Elden Ring First Impressions From A Dark Souls Noob

After what feels like decades of waiting – surely thanks in large part to the pandemic eating two years – "Elden Ring" is finally here. Even for someone who isn't a huge "Dark Souls" fan, it feels a bit surreal to be on the precipice of a game release this big. Major game releases will always get players excited, but a few times each decade, we get those truly major releases – games that are talked about on every corner of the internet and seem to be highly anticipated by just about everybody. "Elden Ring" is one of those games.

There's a good reason why, because over the past 13 years, the "Souls" series has redefined the action RPG genre, with it brutal difficulty and a gameplay loop that's frustrating-yet-satisfying. "Elden Ring" promises to be more than any "Souls" series game or spin-off that came before it, with an open world to explore and the worldbuilding handled by "A Song of Ice and Fire" scribe George R.R. Martin. With director Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team at From Software further refining the tried-and-true "Dark Souls" gameplay, it's no wonder people are looking forward to "Elden Ring."

Bandai Namco gave me the chance to play "Elden Ring" before release, and even though this originally started as a project to review the game, the plan quickly unraveled as it became clear that I am straight up awful at it. That's little surprise, as my "Dark Souls" bona fides are lacking, to say the least. All told, I've spent about 30 hours with "Dark Souls Remastered" heading into "Elden Ring," and that's it. It was my intention to play through at least the "Dark Souls" trilogy before "Elden Ring," but certain other games got in the way of those plans.

In any case, "Elden Ring" has become a trial by fire for me. I've spent a long time playing it over the past week and progress, though slow, is happening. Even though I've spent a lot of time in "Elden Ring," it's clear that I've only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. So, consider this not a review but rather a set of impressions from someone who is largely a "Dark Souls" noob.

Don't worry, Elden Ring is still difficult

I'm not sure if there was any fear that, by going open world and perhaps appealing to more mainstream gamers, "Elden Ring" would somehow become less difficult or more "casual" in the process, but just in case there was, we can lay that to rest. This game is still very difficult, and even though I can't really compare it to prior "Souls" games or their spin-offs, the time I've spent with Elden Ring looks a lot like the time I've spent with "Dark Souls Remastered": lots of dying, lots of trial and error, and incremental progress.

Certainly "Dark Souls" veterans will fare better than I have so far, but many fights will still require quick reaction times at the least. Boss fights and battles with sub-bosses feel like puzzles where you have to learn what your openings are and play from a distance at first as you bait out attacks so you can learn animations. Combat in this game feels great, and I'm looking forward to experimenting with it a lot more in the future.

Elden Ring open world and crafting

Obviously, one of the biggest distinctions "Elden Ring" has over its predecessors is the fact that it has an open world for players to explore. This differs from previous "Dark Souls" games that were more linear, curated experiences, and I think the open world works well. I've only seen a portion of it so far, but I've had fun exploring for curiosities and seeing what's out there.

Exploration is helped along by the fact that you have a horse, and riding around feels pretty good. You can even attack from horseback, and that can give you an edge against some enemies (while making it harder to bring others down). The horse is actually integral to exploration because it can double jump, allowing you to reach places you can't on foot.

Going hand-in-hand with the open world is the fact that you can now craft items, which require you to harvest raw materials from plants and animals. Crafting is impactful without feeling like a strict necessity, at least early on in the game. For instance, it's nice to be able to craft arrows – even basic, low damage ones – rather than having to grind out Runes ("Elden Ring's" version of Souls) to buy them from a vendor when I just want to use them to pull enemies away from groups. I'm not sure how extensive the crafting system is in this game, but at least in the early game, it's useful without crafting and farming becoming the dominant focus. 

Elden Ring performance and graphics

"Elden Ring" certainly looks like a "Dark Souls" game, and I think it looks pretty good, especially once you get out into the open world. While perhaps not as obviously next-gen as something like "Horizon Forbidden West," "Elden Ring" is still a good looking game, and once you dive in, I would urge you to pay particular attention to the fine details on things like buildings and armor.

I've spent most of my time playing on PlayStation 5. Originally, I'd planned to play "Elden Ring" on PC, but I ran into an issue where I couldn't get a controller to work in the preview build of the game I had access to. That issue still persists, and it doesn't matter which controller I use – Xbox Wireless Gamepad, PS5's DualSense, or even the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller – I can't seem to get the game to recognize it. Those controllers all work fine in other Steam games too, so I'm guessing this is a problem with the preview build and not something wrong on my end, but it's hard to know for sure with PC gaming problems. I'll update this article after I've had a chance to try the retail PC build to let you know if my controller problems remain.

On PlayStation 5, the game runs pretty well and looks good. As with so many PS5 games these days, you have the option of playing in Resolution Mode, where framerate is decreased to play at a higher resolution, or Performance mode, where resolution drops to facilitate a higher framerate. The Performance mode is good but it's not quite rock solid, as I experienced a few frame drops out in the open world as I was playing. Still, I would recommend that most people play in Performance mode, because the boosted framerate makes combat feel a lot more fluid and responsive.

Wrap up: Is Elden Ring any fun?

I think "Elden Ring" is a lot of fun. Don't get me wrong, there have definitely been moments of frustration as I died repeatedly to bosses or certain enemies, and while it can be discouraging to lose over and over again, there's also a big feeling of satisfaction once you finally emerge victorious in a difficult fight.

For years, I've thought that "Souls" games weren't for me because I assumed I wouldn't have the patience – or even the ability – to learn difficult fights. The early hours of "Elden Ring" reinforced that notion, and I have a feeling that this is going to be a common theme for anyone who is coming to the "Souls" series for the first time through "Elden Ring." After around 10 hours, however, something clicked where that process of figuring out a fight became less frustrating and much more enjoyable.

So yeah, I'm having a lot of fun with "Elden Ring" so far, frustrations and all. I'm beginning to see the appeal of "Souls" games after thinking for so long that they weren't really for me. I'm looking forward to playing a lot more "Elden Ring" in the days and weeks to come and I don't think that this will be the last I write about my time with the game. For now, however, I'm planning on taking things slow and soaking in "Elden Ring's" open world as I experiment with weapons and combat styles to find the perfect fit for me. So far, "Elden Ring" hasn't disappointed – here's hoping that doesn't change as I get deeper into the game.