Elden Ring Review: Max Difficulty, Gameplay, Graphics & Music

Article updated: 2023-01-29


Before starting, a quick glossary:

  • Max difficulty: stands for a custom and hard way of playing a game when you can't choose a starting difficulty.

  • SL1: stands for Soul Level 1 in Souls-like games, the term is used for clearing the game without leveling.

  • Blind: stands for playing the game without any kind of outside information.

  • Gameplay: includes character movement, combat system and game mechanics.

  • Graphics: includes art, design, attention to details and animations.

  • Music: the game's original soundtrack (OST)

Elden Ring release date: February 25, 2022.

In this article I will be going over Elden Ring, a game that I finished in both normal and SL1 difficulty back in March 2022.

No spoilers. Only 1 screenshot, without context, showing my SL1 character.

Elden Ring Difficulties

In Elden Ring, you cannot choose a difficulty from a menu, but you can choose to not level, which is called a SL1 run.

Elden Ring normal difficulty

Normal difficulty stands for the way the game was meant to be played.

The normal run I did was completely blind and aimed at clearing everything in the game (a 100% run). This was very time consuming, I didn't except Elden Ring to be that much longer then Dark Souls 3. It was fun for the most part, but became redundant after a while.

The game isn't difficult if you are not under-leveled. Now, the main difference: this game is open world, which means that it's not a linear game like Dark Souls. This gives you the option to go in higher level zones early on and have some more fun there.

Elden Ring's normal difficulty took me around 80 hours of playtime. I obviously missed a few things, even with very careful zone clearing.

Elden Ring SL1 difficulty

SL1 difficulty stands for soul level 1, a run without leveling and is the max difficulty in Elden Ring and Souls games.

After the normal run, I wasn't quite satisfied with the difficulty. I needed a harder challenge and started a SL1 run. A new game plus would not have been harder, not even NG+7, because you can just keep leveling to 713 (which is the maximum level in the game with all stats maxed at 99) and just use every weapon, armor and spell.

So, I started a level 1 challenge run. I had to clear most of the zones again to get all skills and spells, but at a faster pace. I would try every weapon art and buff spell I could use at level 1 to see which one would make me do the most damage.

In SL1, towards mid-end game, most attacks (even from normal mobs) will 1 to 2 shot you. Against bosses it's mostly a 1 hit. A smart armor management, equipping a low weight armor effective against the bosses attacks can grant you 2 hits usually.

The game felt pretty good in SL1, if you were looking for a challenge, you found it.

Elden Ring's SL1 difficulty took me around 70 hours to clear, most time spend is dying on Ma the end bosses.

Elden Ring NG+ to NG+7 difficulty

NG+ stands for new game plus. Every enemy will be stronger, scaling on a percentage.

NG+7 like in Dark Souls, is the highest scaling of the game. Now, like I said in the SL1 part, it's not even close to be as hard as a SL1 run, because you can just keep leveling and use absolutely everything in the game.

If you are not ready for a SL1 run, you can choose to play the NG+ difficulties first.

Note: You may think that the absolute highest difficulty in Elden Ring would be a SL1 NG+7 run. But in reality, because of some effects doing a percentage of bosses health in damage, their amount of health in +7 scaling can be disregarded.

Elden Ring's max difficulty is doing a SL1 run.

My SL1 character pre-boss nerfs

My SL1 Character - Patch 1.02.3 - March 2022

A mysterious flower in the background, will it flourish—again?

Patch 1.02.3 is pre-boss nerfs.

Game released on 1.02.1, here is what the first patches fixed:

  • 1.02.1: game stability improvement.

  • 1.02.2: graphic card stuttering fix.

  • 1.02.3: controller support fix.

  • 1.03+: boss nerfs and additional content.

Elden Ring Gameplay

Elden Ring's character movement

I played the normal run with keyboard + mouse, and the SL1 run with a switch pro controller. The gamepad makes it a little bit easier in fights, while the mouse is better to look around while exploring.

The movement is the same as in Dark Souls. Your character can do the following:

  • Walk

  • Run

  • Jump (not static)

  • Roll/Dodge

You also get something to travel faster in this massive world. The gameplay showcase of the game before the launch spoiled that one already, if you didn't see it you'll find out soon enough.

It will add the following to your character movement:

  • Travel faster

  • Double jump

Elden Ring's combat system

The combat system is also the same as in Dark Souls. Your character can do the following:

  • Look-on enemies

  • Light attacks

  • Heavy attacks

  • Charged attacks

  • Jump attacks (leaps)

  • Chug flasks to regain health/mana

  • Use a variety of items

  • Backstabs

  • After-knockdown finishers

  • Parries

  • Shield blocks

  • Dual wielding

This, plus a large variety of spells and weapon arts that you can use, some way too overpowered to be in the game.

In and out of combat, the stamina bar will be drained for each action you take, and the mana bar for weapon skills and spells. A little bit of an annoying design choice, is the target look-on that you will lose, if the enemy goes behind a pillar for example. You cannot avoid losing line of sight of some bosses, as it is part of their fight design.

A new type of combat is introduced with the thing you get to travel faster. Double jumps and powerful charged attacks are things you can do on it. Summoning minions is also a new added feature, but it was designed for people that needed some help during boss fights.

Elden Ring's game mechanics

Like in Dark Souls, you can level up with souls, but it's called runes here. Each level you will need more and more runes. The more you advance in the game, the more runes will drop from each mob and boss you defeat.

The following is what you can use runes for:

  • Level up your character

  • Level up your weapons (requires additional items)

  • Level up your summons/spirits (same)

  • Buy items from vendors

For the stats you can put points in, take a look at my previous screenshot again. Depending on your playstyle, you will need to put enough points in stats to use certain weapons that have minimal requirements. Spells also have minimal stat requirements.

Vigor is your health points, and is a good place to start if you don't know what to do.

Bosses are pattern heavy, and have some more interesting moves then in DS3. Some are quite jumpy...

Elden Ring's input buffering

The only issue is the input buffering. Here is a simple example of what it is:

Scenario: You get hit and input a roll at the same time.

  • Your character starts the hit animation

  • The game registers your roll input

  • Your character exists the hit animation

  • Your character rolls

Your roll will happen after you are done with your hit animation, because it has been queued, after that you will probably get hit again.

Elden Ring Graphics

Overall theme

Dark fantasy, probably my favorite. The whole world art is based around some kind of dark medieval era, staying really close to what Dark Souls looks like. Things like castles and monsters wearing different type of medieval armors and weapons is quite common.

The characters have an interesting and unique design. Extra limbs, decomposing corpses and the usual dark stuff. Same goes for bosses, other monsters and any visual effects (like weapons arts and spells particle effects).

You may figure out that not everything that has extra limbs is considered a monster.

Environment details

Wherever you look around you in this open world, everything looks gorgeous and very detailed. The actual amount of environmental details for that big of an open world is insane.

There are a few paintings in the game, where your goal is to find their real location. Each one ends up showing you a pretty nice scenery.

A very polished game, I wouldn't want it to look any different.

Animations & hitboxes

Animations are fluid, you usually get hit when you see that you get hit. The end hitbox of breath-type attacks can be a little confusing, this includes the fire traps in catacombs where you should stand a little bit more away then what you would think.

Elden Ring Music

Sound effects and general ambience

Each zone has a nice ambience to it, if you like dark ambiences that is. The SFX of bosses and monsters are on point. Same for spells and attacks.

Original game soundtrack

The music is the best part of the game. Epic orchestral tracks and strong choirs, my favorite music type.

Most bosses have their own theme, this is a lot of work, and they all sound unique. Elden Ring composers: Yuka Kitamura, Tsukasa Saitoh, Shoi Miyazawa, Yoshimi Kudo and Tai Tomisawa did an amazing job making the music for the massive world of Elden Ring.

Top 5 tracks

  • Starscourge Radahn: the definition of an epic battle.

  • Final Battle: that cinematic adding even more to it.

  • Regal Ancestor Spirit: the Nordic atmosphere...

  • Godskin Apostle: the godly dark (souls) choirs

  • Rennala, Queen of the Full Moon: beautiful fantasy

You might have noticed, in the navigation menu of my website, a "playlist" category. I curate playlists and all my Epic genre playlists have at least 1 Elden Ring track in them. For example, the first one "Epic Battle" has Starscourge Radahn in it, which is my favorite 2022 game OST.

Elden Ring mood playlists

After looking at the final score just below this, click on one to go to my curated playlist page. You can find content information and direct links to Spotify, YouTube Music & Deezer there.

All my Epic playlists are updated weekly.

Intense Battle
On… …the battlefield
Epic Ⅰ
Powerful Orchestral
I grow… …stronger
Epic Ⅱ
Dark Choirs
The bright… …the dark
Epic Ⅴ
Boss fights
Eater… …of Worlds
Epic Ⅵ

Elden Ring Final Score

Score based on everything I said above.

What about the Story?

I don't play these kind of games for the story, nor do I deeply invest myself into lore, so it's not part of the final score.

The story overall was pretty straight forward, the side quests were interesting and the cinematics were good (especially the end-boss introduction one). For a general ambience, that old English voice acting, also used in Dark Souls, is always nice to have.

Difficulty

10/10

SL1 overwrites the normal that I would still give 9/10.

Gameplay

9/10

-0.5 for the input buffering, -0.5 for unbalanced spells.

Graphics

10/10

Anywhere you look.

Music

10/10

Click on a playlist above.

Total: 9.75/10