Transcendent Moments and Open-World Malaise Define 'Elden Ring'

In my twenty-five hours with the game, that basic conception of what Elden Ring is has already shifted at least three times. Twice by the game’s hand, and once by a series of brain-melting conversations with a fellow journalist who described a totally different video game to me than the one I was playing. If you told me right now “Ren, if you play one more hour of Elden Ring the game will present you with something that totally reshapes your idea of what its basic structure actually is,” I would believe you in a heartbeat. 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qjbxdm/elden-ring-review
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I’m glad Ren only put in 25 hours into this game during the spitefully short one week embargo period, apparently the IGN critic played 87 hours in a week, and that sounds like absolute hell to me…

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There’s zero chance the IGN reviewer actually considers anything that takes up 87 hours of your week to be a 10/10. I would even be resentful of sleep at that point.

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The thing I’m taking away is that instead of Big Dark Souls maybe we should have called this Big Bloodborne. The kind of… occasionally horrible imaginary mixed with strangely affectless locations (ymmv I guess but I find a lot of Yharnam to be not particularly compelling) mixed with those transcendent moments is a pretty solid encapsulation of how I feel about that game.

Funny thing is that, now that I’ve played all of these games and most multiple times, the first Dark Souls really does seem to be the outlier. The other Souls, BB and Sekiro all share a lot more in common with each other than they do with it.

Also funny that people talk about Bloodborne 2 when every game From has released since Bloodborne has been a kind of Bloodborne 2.

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If I played 87 hours of anything in a week I’d remember it all as a bizarre fever-dream. Idk, man. That’s almost doing a disservice to yourself and the reader. There’s no way you’re giving me an accurate review if you start hallucinating things halfway through your playtime. Maybe wasn’t the reviewers choice? That’s rotten all around, though.

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It has big “I’m going to get death threats if I don’t actually finish this fucking thing before we hit publish” energy to me.

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I could also see an old-school outlet like IGN having some kind of “we finish the games we review” editorial policy to which there was no exception given.

But as other people have pointed out, 87 hours of anything in a week and I wouldn’t be able to remember my own name. I think that if you can comfortably finish a game in time for an embargo, digest it, and review it, groovy. But otherwise, give us some thoughts wherever you’re at.

I think it’s interesting we are discussing IGN reviewer playtimes more than this “review that is not a review” review. My summary quibble is my perspective to see how life struggles to remain in such a terribly grostesque world despite its grotesqueness can say a lot and I find a lot of beauty in that, but I could only gather that Ren didn’t and that doesn’t say much to either of us. I guess I’m not sure what this article was trying to do. Admittedly, I find impressionistic criticism the least interesting, though. Believe me, I’m all for a bubble bust on this hype train but this was giving me early Pitchfork vibes and not in the most charming way.

I’m glad the guys gave Renata first publish on Elden Ring. Good to hear the perspective of of someone who’s not the Souls die hard, rather than say Patrick.

The whole navigate the world through sight lines is extremely my jam but the difficulty thing is keeping me getting too excited for Elden Ring. Constantly running into super killer enemies runs a bit counter to the joys of exploration. I loved the first 2 Dark Souls games but haven’t found the time or patience for one since. Not yet convinced Elden Ring is the one to get me back on the From train.

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Really glad they gave Ren the baton for this one.

As far as the game goes, I think I’m off the From train for the moment. I got about halfway through DS3 and barely made any progress in Sekiro. These games are such specific and singular works, but they’re also not really for me anymore. I never liked playing them, I was just there for the discovery and the thrill of that has worn off sooner and sooner with each successive game.

I’m also not a huge fan of Skyrim or Breath of Wild, so the touchstones that have influenced From’s transition to making open-world games do nothing for me either.

Really wish I was a Fromsoft person because I’m glad they got this game, but I don’t think I’ll touch until I can find a deep deep discount.

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Elden Ring wants you to use this map to plan your explorations by setting waypoints on interesting marks and structures.

leo pointing

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While Ren seems to be in the minority of “this game is pretty good I guess” rather than the consensus of “this game is 10/10”, it’s always good to get some tempered views on these.

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The specific mention of Good Moments makes me more excited for the game than discussions of good gameplay.

Moments like this are not fleeting, or even particularly uncommon in Elden Ring . For every affectless sky, irritating imp, and bland room in the Roundtable Hold—there is a contrasting moment of overwhelming wonder. A small stone archway, hidden in a bush, which carries you to a lonely, bloody church in the North-East.

More than anything From has proven to be one of the best developers at this. If they actually deliver on it, it is what can make me put up with an open world since I tend to be very cool on those.

For the meta discussion, launch week is never when really interesting reflections on a game like this hits anyway. It’ll take time for everyone to digest their feelings on the game and its place in whatever “canon” that modern Souls-descendants make up.

(As for me, while I’m interested I’ll have to wait for a sale and play it after the first hype period. But that also tends to suit me better.)

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Yeah, I’m not too impressed with people slagging on the article. Let’s face it, anyone who is interested in Elden Ring is getting it as soon as they can. The 10/10 reviews offer no value outside of validating the fandom’s preconceived notions. If anything, Ren’s writeup offers more value by identifying the moments where the game wasn’t completely enthralling.

Obligatory Jeff Gerstmann tweet:

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This set of impressions is what actually tipped me over from ‘wait until sales’ to ‘pre-order and Elden Ring it up this weekend’. Unlike most other day 1 coverage, it feels like an honest assessment of the game, that dares to grapple with ways in which it doesn’t work, which served to highlight the ways in which it is likely to excel for me.

Thanks Ren!

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There’s a reason why Jeff is still one of my most trusted voices in the games press.

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After using a 9.00 PS4 to finally trounce the, imo, insufferable inaccessibility of BB I kinda got that impression too. Even putting aside my severe misgivings with where that took From’s up-its-combat-ass trajectory, it’s startling how much of the theming feels like a rote Dudes Rock cartoon just with From’s mystique (and also bad worldbuilding habits). I’m not convinced I’m gonna get much more from the George RR Top Billing Big Boy Open World game.

Absolutely plan on playing this on a PC where Cheat Engine can nip the parts where they decide to waste my real life resource of time in the bud. I have not a single crumb of pretense about the sanctity of whatever, these games are pulp sword-go-swing bullshit no matter how much gamerfans think they look dignified by pretending otherwise. Every meaningful thing i’ve heard was earned by the obtuseness could be achieved without making me trial-and-error the same 10 minutes of animation sets for hours.

ER definitely has a Death Threat Gamer vibe already. real culmination of main demographic being an army of dorm room dudes who’d get agitated if you told them to stop reciting unsolicited Tool lyrics at you.

God help if any rag with a minority writer of any sort gives it an explicit 8 instead of 9-10.

It says something that even the act of pointing out how pointlessly masturbatory the traditional metacritic-friendly review cycle is feels exhaustingly old. Not that it’s wrong or shouldn’t be restated-- it’s literally always been true if not even more insidiously true now, but i had to look at the date of those tweets to know if they were from now or several years ago

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I do think there’s merit in asking why Waypoint, which at one point made a point of not doing “reviews” at all, needs to have criticism out on Day 1 of a game like this. I think this was an excellent piece of criticism that made me even more excited about a game I’ve been anticipating more than I have anything since probably BOTW… but I wonder if giving Ren more time anyway might not have been the play? I don’t know. I understand that Vice still has advertising and editorial goals to hit but a hope I have with Waypoint+ specifically is that the subscriber support might allow them to break some of these industry norms that really trace back to an era where game reviews were more product review than art criticism. Especially when we know this game will have legs. People are going to be looking to read about this for weeks.

It was a long time ago when I heard this, but I remember Austin saying that the whole “we’re not doing reviews” thing basically happened on accident. In an interview, Joel or someone mentioned it offhandedly and they felt bound to that so adopted it as a policy. I’m not sure it was a key part of their mission. And we’ll definitely see more articles on Elden Ring over the next few weeks. I no doubt agree that I’d rather see a later review, but the numbers game is definitely going to favor fast draws on the embargo.

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I don’t really have a dog/horse in this fight/race. I’m not a Souls person, but I do like challenging games and have written here before about how DOOM: Eternal is my souls game. I’ve only given Sekiro a decent go and think there’s a ton about it that is simply infuriating and not good, but I want people that are into these games to have their fun.

I’m listening to the NoClip podcast as we speak and I think Danny is 100% correct that Elden Ring is an easy game to give a 10. These games have taken on (I think) an outsized cultural position. I respect them a lot from a distance, but my hot take is that the influence of these games on the design of other games is frequently overstated because people that like them fawn over them. I appreciate that many games have pretty explicitly taken on the Souls-like moniker, but there’s enough pure marketing value in that term that it doesn’t mean much to me.

This hot take is not where I thought I was going when I started this post, but here we are. And if I wrote this basically anywhere else I’d have to go into hiding—which in a sense justifies the point.

Anyway, this is all to say that I’m glad Ren’s review is a more measured assessment. Like others, it makes the good bits way more believable.

Edit: k lol I might be walking back my impulsive hot take but I stand by conclusion!

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