Elden Ring, which released on Friday, is currently receiving very good reviews from critics and mostly positive reviews from players. So, does the game deserve all this praise? Feel free to read on for my opinions, based on my first weekend spent exploring the Lands Between.

Let’s start by addressing the few complaints regarding the title’s PC performance. Most of these are regarding significant frame rate stutters when loading certain areas. Across numerous play sessions, I only experienced this issue once, in the first region. It lasted perhaps a minute or two and then cleared up. My PC is not a super powered gaming rig, it hit the recommended settings and auto selected to run the game on high settings. Other than the one instance of frame stutters, I haven’t experienced any other performance issues on the PC version. The game has been running smoothly and loading quickly on login and when teleporting between areas.

A lot of the compliments from critics seem to be directed at the open world environment. Unfortunately, my experiences didn’t seem to match theirs, in this case. While the open world looks great with each region having a unique look and colour palate. I found the exploration and hunt for optional side quests to feel a little empty. The environment is vast and has plenty of visual features, like forests, ruins, camps, caves and more. However, I found the active areas – areas with combat, items and objectives – to be quite spaced out. FromSoftware said to target features on the map, but a chunk of those are visual only, in terms of gameplay and reward they give you nothing for the effort of traveling to them, other than a pleasing view.

It’s also worth noting that if you attempt to skip the optional content and go straight for the main objective, you will most likely get blocked by the first boss; which requires some levelling up and equipment improvement to have a chance of beating. In my mind, this makes the optional objectives important to the overall gameplay experience, and yet these are hidden in an expansive, open environment with no markers or even clear map indicators as to their location. I spent hours riding around the starting regions going from map point to map point and got little out of it other than a few extra runes, which are the level up currency. It just left me feeling that I was investing a lot of time for very little reward. Some might argue I was unlucky with my exploration, and they might be right, but so could other players be. On a positive note, you unlock a mount early on which does speed up the exploration process, even if it doesn’t make it any less hit and miss in terms of reward.

For me the game really excels back in the tried and tested format of the legacy dungeons and the boss fights. If you can find them, there are some very engaging optional fights to be had with mini bosses, out in the open world, and main bosses in the dungeons. A lot of reviews are stating that Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s most approachable game to date and I agree. The difficulty level is still high and you do have to prepare for major encounters, but the game does seem to be going for a lot less cheap shots then previous titles. For example, when I reached a point where I had to walk over the roof tops; I fully expected to be shot at by archers/ fire bombed or attacked by an aerial mob, or possibly all three, only for nothing to happen, bliss. Of course, I have still encountered numerous deadly traps, just not as many as I expected.

Another feature I enjoy is the new stealth mode. You can now creep up on and past enemies, using bushes for camouflage, which makes backstabbing even more of a joy than in the Dark Souls games. The stealth mechanic is well incorporated into the game with swarms of mobs dotted around the open world and in the legacy dungeons, forcing you to take the softly approach, on occasion, rather than just charging in. There is plenty of satisfaction to be had from sneaking around taking down mobs one at time, without being discovered, and some good rewards too. The added mounted combat, I’m not so sold on. It feels clunky to me. You hit the attack button and before you manage the attack, the enemy has moved and you miss. The horse doesn’t seem to turn as swiftly as you can on foot, and therefore makes anything other than homing attacks miss a lot against moving targets. Currently, I seem to be finding it easier to just dismount and take enemies on by foot.

As a final point, as if mimics weren’t bad enough, some chests now have teleportation traps in them. I was unfortunate enough to fall foul of the now infamous one in the starting region which ported me to a cave infested with higher level mobs from which you can’t port back out of. I had to sneak out and then ride through a very dangerous swamp in little more than my starting gear before finally reaching a working portal spot. I’ll be honest, I quite enjoyed the experience. It was harsh, unfair and very Dark Souls like. I now fear opening chests even more than I did back in the Dark Souls games, so well done to FromSoftware for that. They clearly put a lot of thought into what could be worse than opening a chest and getting instantly killed, and decided that trapping players in a place that will kill them multiple times over before managing to escape, fitted the bill. I won’t reveal where the chest is, to avoid spoilers, but a quick google search will find it for you, if you want to avoid it.

Anyway, despite the lack of directions to optional objectives in the open world, I’ve been enjoying the game immensely. I haven’t encountered any crashes or bugs, so far. And, overall, the difficulty level does seem a little more accommodating than I have become used to in playing the Darks Souls games. I’ve got no doubt the difficulty will increase drastically as the game progresses, but it seems reasonable, so far. Like Dark Souls, Elden Ring isn’t a game to hold your hand. There is little in the way of tutorials and the learning curve is steep but, if you’re up for a challenge, then it is well worth a play.