As I continue my adventures through Elden Ring, I am growing more powerful, but so are the enemies who seem determined to two-shot my poor mage wherever she goes. Fortunately, I have made a new friend called “Black Knife Tiche” whose favorite hobby is soloing bosses while I sit there watching, so overall, things are going well.

I certainly agree with the assessment both that Elden Ring is a likely shoe-in for GOTY 2022, regardless of what we see or don’t see from Starfield or God of War Ragnarok. I also agree its probably one of the best games of the last few years.

But I will go one level beyond that to say that without question, this is easily the best open world video game map I’ve ever seen, and it’s not particularly close. Yes, part of that is the mystery and exploration and lack of clear waypoints, but I’m not talking about that aspect, I just mean in terms of actual design.

I’m not sure what may have held the title before this. Breath of the Wild certainly makes a good case. Skyrim was probably the gold standard for an incredibly long time. A game like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is certainly going to win the “scale” award.

But Elden Ring? Elden Ring is something special in terms of the complexity, uniqueness and depth of its map. In my adventures so far, I have found:

  • Sprawling labyrinthine castles which are probably triple the size of most other traditional video game levels.
  • An entire underground ecosystem below the map accessed by a range of elevators full of bosses and secrets.
  • A level above that level, but still underground that’s an entire lost city that needs exploring.
  • An underground lake made entirely out of deadly rot you must somehow traverse.
  • A huge tower that I fought my way through the top of, then later, fought my way back down in an inverted, secret version that unlocked its true purpose.
  • An extraordinarily complex capital city that is layers and layers of buildings and roads and alleys and towers, all under the corpse of a giant dead dragon.
  • Below that capital city, a sprawling sewer system I still have not fully plumbed the depths of. In one section, you platform walking across pipes as enemies attack you. In another, you are inside the pipes you were previously just walking on as you navigate among the dark and rats to entirely new areas.

The list goes on, which includes elaborate ruins, mining tunnels, huge dungeons and puzzle-laden catacombs. Platforming segments with your horse. Treks into volcanoes and iced mountains. And I still have, I don’t even know, a third of the map blacked out. One thing about Elden Ring you’ll quickly learn, as just when you think you’re done, there’s something new that opens up to double the size of the map yet again. And of course, it’s all gorgeous, some of the most haunting, painting-like landscapes I’ve ever seen (though the “pure beauty” award could go to something like Ghost of Tsushima or Horizon Forbidden West, maybe).

I’ve never seen anything like it. I know FromSoftware is talented, but I genuinely do not understand how they made something both of this size and of this complexity over the last few years. There is just no equivalent in gaming, and even Skyrim and Fallout maps fall short. This is something we’ve never seen before, and that’s reason enough to play it.

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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.

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