Role-playing game hit “Elden Ring” in the test

In the action role-playing game “Elden Ring”, death is part of the gameplay. This promises many painful moments of frustration for gamers for whom no challenge is too great.

“Demon’s Souls”, “Dark Souls”, “Bloodborne” – in the games of the Japanese cult development studio From Software, things are not only dark in name.

An immensely high difficulty level and many scary moments have earned the studio numerous loyal fans, who call their favorite games “Soulsbornes”. Now the mass market is to be conquered with “Elden Ring”.

That’s why they enlisted the help of Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. In the meantime, everyone involved meekly admits that his part in the game was only minor and has been completed for some time. However, this dubious publicity stunt has not had a negative impact on the game.

The art of failure

The world of “Elden Ring” is a picturesque natural idyll and a nightmare at the same time. One moment players are riding through the countryside as proud warriors, and the next moment deformed trolls or giant fire-breathing dragons appear.

Just open a chest and you’ll find yourself in a mine full of monsters. Or suddenly a giant crab emerges from the spongy waters, shredding the fighters with its claws.

Celebrity involvement?
Combat, magic, ghosts – so everything a bit like Game of Thrones?¬†Fantasy author George R. R. Martin’s involvement in “Elden Ring” was probably rather minor. Photo: Bandai Namco/dpa-tmn

The message is clear: don’t get careless, death is waiting in every corner. Fans have internalized this credo ever since the first official “Soulsborne” game, “Demon’s Souls”. In a video game world that strived to make everything easier and more accessible to a mass market in 2009, the gritty knight adventure was a culture shock.

From Software and chief designer Hidetaka Miyazaki were adamant: merciless battles with swords, lances and axes against zombies and other monsters, which could sometimes end in the loss of half the game’s progress. That’s why it was normal for players to spend hours or days gnashing their teeth at a particularly difficult opponent.

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Hardcore gaming for the mass market

Is it still fun? It seems so. The fan base has grown steadily in recent years. With “Elden Ring”, it should become even bigger. To do so, the studio not only returns to their roots in the European Middle Ages, but also relies on the popular open-world genre.

The open game world has also turned out splendidly. Right from the start, players can roam the world for hours to explore every out-of-the-way wonder. Visually, this looks impressive on the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft, only on the PC does the game struggle with stutters and other technical shortcomings, regardless of the equipment.

Close to digital death
It looks like cowboys in the sunset, but it’s a hard duel for digital life or digital death. Photo: Bandai Namco/dpa-tmn

But what is there to discover in this sprawling fantasy world! One ruin follows the next, you suddenly land in a nearly sunken city via a swamp, and believers transport a delivery truck through the area in a silent procession with two trolls. This somewhat confused mix of knight game, dark fantasy epic and Lovecraftian horror moments confuses players and impresses them at the same time.

Tactics and patience required

Whether this makes sense may rightly be asked. It’s about powerful runes and who will rise to the throne as Elden Prince in the end. The hints and references don’t reveal much more. Despite all the puzzles and visual wonders, the exploration tour ends in merciless battles. Where in other games wild button pushing leads to success, “Elden Ring” demands tactics and patience from the players.

Every opponent, no matter how small, can quickly mean the end for a hothead. That’s why the first thing to do at the beginning is to cram to learn the attack patterns by heart. Sometimes they can be blocked, sometimes a bit of dodging is enough, sometimes a perfectly executed counterattack. This often takes hours with larger opponents that tower high in front of players. Nothing goes fast here – “Elden” Ring is the discovery of slowness in the hectic video game world.

Few clues
Hello big magic tree: What “Elden Ring” is really about and how to get there is something players have to figure out for themselves for the most part. Photo: Bandai Namco/dpa-tmn

As in any role-playing game, there are experience points, here called runes. With them, the daring warriors and mages can not only improve their strength and life points, but also buy goods. With the appropriate tools, you can also make your own potions. But be careful: with death, the runes are also lost. Only those who bravely fight their way back to the scene of the crime can save them again.

Splendidly difficult adventure

This high level of difficulty is both a blessing and a curse. Fans love to spend hours fiddling with tactics and the right equipment in masochistic devotion. Newcomers, on the other hand, throw in the towel in frustration after just a few hours. The development studio doesn’t make it easy for them. Essential game mechanics are not explained, there is hardly any introduction and the menu control is complicated and confusing. Those who start “Elden Ring” completely clueless will jump into very cold water.

Gloomy atmosphere
Dark castles and the sky is full of gloomy planes – “Elden Ring” doesn’t skimp on typical fantasy themes. Photo: Bandai Namco/dpa-tmn

Therefore, it is not reprehensible to get help. In the game, adventurers can summon spirits to help in battle. The co-op mode attracts other players, who sometimes leave more or less useful tips on writing boards. If you’re at a loss for words, you can bustle around in the numerous Internet fan forums. Here you can find tips on tactics or explanations of every game secret. The puzzling and cryptic nature of the game world is part of the series’ principle.

Only those who peek into every corner, talk to every computer-controlled character, will understand all facets. This requires a lot of time, dedication and patience. When, after dozens of hours, the last enemy is finally defeated, players can proudly claim to have mastered one of the most difficult and magnificent action role-playing games of recent years. “Elden Ring” is hard as hell, but also damn good.

“Elden Ring” by From Software, published by Bandai Namco. Playable on PC, Playstation 4/5 and Xbox One/Series. Cost: circa 70 euros, USK from 16.