Elden Ring, the game penned by George R.R. Martin, lives up to the hype


Expectations are sky-high for Elden Ring, which was unveiled in 2019 as a cross-over between From Software and Martin, then went radio silent before re-emerging with a marketing blitz last year. — Bandai Namco

Fans of the Game Of Thrones books routinely express dismay at the author George R.R. Martin spending so much of his time on side projects rather than finishing the long-awaited next entry in the series. After playing Elden Ring, the new video game that Martin helped write, those fans are advised to reconsider. Perhaps Martin should make all the side projects he wants.

Elden Ring, made by the Japanese developer From Software Inc, is one of the best video games I’ve ever played. It crosses the punishing, addictive action of From’s previous titles like Dark Souls and Sekiro with the blissful exploration of Nintendo Co’s the Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. I’ve spent around 35 hours playing Elden Ring over the past week and a half, and during every hour that I wasn’t playing, I wished that I was.

Expectations are sky-high for Elden Ring, which was unveiled in 2019 as a cross-over between From Software and Martin, then went radio silent before re-emerging with a marketing blitz last year. Trailers for the game have received tens of millions of YouTube views, and it was nominated for “most anticipated game” at the annual Video Game Awards show both in 2020 and 2021. Fans have been frothing at the idea of a game that combines the story chops of Martin with the design of From Software, widely considered to be one of the best game makers today.

From Software has been operating since 1986 but didn’t draw much global attention until 2011 with the hit fantasy action game Dark Souls, which became beloved for its brilliant level design and challenging gameplay. Players appreciated that the game respected their intelligence and refused to hold their hand. Follow-ups included two sequels and Bloodborne, a similarly crafted game set in an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired gothic world. All are among the highest-rated games ever.

Japan-based Bandai Namco Holdings Inc, which will publish Elden Ring, is hoping it will be From’s biggest success yet. The developer’s last game, Sekiro, sold more than five million copies while the Dark Souls series has exceeded 27 million.

Elden Ring is more accessible than those other titles. Set in a humongous fantasy world full of ancient ruins and menacing demons, the game pushes players to pick a direction and wander until they find something interesting. Whereas previous From Software games eschewed basic features like an in-game map in favour of player immersion, Elden Ring is more accommodating. There’s a compass, a fast travel option that lets you teleport between rest points across the world and yes, a map. None of these features take away from the game’s exhilarating sense of tension.

Fans of the Souls games will be pleased to hear that there’s no shortage of esoteric lore. (One locked door commanded me to “seek three wise beasts” and offered no other explanation.) Anyone who bounced off From Software’s other games, or found them too intimidating, should give this one a chance. It’s designed to be more user-friendly than its predecessors. If you’re stuck on a particularly tough boss or dungeon, there are countless other places to go explore.

The Martin-penned story takes place in a monster-infested country called Lands Between. The player is a Tarnished, a sort of supernatural castaway, whose goal is to collect five Great Runes from hulking bosses, each occupying their own dungeon like a labyrinthian castle or a magical academy. The dungeons are as elaborate and intricate as any Souls game, full of devious traps and interlocking levels. The bosses are unique and challenging – not quite as brutal as Sekiro’s sword fights but on par with anything in Bloodborne (and way more difficult than most other big games on the market today).

The best part of Elden Ring, though, is the open world. Exploring this game is sheer joy, leading to all sorts of discoveries both big and small. Here’s a small dungeon that ends in a fight with a giant cat. Here’s a massive tree that will grant you a seed to mix and form powerful elixirs. Here’s a teleporter that’ll send you halfway across the map, smack into the middle of a massive enemy encampment. My mouth dropped just about every 10 minutes – and that was before I discovered the mansion full of sentient floating hands.

Elden Ring is, frankly, a masterpiece – a triumph of interactive design that will make anyone who can appreciate a good game forget that Winds Of Winter feels like it’s never actually going to come out. – Bloomberg

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