'Elden Ring' game written by George R R Martin lives up to the hype

Video game from 'Game of Thrones' author takes place in a monster-infested country

Expectations are sky high for 'Elden Ring', a video game that 'Game of Thrones' author George R R Martin helped write. Reuters

Fans of the Game of Thrones books routinely express dismay that author George R R Martin spends so much time on side projects rather than finishing the long-awaited next entry in the series.

But after playing Elden Ring, the new video game that Martin helped write, those fans are advised to reconsider. Perhaps he should do all the side projects he wants.

Expectations are sky high for Elden Ring, which was unveiled in 2019 as a crossover between From Software and Martin, then went radio silent before re-emerging with a marketing blitz last year.

Trailers for the game have received tens of millions of YouTube views and it was nominated for Most Anticipated Game at the annual Video Game Awards show in 2020 and 2021.

From Software has been operating since 1986 but didn’t draw much global attention until 2011 with hit fantasy action game Dark Souls, which became beloved for its brilliant level design and challenging gameplay.

Players appreciated that the game respected their intelligence and refused to hold their hand. Follow-ups included two sequels and Bloodborne, a similarly crafted game set in an H P Lovecraft-inspired world. All are among the highest-rated games ever.

Elden Ring is more accessible than those other titles. Set in a fantasy world full of ancient ruins and menacing demons, the game pushes players to pick a direction and wander until they find something interesting.

Whereas previous From Software games eschewed basic features like an in-game map in favour of player immersion, Elden Ring is more accommodating. There’s a compass, a fast-travel option that lets you teleport between rest points across the world and, yes, a map. None of these features take away from the game’s exhilarating sense of tension.

Fans of the Souls games will be pleased to hear that there’s no shortage of esoteric lore. Anyone who bounced off From Software’s other games, or found them too intimidating, should give this one a chance.

It’s designed to be more user-friendly than its predecessors. If you’re stuck on a particularly tough boss or dungeon, there are countless other places to go explore.

The story takes place in a monster-infested country called Lands Between. The player is a Tarnished, a sort of supernatural castaway, whose goal is to collect five Great Runes from hulking bosses, each occupying their own dungeon such as a labyrinthine castle or a magical academy.

The dungeons are as elaborate and intricate as any Souls game, full of devious traps and interlocking levels.

The best part of Elden Ring, though, is the open world. Exploring this game is sheer joy, leading to all sorts of discoveries both big and small.

There’s a small dungeon that ends in a fight with a giant cat. There’s a massive tree that will grant you a seed to mix and form powerful elixirs. There’s a teleporter that’ll send you halfway across the map, smack into the middle of a massive enemy encampment.

My mouth dropped about every 10 minutes — and that was before I discovered the mansion full of sentient floating hands.

Updated: February 23, 2022, 6:46 PM
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