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Elden Ring is the latest action-RPG developed by FromSoftware, the Japanese studio behind the Dark Souls series, as well as a number of other Dark Souls-adjacent titles.
For years now, this particular type of action-RPG has been getting more and more popular, going from the humble cult classic of Demon's Souls that established a lot of the sub-genre's conventions, to Elden Ring that without exaggeration can be considered one of the biggest releases of the year.
To FromSoftware's credit, their previous successes didn't make them complacent. Instead of resting on their laurels and counting on Elden Ring to sell like hotcakes either way, they went all out here, creating an absolute behemoth of a game. As such, it took us a while to get through the game, but now that we have, you can find your thoughts on this particular title below.
The Old and the New
To start things off, let's consider what even is a Souls game. And Elden Ring is most definitely one of those.
Essentially, it's a third-person action-RPG designed in a way that punishes absent-minded button mashing. You spend stamina to both attack and avoid getting hit, be it by blocking, dodging, or running away, and as such, coming up with an actual strategy for how to approach encounters without running out of stamina and just standing there unable to do anything becomes an integral part of the whole experience.
On the most basic level, you have to study your enemy's attack patterns and use whatever openings they give you to counter-attack. That's the action part. Then comes the RPG part, where you have a great many ways to build your character.
You have an impressive list of primary and secondary attributes that you can increase by leveling up. These determine which gear you'll be able to equip, how strong you're going to hit, and how much health and resistance you'll have when you inevitably let an enemy hit you.
In order to level up in Elden Ring, you'll be using Runes that act as both the game's experience points and currency. You get Runes by defeating enemies, trading, and using special items. You also lose whatever unused Runes you have on you upon dying.
People oftentimes point to this fact when trying to paint these games as exceedingly difficult. What they don't tell you is that Souls, Runes, or whatever they're called in any particular title, don't really matter. You can always get more, and it's relatively easy to do.
You even get a chance to get your lost Runes back. Here's how this works - when you die, you get sent back to the nearest Site of Grace or a Stake of Marika. The former act as checkpoints where you can level up, manage your spells, set up your healing items, and so on, while the latter simply let you respawn near some dangerous spot.
But even if there's no Stake nearby, the thing that a lot of newer Souls players don't realize is that they can simply run past most of the game's enemies without any issues, which removes all of the annoyance you would think goes hand in hand with a game where enemies respawn whenever you rest at a Site of Grace.
And here's the kicker. Your character's attributes, while certainly important, and even more so in Elden Ring due to how the game is structured, are not what actually defines your playstyle. Your gear and personal preferences play a much bigger part there.
Depending on what you like and feel comfortable with, these games let you become a walking tank laughing from behind an impenetrable shield as enemies get staggered simply by hitting you, a nimble warrior dodging through every attack and responding with a flurry of blows, a wizard, a spellblade, a cleric, a pyromancer, or a mix of any of the above. The game's systems support pretty much all of it. In fact, playing as a naked guy wielding a tree trunk is a very much viable playstyle here.
This level of freedom is a big part of what attracts me to these games, and why I didn't enjoy Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the series' more actiony spin-offs, that much. As opposed to those two games, Elden Ring really leans into this idea of letting you play however you want.