Let’s get to the party late.
Yeah, I know this is a way behind review. In my defense, I was too busy playing the game to write a review, and have you seen how long it takes me to review films?
Anyway, the long-awaited new game from Fromsoft has finally arrived with (probably) exaggerated input from George R.R. Martin. (I mean, the game is finished, so how much could he have been involved)? Rise as a tarnished warrior and seek the Elden Throne by traversing beautiful yet deadly areas. Get lost in the world, literally, and forget what you were doing… and see a weird dog… and die.
After the surprisingly detailed tutorial, players emerge from their catacombs into a massive and colorful area called Limgrave. A dangerous boss awaits you right outside the door, and after you fail twenty times, you’ll turn left. It was a strange feeling to be able to move away from a boss and keep exploring.
After you get your spirit horse, Torrent, you’ll be able to traverse the land much quicker. Torrent is the best part of the game for me. He is fun to ride, and his double jump (jumping as a whole is nice) allows for such fast traversal and exploration. He can be a little spazzy if you’re going for a precise landing, but the feeling of exploration on horseback is top notch.
The early game consists of several minor bosses who are hidden in catacombs, caves, castles, and even just wandering the fields. You’ll get your feet wet with the combat, find some gear, and keep exploring. Devious traps might teleport you to frighteningly high-level areas, but this allows for a view of what is to come.
This issue has since been patched, but an early flaw of the game is the lack of upgrade materials. I found myself unwilling to experiment, and it was wise of Fromsoft to address this issue. There are so many weapons and builds available that I think they should go even further and have the first two smithing stones unlocked at the main hold when you first arrive. There aren’t many flaws in the early game, but this one that stuck out to me. I ended up finding the materials for the stones to be sold in the shop out of order, and this exacerbated my experience with experimentation even more.
Once you’re done looting the smaller areas you can head to the legacy dungeons. These massive areas are a more traditional soulslike level, without Torrent. We get our first taste of a “git gud” boss and make real progress in understanding the world early on. I liked most of the dungeons well enough but loved the open world more. For me, the legacy dungeons are an obstacle to the funner part of running around like a maniac in the open world.
Many reviews that came early seem to focus on Limgrave almost exclusively. Later areas like the lake, Caelid, and the Atlus Plateau are also amazing. Atlus is one of my favorite areas aesthetically, and there is an epic feeling as your make the approach to the Erdtree. However, you’ll get distracted and wind up in the bone-chilling Windmill Village that mixes Midsommar with Hellraiser in feeling. Yeah, it is a blast.
The early game is perfect. Honestly, it may be the best work Fromsoft has ever done. Minor issues with materials and some esoteric rules regarding great runes aside, this is an amazing experience. However, there is a shift in the game post the Fire Giant boss fight.
Fromsoft games are difficult. I did find this one to be a bit easier as far as combat goes, though I am sure I died more times to missing a jump or falling off something in this game than any of the other games, combined. Enemies are a bit jumpier this time, and sometimes it is hard to predict what their weak points are. With so many bosses, it can be a bit difficult to learn the pattens as well. However, my complaints aren’t with the boss fights, yes, even with the Blade of Miquella or that asshole, Alecto.
No, my complaints are more with the late game open-world or dungeon enemies. We end up with swarms of supercharged versions of earlier foes who (I think) do too much damage. The game feels more like a fighting game but emphasizes dodging and stealth in the later areas. The best solution is to not get hit, which is easier said than done. I don’t think the enemies should be made easier, but the player health and enemy damage scaling seem imbalanced to me. Almost all characters will have to level to 60 Vigor (yes, 60) to avoid being one-shot killed. I never wear heavy armor, but this time worse the heaviest crap I could find.
My solution for this issue would be to allow us to upgrade our armor again. Even in PVP, the duels seem to last five seconds a lot of the time, which isn’t as exciting for me. We as the players hit hard, but we can’t get hit as hard. Now, I know a lot of folks would be hesitant to any rebalancing, but I think most would agree the Haligtree and after are a bit over tuned as far as damage goes.
For me, there is a difference between making a game easier and making a compromise that players should be able to survive more than two hits from an enemy. I might be griping here, but I found the rewards for these trash mobs not worth the effort, and I wanted to save my heals for the boss fight. What I ended up doing was simply skipping over chunks of the levels, which is not what Fromsoft wanted. The risk-reward ratio is a bit off. Increasing the rewards, adjusting enemy damage levels, or increasing the potency of the vigor stat would help. It is just weird to me that trash mobs can hit me as hard as midgame bosses.
Now, let’s talk about the story. Fromsoft tells their stories in a fascinating way—via indirect environmental information and deep lore. Our character essentially doesn’t matter, we’re one of many tarnished who will most likely fail, so the NPCs don’t have a lot of time to waste on us. I love this approach to the story. I ate it up in the souls games and adored every mystery uncovered.
Here, though… it didn’t work for me. I think a lot of this is on me for bouncing all over the place and doing things in a strange order. However, the freedom the game gave me made me lose out on a lot of the minor stories that do matter. There is a decision that is a sort of no turning back, which leaves most NPCs dead or missing. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this. Should the game change? I don’t know. One thing that would be nice would be a dialogue log from the NPCs. Honestly, I got a little mixed up on who is who. Thankfully, Fromsoft did add NPC markers on the map and that is a game changer for finding folks. Playing again has allowed me to thread it all together a bit better. Maybe folks playing it post patch will have an easier time. A great example of this is now Boc will be easier to find now and you won’t lose your mind trying to figure out where he is.
There is a deep lore that is worth exploring. One thing that irked me was how similar many of the names are, sure this fits in the world, but it did leave me a little perplexed. We also have a lot of characters who are doppelgangers or in disguise, and some of these instances are cool. Other times, I wasn’t sure what the purpose was. For folks who enjoy uncovering every snippet of lore, there is a lot here, a lot to uncover and explore. On the one hand, this is awesome. On the other, miss one thread and you’ll be a bit lost in certain areas.
The game is a flawed masterpiece. The first two thirds (maybe even three-fourths) are amazing. The underground areas are vast, beautiful, and somehow tranquil despite the dangers. There is an excitement in the player around every corner, and every challenge is welcome. The last third (or quarter) of the game feels more like NG+ than what the base experience should be. Challenges become slogs, bosses get repeated, and the effort (and resources) in completely clearing an area doesn’t seem as incentivized.
This is Fromsoft’s biggest game, and I would argue that they’ve had some issues with late game content in almost all their games. Sekiro perhaps being a bit of exception. I think once they are trying to push the product out the door the latter areas fall a little behind. With the numerous patches, which thankfully have more buffs than nerfs, I think we’ll see them correct these issues in time. I have a few friends who are waiting for the dust to settle with patching to jump in. I don’t think this is needed for the early game, but I am curious to see what happens in the late game.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind the brutally difficult bosses (at least those you can get to easily). I do think the areas could be retuned.
The bummer of this is that your last 10-20 hours will be less enjoyable than the first 60. What this does is leaves a bad feeling. It’s like when a great movie craps the bed at the ending. It is hard to remember the great parts when it ends on a bitter note. After starting a new character and redoing the early areas, I certainly think this is the better portion of the game.
Should you buy it? Yes, but do keep in mind there are some issues in the latter areas. Granted, many of these are optional and you’ve got a lot of content before you get there. This will most likely be my game of the year. Looking ahead, I don’t know what could even compete with it in terms of scope, grandeur, and just plain fun.
It frustrates me that the early game proves Fromsoft is the master of challenging/fun games. It is too bad the scale slips a bit in the end. Do persevere though. The ending is interesting and the final boss (while kind of a pain in the ass to fight) is one of the most stunningly designed creatures (and bossrooms) I’ve seen. I literally died a few times because I was too awestruck at the beauty of what was happening to remember to dodge the massive attack heading my way.
Rise, tarnished, and don’t listen to “try jumping” messages