By Marisa Alexander / August 13th, 2020
|Title||Elden: Path of the Forgotten|
|Release Date||July 9th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||Rated T for Teen|
I’m aware that we already had an impressions piece for Elden: Path of the Forgotten recently, so I won’t dawdle for long. To expand on the premise some more, the idea is inspired by Lovecraftian myth and atmosphere. That said, the game has no dialogue whatsoever, so any kind of storytelling is left to the visuals. The main character, Elden, has to traverse through ruined lands in order to find his mother, who most likely dealt with cultist activities and was sucked through a portal after a ritual. From there, he, along with his bird companion, will witness the remnants of a lost civilization that used a language unfathomable to human ears. At least, I assume that is the case due to the multitude of statues that can be found and cryptic text that shows up on screen.
Before we go on, I would like to address a particular comparison. Unlike what my fellow writer wrote, I do not believe Elden is like Dark Souls. Overall, the only hard correlation this game can possibly have to a souls-like is the stamina bar, which many other games have. There are very few RPG elements, your move and weapon list is rather limited, and enemies don’t respawn by using checkpoints. It could have had inspirations from the sub-genre for sure, but it is not enough in my opinion to give it the souls-like moniker. I will make comparisons here and there but mainly due to how the comparison is already established.
With that out of the way, onto the gameplay proper. Throughout the game, you have three weapons you can use. That is the short sword, a two-handed battle axe, and a spear. All of the weapons are one note, so there is no complexity behind them. The sword has very short forward range but can hit to the sides. The axe is similar in this regard though it feels it has a wider ranger. To balance out its strength however, the axe has this massive overswing, leaving you open. The spear is only forward and does the least amount of damage, but is a lot longer making it safer to use.
In addition, there is a roll, a dash, spells you periodically learn, and a multitude of items. You actually don’t know what an item does until you use it. Goodness forbid you already have full health, full stamina, and full magic. Even Dark Souls tells you, for the most part, what an item does. With that said, a majority of items are just restoration items. There is a bomb that clearly looks like a bomb but then there is the green vial that I never tried to use due to not having a reason to.
The spells, however, are really what make sure you don’t constantly die all the time. Most specifically, the first spell in the game, which is a basic projectile. The second spell has your bird companion zip around you, damaging enemies that get in the way. The third one is akin to a close range screen nuke. However, the latter two are almost inconsequential since the first one provides far more reach, therefore allowing the player to handle ranged threats far more safely. The main issue with fighting ranged enemies is that you move so slowly you can barely reach them in time to even melee them. However, this also makes the game go far slower since you keep having to wait for your magic meter to refill just to get a move on.
Now, before someone asks “well, why don’t you just roll through attacks?”, you can’t. The roll is strictly for movement only, as it provides no invincibility frames. There are times where it is helpful, since you move rather far and quickly at that, so you can actually punish attacks. However, the roll is not even fool proof since enemies attack often, can easily move out of the way, and sometimes you just flat out miss. As such, taking the safest, most consistent method of taking out ranged enemies makes the game go painfully slow. It doesn’t help that combat is excruciatingly common in the game. You can perhaps avoid enemies and ignore them, but that is a risk as you could have a swarm of enemies following you, especially if they are in the way of progress.
Ranged enemies tend to only leave precise openings. Like the wraiths which throw projectiles near constantly, preparing to throw another almost as soon as they threw the first one. Then there are the purple dragons that breathe fire that can leave deceptive openings. Even if you react specifically to the wind up animation before they breathe their fire ball, they sometimes switch sides, so you can roll right into the ball of fire instead. Perhaps more cruel, there are enemies with attacks that sprout from the ground towards you that track. It is highly difficult to melee them unscathed, despite the game advertising itself for basing the gameplay on reaction, rather than action. Never have I felt this much the opposite. The weapon selection doesn’t help either. The sword and axe have such short reach, meanwhile the spear can’t hit diagonally.
That is without going into the game’s hit detection. As far as Elden’s hit box is concerned, it is actually a bit bigger than his sprite. Enemy hit boxes, on the contrary, many times do not match the sprite at all. That, or your attack hitboxes are ridiculously small. There were many times where my projectile clipped through an enemy. Other times, the tip of my spear was basically landing on the enemy, yet it dealt no damage. Meanwhile, enemies can easily hit you, as if they are playing by far different rules than you. Especially when out of nowhere these balls of shadow appear, hit you, and become stunned. Strangely, the stamina bar almost feels slapped on, as it actually doesn’t mean much. At least in other games be it Dark Souls, Nioh, and countless others, you truly have to manage it otherwise you might miss opportunities to punish or have your guard completely blown through, leaving you open.
In terms of gameplay, that is it. Strangely, the Elden website describes it as a medieval RPG. The medieval part I can get, but I am not convinced to describe this as an RPG. There are no puzzles to solve nor any experience, currency, or stats, just massive amounts of combat with some exploration tied in along with it. It would be one thing, even when the player’s move list is rather limited, if enemies died quickly. In fact, most of the enemies that just run up and try to melee you actually die extremely quickly. However, every enemy in the game that has a ranged attack, of which there are many, brings the pace down to that of a snail.
Then there are other technical issues where there was a patch so these first three issues could’ve been fixed. Firstly, there was a bizarre case of enemies just teleporting around all over the place without rhyme or reason. This actually got me killed once since a melee enemy teleported on top of me and landed a hit on me while at low health. The second issue is when enemies got stuck in the scenery like in cliffs. This hasn’t broken the game, since the projectile spell could still hit them, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. However, at the first boss fight of the game, the boss could not pathfind around a mere column to get to me. The fight was meant to revolve around avoiding the boss while dodging the aforementioned balls of shadows. Instead I could stay in one corner and blast it with magic until it died.
These remaining technical issues are still present, however. One of them is that, at least after the first boss, when going through portals the game has a strangely long load time. So long in fact – since it stays frozen in the last frame of the teleport sequence – I thought my game crashed, so I ended up doing the second boss twice. There was also an instance of a melee enemy appearing and following me, but neither of us could interact with the other. Another issue was the purple part of the health bar being displaced away from the black surrounding it normally. They aren’t game breaking but they show a lack of polish.
Boss design is not exactly a highlight either. The first boss has the aforementioned issue and shadow balls, the second boss has eye lasers but the main threat are the spawning enemies. So the best way to handle it is just wait far back for the enemies to come towards you, kill them, and hit the boss’ hands. Repeat until dead. The third boss just slowly walks towards you, swinging their sword despite being out of range, so you can easily poke them with the spear. This is in spite of enemies appearing, since the boss will also kill them. As a result, even if they are not frustrating, the bosses are very underwhelming.
Unfortunately, the negatives don’t end there. Despite the attempt to do environmental storytelling as the focus for the world building, Elden: Path of the Forgotten barely makes an attempt to convey a story without dialogue. The intro details the premise well enough. You clearly see an old woman do a ritual, fall into a portal, and a man looks out of the bedroom to see her not there. You can tell he is now going to look for her. Then there is the building with a bunch of dead monks, presumably cultists, and knights strewn all over the floor. From there, you can guess that perhaps they summoned these beings into the land but got destroyed by those very entities. After that, however, not so much. There are a couple moments sporadically that try to tell a story, but they do not feel substantial. Other than those moments, there are countless statues that do not convey much, as if the world is stagnant without any event having occurred. Stories with no dialogue at all can be difficult. I know because I have done write ups that attempted the same approach. However, all I wish was that there was more of an attempt.
The world of Elden doesn’t feel all that Lovecraftian, either. Sure, there are some monsters with tentacles here and there, as well as aspects of the unknown. However, as far as I know, Lovecraft’s works were fueled by a special kind of paranoia that requires a specific attention to detail to replicate. The amount of combat is what really hurts the game’s feel, considering the developer’s intention to have some form of indirect horror. You face and kill the monsters around so often, encounters do not offer substantial impact. I would imagine that bringing down the encounter rate, as well as keeping more to the stronger monsters like the dragons, wraiths, and squid-faced monstrosities, would help offer a more horror-like feel. This is something that Darkest Dungeon understands quite well, where encounters are driven by the fear of characters dying or runs ending. As it stands however, every time an enemy shows up, it merely amounts to a tired reaction of fighting again.
It doesn’t help the actual environments in Elden are actually barren. The first one is fine, it is a forest with some depiction of events having happened. However, next is the desert, then the ice wasteland, then a cave, and strangely back to the forest but with none of the storytelling available from the first time. The desert is effectively just a desert with only parts of ruins. The ice wasteland is just a wasteland. So even without the combat getting in the way, it is just a drag to explore these areas. Of course with the combat, it is an actual chore.
Despite the comparison to the souls-like formula, Elden: Path of the Forgotten feels closer to Soul Blazer, albeit much less refined and not having to fight enemies to get to nodes. You can only attack with your weapon in four directions, your magic is centered around a magical companion, and your move list is not big at all. Yet even Soul Blazer, as strange to play as it can be, has better hitboxes and movement, has distinctive RPG elements like experience and different equipment overall, and far more imaginative level design as expected by Quintet, the same creators of Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma. As such, it makes the aforementioned issues even more apparent, as Soul Blazer was not exactly all that refined either. When a modern retro-style game has more technical quirks than an actual game from the ’80s and ’90s, that’s a problem.
Now, with all the negatives, what are the positives in Elden? As far as the forest is concerned, the environment did look nice. Jason mentioned that trees can get in the way and it can be hard to navigate the area. Even if trees obscured things, they never really got in the way, nor did I find it hard to navigate with the exception of the cave. It is far too dark for my liking, so it is hard to even see where the passageways are. There was also a moment in the forest building where the stairs up were obscured by darkness. In the end, that was it. I also did not find the screen shaking intrusive at all, though that could be due to playing on handheld mode for the Switch. However, the positives basically end there. Not so much because the game does everything else wrong, but rather it doesn’t do anything that particularly stands out.
For instance, store descriptions detail that the game is visually inspired by 8-bit and 16-bit games. However, the main character’s sprite style and many of the enemies betray otherwise. Even for larger entities, the shading is rather basic. I understand, it is easier to animate by using as few pixels as necessary, especially when you desire more fluid animation. However, sprite proportions that are closer to Atari consoles is rather common in the retro indie scene. Compare this to the 2017 game Phantom Trigger. My opinion on that game’s presentation has definitely dulled over time, being now the same as I am describing about Elden: Path of the Forgotten. Yet, Phantom Trigger still provided a bit more detail in its sprites, with some visual flair to the environment in contrast. Even NES games can have quite a bit of detail, despite a limited color palette, such as Kirby’s Adventure. If anything, saying the visuals are inspired by 8-bit and 16-bit games in a way runs counter to what those games had to offer in terms of detail. In turn, Elden has difficulty standing out at all.
In the end, Elden: Path of the Forgotten is a very lackluster experience. The game ranges from two hours long at worst, four hours at best. With a price point of $15.99, that is asking for quite a bit for any potential buyer, especially since the game has little replay value. If you are really interested in the game, it is best advised to wait for a decent sale. Even that, however, is a tenuous recommendation, due to the game’s weak foundation and lack of polish. Hopefully OneRat can improve from here, in order to truly stand out in the industry.
Review copy provided by the publisher
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