The review embargo for Elden Ring, From Software’s highly anticipated and tough-as-nails action role-playing game, has finally lifted ahead of its February 25 launch. Critics have started publishing their reviews online, giving you an opportunity to see just where the latest Soulslike stands in relation to other genre favorites like Demon’s Souls and Nioh 2. It seems to be a big success, one that’s both accessible and difficult at the same time. In fact, the reviews are so glowing that they’ve rapidly made Elden Ring one of the highest-rated games of all time on aggregate sites Metacritic and OpenCritic.
Revealed during E3 2019, Elden Ring features the much-publicized narrative involvement of Game of Thrones novelist George R.R. Martin, though just how much impact Martin actually had on the game is unclear. In the moody, opaque tradition of the studio’s previous games, Elden Ring sees you controlling a silent protagonist (here named the Tarnished) as they explore the mythical open world of Lands Between to fight monsters, uncover secrets, and become something called the Elden Lord. The high fantasy combat, with its magic spells and hefty broadswords, looks to be right out of From’s other action-RPGs, complete with the same punishing difficulty fans have come to expect. But setting Elden Ring apart is just how open its open world is, putting new emphasis on exploration and player freedom similar to Breath of the Wild.
Not all outlets were treated equally, though. You’ll likely notice that our Elden Ring review is absent from this first wave of criticism and online discourse. There’s an explanation for this: From Software took quite a while to send us code for the platform our writer is playing the game on, so we’ve had very little time with it, and it is, of course, quite a big game. Our review is coming. Don’t worry about that. It’ll just be a bit late.
Still, with or without our review, Elden Ring is breaking records on aggregate sites like Metacritic and OpenCritic. On both aggregators, the game holds an impressive 97 score. This has positioned Elden Ring as one of the best-reviewed PS5 games of all time on Metacritic and the highest-rated game of all time on OpenCritic.
Here’s what some of the reviews that have propelled Elden Ring to the top of the charts have to say:
In the 87 hours that it took me to beat Elden Ring, I was put through an absolute wringer of emotion: Anger as I was beaten down by its toughest challenges, exhilaration when I finally overcame them, and a fair amount of sorrow for the mountains of exp I lost along the way to some of the toughest boss encounters From Software has ever conceived. But more than anything else I was in near-constant awe–from the many absolutely jaw-dropping vistas, the sheer scope of an absolutely enormous world, the frequently harrowing enemies, and the way in which Elden Ring nearly always rewarded my curiosity with either an interesting encounter, a valuable reward, or something even greater.
But then, little by little, your power grows. The lowly bandits and wolves and soldiers you cut down turn to runes, these runes are channelled into power that steadies your sword hand, bolsters your spellcasting intellect, and enhances your ability to withstand a troll club full to the face. Bandits and wolves and soldiers turn to demons and witches and fey, and your power grows again. You feel you might be strong enough to journey south, to a ragged peninsula where beasts have overrun a castle by the sea; to the West, where lush marshlands have swallowed whole a once-great centre for scholarly learning; to the East, where desert sands are stained red with blood and rot, or to the North, where a great golden capital lies, or perhaps you’ll set off to a multitude of other faraway destinations between. As your power grows, so too does the challenge, and the wonder of the journey before you. Before long, you feel you just might be strong enough to challenge the demigods themselves.
The challenge for From Software lies in the friction between the studio’s design hallmarks and the expected conventions of a genre filled with games that try to be all things to everyone. And although the execution is an unmitigated success, one thing’s for sure: Elden Ring is not a smooth-edged, one-size-fits-all kind of experience that will accommodate everyone. Instead, it’s unrelentingly opaque, relishes in the savagery of confronting players with unfavorable odds, and delights in watching the ensuing struggle. Elden Ring’s gameplay will feel familiar to those with experience of previous From Software games. The tried-and-true formula of measured third-person combat against enemies that are swift to punish foolhardiness is both as thrilling and nerve-racking as ever. Whether you wield a sword and shield, swing something that’s closer to a heap of raw iron, or stand back as a mage and launch spells to topple your foes, Elden Ring tests patience and skill with tricky enemy mobs and ferocious bosses.
On the subject of these challenging boss fights, Miyazaki has talked at length about how From Software has taken another look at its notorious penchant for difficulty. Have no fear—to cut to the chase, this hasn’t made the studio’s iconic bosses any easier. In fact, I’d go out on a limb to say that I found the typical legacy dungeon bosses, on average, to be more challenging than many Souls bosses. However, Miyazaki is a man of his word—though Elden Ring‘s boss fights and dungeons may not be outright easier, there are more ways for players to tackle their challenges.
Combat gets a lift from a more open loadout system. Mixing and matching playstyles and weapon types is super easy, and making your own potion to suit your needs (using a combination of two effects, which you’ll pick up throughout the game by killing tree guardians) is peak Elden Ring customization. From a mechanical perspective, most of the weapon types feel precise, and on a PS5, I had no real technical complaints. There are too many individual facets to talk about, but the amount of freedom I felt was overwhelming at times. Instead of just pumping stats into a character like so many other lite RPGs, I put some actual thought into how I wanted to approach everything. That includes weapon modification, what abilities to imbue, and what armor pieces to wear.
Elden Ring is the natural next step for From Software, which last delivered a huge fantasy world like this in Dark Souls 3. That game featured a sprawling, interconnected world, a vast armory, and an incredible amount to learn, wield, and discover. Elden Ring is that game amplified — it plucks the best from Bloodborne, with its compact, puzzle-like mini-dungeons, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which offered new levels of mobility and faster action.
While minor technical issues and some dated graphics occasionally crop up, the art direction and world of Elden Ring is an absolute spectacle. It’s a very hard game, but one that affords you the chance to turn around, go off an adventure and come back later. And while it isn’t the revolution that Demon’s Souls was, it’s the closest From Software have some to recapturing that magic once again.
What makes Elden Ring such a standout success in terms of accessibility and difficulty, according to critics, is its openness. The game lets you travel just about wherever you want, whenever you want, which has sparked a lot of comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And because of that freedom of exploration, you can leave an area, grind up some levels and accrue better gear, then come back to whoop that ass. This isn’t new for games or even for From Software, but it appears the studio has given Elden Ring players ample tools to deal with the Lands Between’s threats.
Update 02/24/2022 9:40 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to add information about Elden Ring’s record-breaking performance on aggregate sites.