of a golden light guiding you to your next destination, but for story purposes it’s a blessing bestowed upon the Tarnished to guide and sustain them.
The setup for the game is that long ago, a war was fought over the Elden Ring, and it was shattered into pieces. Shards of the ring were claimed by those who would go on to become the rulers of the land, the Elden Lords. In true Dark Souls fashion, your mission is to claim the shards for yourself and become the new lord, bringing unity to a shattered world. The story feels very reminiscent of Dark Souls 3, which isn’t inherently bad, as that game had a good plot with fantastic characters. It does feel like Elden Ring is simply repeating what has worked in the past, but if the devs were going to repeat anything, it definitely should have been their storytelling strengths from past games. Beyond that basic goal, the lore is hidden throughout the game in item descriptions, the environment, and NPC dialogue, so if you want the full story, you’ve got a lot of exploration ahead of you. This style of storytelling is fantastic for the open-world style of game because the story unfolds with the world, and more lore is revealed simultaneously with a new area or boss.
Exploration has always been integral to FromSoftware’s games, but in Elden Ring, it’s mandatory. This is the kind of open world where you can pick a direction and run, and there will always be something new to discover whether you’re stuck on a hard boss or are just looking for your next goal. To this end, you are given a horse and a map. The horse has two benefits, the first being to help traverse the vast landscapes, and the second being to trivialize minibosses you might encounter in the world. The map is done fantastically, as you’ll have to find the pieces of the map yourself to get a detailed view of the terrain. This incentivizes exploration and makes uncovering the map feel rewarding.
The other half of the gameplay is the combat, and if you’ve played any Souls game before, you pretty much know what to expect. There is a plethora of swords, axes, bows, and polearms to choose from, alongside two types of catalysts for casting magic. Whatever your preferred dark fantasy playstyle, you’ll be able to find enjoyment and variety in confronting the various enemies in the world around you. There are three new additions to your arsenal. The first is horseback combat, which grants you the ability to move very fast, rendering most enemies harmless. The second is a jump button, and the third is a crouch button. The jump button lets you do heavier falling attacks without having to run off of a nearby ledge, and also makes certain areas of the map more traversable on foot. The crouch button introduces stealth, and the ability to sneak up on enemies rather than rush in. The number of times where stealth is viable or encouraged is limited, but the option is there if you’d rather not be fighting an entire camp of enemy knights all at once. Otherwise, the 1-on-1 dueling combat is just as fluid and fun as it’s always been. Fighting is exhilarating and winning is rewarding, and the boss fights are just as challenging as ever. Boss designs seem to have taken inspiration from various past bosses in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, for better and worse. Some of these inspirations have led to exciting and unique fights against memorable opponents, and others have been less than successful. The bosses and minibosses are very hit-or-miss, but this is essentially tradition for FromSoftware and the good ones definitely outweigh the bad.
Elden Ring is surprisingly Catholic for a dark fantasy game. Dark Souls has always been uplifting in its characters and stories, but Elden Ring seems to specifically cater to a Catholic view of its world. Firstly and most obviously, the aforementioned guiding force of the game is Grace. Grace manifests as places of respite and safety, and as a pointer towards your next goal in the game. This parallels nicely with the grace of God, which provides us with guidance and security in life, should we stop and take notice of it. The overarching plot about the collecting of the shards of the original Elden Ring is very Tolkien-esque (who himself was a devout Catholic) and has strong themes of the ways in which power corrupts people. The game has plenty of other easter eggs like the Confessor starting class or the various characters in the player hub of Roundtable Hold, and they lend the whole world a subtle feeling that among all other video game protagonists, the player’s mission in Elden Ring is especially noble and sacred.
Elden Ring is a fantastic demonstration of how an open world should encourage the player to explore. Its combat and progression mechanics constantly push the player into new areas and reward the player for discovering optional quests and boss fights. It is the culmination of 13 years’ worth of FromSoftware games, and all the strengths of the past games are on display. The combat, story, and beautifully realized world pull everything together into an experience that is content to show its entire hand at the start and let the player find their own way to have fun. What few weak points it has are mostly negligible and concern specific areas and bosses that you only pass through once. Whether you’re a fan of wide open worlds or have been playing every FromSoftware game since 2009, Elden Ring is sure to be your new gaming obsession for a while.
Priestly Comment by Fr. Stephen (trekkie4christ):
“There’s a lot of Catholic-inspired imagery here, including the delightful giant tortoise wearing a bishop’s miter. However, after 80+ hours in game, there’s no clear way to redemption. Christ is definitely needed in the Lands Between, but He’s nowhere to be found. All that’s left is to pick up the pieces and get good.”
Scoring: 95%⭐(EXCELLENT OPEN-WORLD RPG)
Violence: Elden Ring is heavy on the dark fantasy violence. Bosses especially can be implicitly violent in their character designs. Realistic weapons and blood are present.
Language: There is some foul language.
Sex/nudity: There is no explicit nudity, but some sexual themes are present in some quests and characters.