I'm not really a Dark souls person I find the gameplay mechanics somewhat frustrating the fail Die fail die fail die fail die maybe succeed die mechanic gets grating after a while and every time I've tried one of these games I've usually bounced off it fairly quickly. Even some of the dark souls like often get annoying the most recent God of War or the Jedi Fallen Order being notable examples.
Yet I get tricked into thinking this new dark souls will be the one I figure out and I've tried dark souls remastered on the switch dark souls 3 and Sekiro shadows die twice on the pc, bloodborne on the ps3, Demon Souls remastered on the PS5, as well as Dark souls copies The Surge and the Surge 2 aka dark souls but with robots (which did hold my interest a bit longer than some of the other variants).
So there's a new kid in town a Dark Souls with a new story and backdrop crafted by legendary book not finisher George RRRRRRR Martin. Elden Ring.
It's had a rocky launch as the pc version (like a lot of the fromsoft pc ports which are notoriously bad) was seemingly written by the intern. It's shoddy on modern hardware for some reason and until recently was basically unplayable as it would just pause every so often then sort of catch up which in a game where reaction times are a factor and any random delay means death is somewhat ruinous to game play. Mostly that's been fixed in the most recent patches but it still will pause very occasionally. It also has locked frame rate which is pretty poor on a modern title.
Indeed supposedly Elden Ring runs pretty well on the SteamDeck because Valve took matters into their own hands and wrote some custom hardware specific patches just for that machine to work round what ever poorly written garbage graphics code Fromsoft put in there.
The menus are opaque even beyond their weird unhelpful setup and don't even think of trying to use keyboard mouse it does not work well they use an arcane key mapping scheme in the menus where escape is not return back it's something like q. Even if you set it as keys it won't update any of the prompts and will keep assuming you're using a controller. A lot of the key combinations it requires are also weird requiring you use shift and a mouse button for one of the attacks but not hold shift you have to press shift and the button at the same time and pressing shift without the button does something else.
Perhaps you can remap that stuff but I suspect if it exists the remapping menu requires you enter the key code as ascii values and do the mapping with a substitution cipher entered by morse code on random function keys. Play with controller or not at all is the short answer.
The multiplayer element is a mine field and at one point (maybe still the case) hackers could basically kill your game locking your character into a death spiral such that you would have to completely restart the campaign from scratch. So I turned that off immediately.
There's also no Ultrawide support (not even the somewhat common 21:9 let alone 32:9 of my monitor) which is baffling in a modern game from a major publisher, I know it's a little niche but still if the small indie devs that made things like Elex 2 can manage to set the display up correctly enough that ultrawide is an option I would expect a multimillion dollar backed dev like fromsoft to be able to figure it out. There are some mods to enable this but you run the risk of triggering the anti cheat and having yourself banned so I've just decided not to risk it and to live with big black bars down the sides of the screen. They claim it's to prevent "Competitive advantage" which I don't get this is for the most part a single player game. There are some multiplayer elements with invasion's and such but even then it doesn't feel like something that really gives you much of an advantage. Besides I set all that to offline.
This time it's more of an open world, typically Dark Souls games are a bunch of interlinked areas accessed from hubs and you unlock paths and shortcuts through as you play. They also can be very confusing and hard to navigate in Dark Souls if you make a wrong turn at one of the first areas you can end in an area where you basically cannot damage any of the enemies and will just get killed over and over (which is of course the true dark souls experience just this time there is no opportunity for you to git gud).
Having an open world makes for more options if you are stuck on a boss or dungeon you can go off and do something else level things or get new gear and come back which does make the experience slightly more accessible. You also have access to a horse that can leap and double jump and that means there are sections where you can just ride right past an enemy or miniboss. Typically boss areas are in sections that prevent you using the horse but for all the other areas you can just run right past enemies to get to some other area or thing which isn't something you could do in other Souls games.
The core gameplay loop is kill stuff mostly small enemies at first and get their runes (the souls of previous game basically a combination currency you use to buy things and also upgrade points you use to level your character with each level requiring more and more runes and giving you a single point to spend across your stats)
Elden ring like other souls games is an RPG of sorts and you have stats and a build that determines both what sort of weapons and abilities you can wield and what sort of equipment you can have which determines things like resistances to certain types of attack or environmental damage. Some areas have poison or fire or other such hazards and having an outfit that mitigates that is obviously very useful.
There are 8 different stats you can upgrade, they effect various other things in various different combinations like health points magic points endurance the damage you do with a weapon or resistances. Weapons have various level requirements to wield (you can wield them without those but they will not be as effective you can also use two handed stance to wield some one handed weapons you don't have the strength for) they also have various scaling aspect which means their damage scales as result of certain stats so a high strength scaling weapon will do much more damage as a result of increasing the strength stat where as a intelligence scaling staff will get almost nothing from that.
As is a series staple it doesn't go out of its way to help you or point out where you should go or what you should do. Some of this is good the exploration aspect is quite fun. I was wandering Lingrave the starting area and saw a small campfire against a cliff with a soldier at it so I sneaked up to jab him in the back and after relieving him of his magic runes and discovers a cave entrance just behind the camp. I wandered in and found a small cave network with a boss fight. This was a nice discovery and exploration element and most of the quests for npc's are somewhat like this too where they will tell you to go somewhere but no map icon pops up or quest appears in a list somewhere it's just down to you finding where ever it is they said and doing the thing (mostly killing sometime items or some such). The world is riddled with hidden caves even whole underground dungeons of impressive scale waiting to be found.
Where the lack of help bugs me is in the various systems it mostly won't tell you what things do or how to use them. I spent ages trying to use spirt summons (a technique where you can summon a helper npc of various types to fight for you in specific areas which is very helpful in boss fights or against harder enemies) but it wouldn't work because even though I'd been given the spirit ashes for a summon you also needed to get the summoning bell to make it then possible to summon anything. What's more you couldn't just get the bell from a shop (at least not initially) you had to go to a specific place at a specific time and wait for a npc to appear who will give you the bell and another sprit ash. It doesn't tell you this at all making it very annoying and I had to google it and even when I found this out and waited around the damn woman wouldn't spawn because I'd gone to far in a quest or something and then the bell is available from a merchant somewhere in a hub area. This lack of information and basically needing to look things up online or be forever frustrated is something that you just have to get used to.
One of the other things you'll have to get used to is dying repeatedly. The loop for pretty much all Souls games is kill a lot of enemies and then either screw up or get mobbed or encounter a more powerful enemy and get squashed flat (sometimes literally in the case of some of the huge towering enemies) when you die you respawn back at either the last site of grace (bonfire equivalent from souls games) or at a statue of marika (a temporary respawn point that unlike the site of grace doesn't allow you to level up or adjust your flasks or do any of the things you can do at a site of grace) but you lose all the runes you've accrued thus far. You then have one chance to get back to the place you died to reclaim those runes. This cycle will repeat over and over with you going out killing a bunch of stuff getting killed then repeat and often you get killed before you can retrieve those runes and thus lose any progress you made. You can't bank runes or save them so you either have to spend them either on gear or to level up or you have to hope you don't lose them.
Sometimes especially for big boss fights (where you enter a mist wall to access a boss arena) the save point is right next to the area so you spawn right there ready to go at it again (some of the mini bosses on the overworld also tend to have sites of grace or statues very nearby) that also means you can go into a fight fully charged up most of the time (you can rest at a site of grace to recharge you flasks which are health and mana potions and your summon bell but this also respawns all enemies nearby). Other times the boss is at the end of a cave network or dungeon and you have to fight your way through to get to them. I spent several frustrating hours trying to get to a boss room at the end of a cave filled with annoying scarlet rot (a sort of poison dot) areas and enemy spell caster that did a different poison dot often arriving already half dead so getting killed before I would get a chance to even figure out what the boss mechanics were.
There is quite a lot of options in terms of builds that makes for very different play styles. You pick a starting class that comes with some starter equipment and then a set initial stat roll. I've gone for a pure Intelligence magic build starting with the Astrologer class and then allocating mostly Intelligence which makes my character a bit of a glass cannon capable of some quite obscene levels of damage but one good hit and I'm dead. So for most minor enemies it's a case of picking them off at range often before they even know I'm there and for bigger enemies running away a lot or using summons to aggro them and tank the damage. So far my favorite summons is two skeletal warriors who even when they get killed can regenerate so long as noone lands a final killing blow.
magic is quite fun with lots of different spells and powers I have one that lobs three massive rocks at enemies doing area knockdown damage and taking out groups. Or one that summons a massive laser like greatsword that must be twelve feet long and use that to smack enemies in a big arc. Some of the end game spells even fair massive death lasers that can melt bosses with the right setup.
You can spec into strength or dex going for heavy nasty weapons or fast weapons you can add various special abilities to weapons with war ashes and some weapons have their own special abilities. There are bows spears claws hammers swords crossbows each with their own sorts of profile you can use a shield and it had a counter mechanism where you block an attack and then immediately counter attack for massive damage. You can do charged attacks you can dual wield. You can go stealth and sneaking backstab does add to damage.
You can use Incantations which are faith based magic which I don't understand seems to be a different set of spells that require faith rather than intelligence.
You can use spirt summons that bring in npc's of different types that fight for you these can be melee or ranged or both one such summon makes a copy of your character and the abilities and weapons you have and then this clone goes off fighting with all that stuff. Or you can summon a jellyfish. Spirits can be leveled up to do more damage.
The scope of options for types of build and playstyle is pretty impressive and makes for a lot of options in playing the game. And various equipment and weapons can add to that.
The graphics are pretty nice you have the overworld with it's various different areas swamps, forests, poisonous deserts, areas littered with ruins and massive crumbling structures. The eld tree glowing lumious over the world. The dark caves and dungeons sprawling networks of rooms in the dark or whole massive areas lit by strange glowing lights or volcanic fields of flame. It's very stylistic and impressive the fidelity is good but not the best I've seen but for what it is it works well. The monster design is often grotesque I fought a guy who had been grafting multiple arms to himself (not quite sure why) and he was this nightmare mass of extra limbs each wielding axes in a sort of torn stained golden tabard. There are dragons there are horrors of an unknown lovecraftian nature it's impressive in its variety.
The scale of boss fights is also impressive with massive enemies with a variety of attack patterns and phases you have to navigate. Even some of the mini bosses can be huge with the giants or massive bears or eld tree guardians being at least twice your height
The world feels alive with the various camps with static enemies and then patrols either in small groups or on horseback. In the opening area there is this wagon that is pulled by two giants who chained to it via hooks jammed through their torso. They wander along the road escorted by a bunch of nights and zombies and you can loot the cart to get some weapons either by killing them or waiting till they get to their destination where they stop and sleep.
There's a lot to like but it is also a very frustrating experience sometimes. It can feel like a treadmill where you are just repeatedly failing and not making any progress. losign the runes over and over or failing to beat that boss that drops the thing you want for the next step of your build. I also dislike the opaque nature of it sure having stuff to explore and find is nice but that shouldn't extend to your game system there is a respec mechanic but I think its relatively far into the game (i've not gotten to it yet) so there is some option to change tracks.
It is probably the Souls game I've gotten the furthers in I've beaten a couple of the main bosses including starter boss Margrit the fell omen and then him of the unfeasible number of arms Godrick the Grafted. They were tough fights and took a few goes but mostly I managed those without too much trouble. The more difficult battles were often the ones at the end of a nasty cave or dungeon where I had to fight through that just to access the boss area.
I'll probably keep playing which is more than I've managed on any other Souls game. It has a lot of the same frustrations as others and the git gud philosophy is definitely in full effect but it also makes some allowances for that frustration party by design with things like spirt ashes giving you a bit of npc help and partly by structure where the open world allows you the option to just go do something else for a bit and come back fresh or with better load out.
Would I recommend it somewhat, it's still a souls game even if it is probably the most accessible yet and for some people the baked in frustrations that necessitates will mean it just isn't for them.
I like the world even if the story so far has been incredibly opaque something about a tree and a ring and eld stuff and knights of the round table. I like the large options for play style. I like the exploration the hidden nooks and caves or dungeons the environment design leading you to little details or hidden things. The way the world feels somewhat alive with the patrols and caravans and little encampments or forts.
I don't like the lack of transparency with the mechanics, the crappy menus and gui, the somewhat shoddy pc port, the often frustrating treadmill to nowhere gameplay.
And above all the complete lack of Ultrawide support