• notebookcomputer
  • 02/01/2023

Elden Ring (for PC) Review

Elden Ring plays like a FromSoftware greatest hits compilation. This open-world, action-focused RPG is rooted in grim, Dark Souls-esque fantasy, but the game incorporates elements from all the Souls games to date, including Bloodborne and Sekiro. The result is a masterful experience that features melee and magic systems with a staggering number of RPG class builds, and horseback exploration that feels smooth, natural, and intuitive—a first for a Souls game. Unfortunately, this $59.99 PC game also suffers from intrusive frame stuttering. This can be a potential deterrent, or even an outright deal breaker. It’s a shame, because were it not for this issue and a few minor quibbles, Elden Ring would be a must-own title.

Dark Fantasy Souls

Elden Ring is a Souls game, through and through. For the uninitiated, FromSoftware’s Souls games are action-RPGs with simple controls, brutally challenging combat, dark fantasy story elements and visuals, and a notorious corpse run mechanic that requires you to physically collect the valuable experience you lose whenever you die. Elden Ring takes elements from many FromSoftware-developed RPGs, as it features Dark Souls' sword and sorcery, Bloodborne's speedy movement and nightmarish imagery, and Sekiro's defense-heavy mechanics and jump-oriented action. It’s the culmination of everything FromSoftware has developed, married to a staggeringly massive open world that's dense with secrets, dungeons, and threats.

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A Sprawling Fantasy World

Every Souls game gets love in Elden Ring, even the black sheep of the series, Dark Souls II. In fact, Elden Ring feels like the realization of everything Dark Souls II promised it would be when it was first revealed. It features a grandiose story, a sprawling and highly detailed world, superb lighting elements, and spectacular visuals and vistas. Dark Souls II had fleeting glimmers of that inspirational vision in places like the Dragon Aerie and the Shrine of Amana, but all too often the game world felt generic and even nonsensical.

In Elden Ring, every zone has the same spectacular flair and evocative wonderment as the Dragon Aerie in Dark Souls II. From the lighting and shadows to the mist hanging over highlands, Elden Ring looks awesome in the most literal sense. Jaw-dropping monuments and fantasy architecture add to the graphical splendor, too. On the whole, Elden Ring is easily the most visually impressive game that FromSoftware's produced.

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Elden Ring's map is a key gameplay facet in a similar way as movement and combat. The game's topography is deliberately fractured and varied, giving you endless elevations to climb and terrain to traverse. Rocky cliffs, poisonous lakes, fossilized wastelands, quaint coastlines, are just a few of the many environments that you'll encounter—and the world gets wilder and more nightmarish as you progress. Your trusty steed, Torrent, makes exploration even easier. He is fantastically agile, capable of supernatural leaps, double-jumps, and mid-air pivots that would make Mario and Luigi green with envy. This makes exploration feel natural and highly enjoyable, since Torrent feels like he can take you anywhere.

The environment isn’t limited to just pretty landscapes. The map is pockmarked with Bloodborne-style dungeons, loot-filled catacombs, monster-haunted dens, and soldier-manned forts. Elden Ring is a big game, and it is also a dense one, filled with things to see and do. Just when the game world seems to have shown you everything it has to offer, more zones and points of interest reveal themselves. FromSoftware has a knack for level design, but it is surprising to see this level of thoughtfulness on display. Rarely is there a moment of respite before you inevitably stumble upon something new, be it a field boss to fight, a new cave to inspect, or a treasure to find.

The icing on the cake is the destructible environments, a relatively new flourish to the Souls series that really hammers the monsters' powerful attacks. Sure, a fire-breathing dragon is intimidating, but watching it raze a forest as it spews flames at you is a sight to behold. The thought of an elephant-sized bear is terrifying enough on its own, but watching one smash through a stone wall as it barrels towards you triggers a state of sheer panic that is shocking and novel, from a Souls series perspective.

Elden Ring (for PC) Review

Perhaps the most impressive Elden Ring aspect is the optional content. Technically, you don’t need to follow anything other than core story beats, but like Nintendo’s beloved The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can explore the world at your own pace, get stronger, amass weapons and skills, and tackle vital story-related sections whenever you choose.

Of course, the non-optional sections are equally impressive, easily on par with some of the best zones in earlier Souls games. You are guided to specific dungeons or landmarks to make progress, though as mentioned, you don’t need to do them right away. Like the world map, these dungeons are shockingly massive. They are intricately designed areas that are packed with secrets, as well as optional enemies and bosses of their own.

The first major dungeon, Stormveil Castle, is strongly reminiscent of Boletaria Castle from Demon’s Souls, and it's about as large as that massive zone's three sections. These key dungeons are also some of the best in the Souls series, with all the ambushes, traps, and shortcuts you would expect from the zones of old. Better still, because you can control your jumping like in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, every dungeon has a shocking amount of verticality. FromSoftware makes every stony balcony and rampart you can jump to worth a visit by stuffing them with secrets and treasures.

All About the Action

Elden Ring takes plenty of inspiration from older Souls titles, but reworks the classic mechanics to make them feel fresh or more intuitive. For example, Weapon Artes and the Focus gauge (mana) return from Dark Souls III, jumping and posture-breaking make the leap from Sekiro, and even the dual-wielding power stance from Dark Souls II makes a comeback. The overhauled magic systems give you a wealth of attack spells, buffs, support abilities, and minion summons, with pretty much any build you choose. Even the most brutish of strength-based builds can make use of some magical offense.

Elden Ring has fairly unconventional starting classes compared to other RPGs, but they share the same functions as classes in earlier FromSoftware games. The tanky Vagabond, for example, has high strength and low magic stats, similar to the Knight class of old. The Samurai class is a dexterity-focused class with stats aimed at utilizing speedy weapons, much like the Wanderer class in Dark Souls. Regardless of what you choose, you'll eventually gain access to everything that the other classes enjoy, so there's plenty of flexibility as you build your character beyond the starting stats and gear.

The most tangible combat changes come from the Sekiro-like posture system. You can stagger enemies with heavy attacks and aerial blows that leave them open to receive a meaty finishing move. The second, related change is the counter system that now exists independently of the series’ tried and true shield parry. In Elden Ring, you can riposte after a successful block. This flashy new follow-up attack deals massive posture damage, and can easily stagger basic enemies. The counter and the stagger systems can be used against boss enemies, though you must work harder to trigger them. You'll need multiple ripostes or aerial attacks to daze a boss for the death blow.

Elden Ring has a stunning enemy variety. Sure, many of these foes use the same bones and rigs from earlier Souls games, so the iconic Asylum Demon, knights, and giant crabs from Dark Souls make their appearance here, too. But with fresh models and modified move sets to match Elden Rings’ aesthetic, these old fiends can still catch you off guard. The game also has an impressive amount of new enemies to battle, including bat demons, man-faced harpies, blade-limbed panthers, dinosaur-dogs, magma-spewing lizards, explosive will-o-wisps, and horse-mounted warriors. The game only gets more varied in this respect, but it also never overwhelms you. You bounce between familiar foes and alien ones just enough to keep the combat fresh throughout the massive, hundred-hour-long adventure.

Elden Ring is also more approachable due to its open-world nature, as well as its tutorial-heavy introduction. Taking another leaf out of Sekiro’s book, Elden Ring repeatedly injects tutorial windows during the game's first few hours. Many gameplay elements, including healing flasks, guard-counter attacks, horse summoning and dismissal, and the checkpoint system, are covered in tutorial windows that break up the action. It feels as though FromSoftware wanted newcomers to understand the gameplay basics, but at the cost of some autonomy in the RPG's earliest moments. It's a minor gripe, admittedly.

Elden Ring's open-world nature means you won’t get stuck in a tough battle as you may have done in previous FromSoftware games. Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro all featured large areas, but fairly linear progression. Aside from a few optional detours, there weren't many branching paths, and you'd have to complete most zones to finish the game. This meant that, if you got stuck on a boss, you were well and truly stuck until you could beat it. This is not the case in Elden Ring, because you can go nearly anywhere. You can explore caves and ruins you find along the way, or visit different zones whenever you wish. There are key dungeons and bosses that need to be cleared, but there's nothing stopping you from hunting for better gear or experience elsewhere, and dealing with that thorn in your side at a later time.

Of course, this comes at the expense of some challenge. Because of Elden Rings' laissez-faire approach to progression, you can accidentally make the game too easy for yourself by gearing up too much as you explore, or by finding a secret dungeon or boss much later than intended. That is part and parcel for an open-world game, and a relatively minor gripe in any case. Elden Ring is still plenty hard.

Can Your PC Run Elden Ring?

To run Elden Ring, your PC needs at least an AMD Ryzen 3 3300X or Intel I5-8400 CPU, AMD Radeon RX 580 GPU or Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 GPU, 12GB of RAM, 60GB of storage space, and the Windows 10 operating system. To run the game at recommended specs, your PC needs an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X or Intel I7-8700K CPU, AMD Radeon RX VEGA 56 or Nvidia Geforce GTX 1070 GPU.

Elden Ring has serviceable PC settings. You can remap most keyboard, mouse, or gamepad functions. There are a handful of advanced graphical settings to tweak for better performance, such as Shadow Quality, Lighting Quality, Effects, Volumetrics, Reflections, Shaders, Global Illumination, Antialiasing, and Texture Quality.

I reviewed Elden Ring on a desktop PC with an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU, and 16GB of RAM. I played at 1440p resolution and 60 frames per second. The game is capped at 60fps, and mostly ran well. If you want to uncap the frame rate, take a look at these tips to get better Elden Ring performance.

Regrettably, Elden Ring suffers from stuttering on PC. This ranges from micro-stutters that appear as you move the camera or engage enemies to major chugging when too much action occurs. One particularly egregious incident occurred while fighting a field boss in the Dragonbarrow zone. The stuttering got so bad that my character seemed to teleport, as the game lurched to catch up with the action. As of this writing, publisher Bandai Namco announced that it's aware of the problem and are working towards fixing it. The online community has been troubleshooting the problem, and there are various potential solutions, such as setting the Shader cache size to unlimited or choosing “High Performance” in your Windows Graphics settings menu.

Unfortunately, these did not work for me. The game runs well, until all of a sudden it doesn’t, and then it does again. It’s frustrating that the game suffers from this issue, and I understand the PC gamers who are holding off on buying until a fix is available.

Interestingly, Valve’s graphics team has been working on optimizing Elden Ring for the Steam Deck. The game is listed as Deck Verified on its Steam page, and fixes are in the works via Proton to optimize and mitigate the stuttering via driver layers. This fix is expected to go public soon, so if you’re lucky enough to have snagged a Steam Deck, you may end up with a smoother experience than your Windows-based PC compatriots until a proper patch appears.

Amazing, With Some Caveats

Elden Ring is one of those captivating games that I daydream about when I have free time, wondering what builds I might try upon replay, or places I may have missed my first time through. It’s a wonderfully nostalgic feeling, and I am impressed with Elden Ring's size and scope. It's unfortunate that the game launched with annoying frame rate issues, as they can be a deal breaker for people who don't want the trouble. Were it not for the game's obnoxious stuttering, Elden Ring would easily score much higher; it's an otherwise stellar game. Hopefully, developer FromSoftware will soon release a patch that lets Elden Ring shine as it should.

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3.5See It$59.99 at SteamMSRP $59.99View More

Elden Ring is a wonderful action-RPG that features thrilling combat, an amazing open world, and tons of replay value. Unfortunately, its PC performance needs work.

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