FromSoftware may have gotten international fame from the Souls series, but they've been at it much longer than that, and one of their talents has always been great level design, from the interconnectedness of Dark Souls, the tight streets of Bloodborne, and now the sprawling open-world of Elden Ring.
Major aspects of most regions are legacy dungeons, capstones that house demigods blocking your path, and a place they call home. In some regards, they're a callback to the tighter level design of previous games, while others highlight everything different about Elden Ring. They're all a joy, but some leave a more lasting impression.
6 Volcano Manor
The Volcano Manor is incredibly unique as a legacy dungeon. Unlike basically every other dungeon in the game, it's attached heavily to its own questline, the Recusants of Volcano Manor. As such, it's a place you'll continually revisit (should you so choose to assist them in their aims) rather than running through all at once. Though as the map betrays, there is much more to the manor than first meets the eye.
Hidden behind the walls are the depths of Mt Gelmir, lava flow and magma wyrms, elastic (and frankly adorable) serpents, and Godskin. It is a torture chamber, a place for inquisition. There is a ruined town nestled here too for its cold-blooded denizens. In fact, it even lets you reach the Lord of Blasphemy himself should you choose to forego the quest of the Recusants. By no means is it a weak legacy dungeon, it just doesn't have the same tightness as others, though in that same regard is truly unique.
5 Raya Lucaria
In many of the regions, the legacy dungeons can lie off in the far reaches. Volcano Manor and Leyndell to the far east and west of the Altus Plateau respectively, the Haligtree to the far north of the world, and so on. But Raya Lucaria is one of the first sights when you enter the wondrous Liurnia, towering above all else, situated right at the center to admonish all that lies below. It is awe-inspiring, a tantalizing crystal dangling above you.
Instead is a place that feels cut off from the rest of the world. Studious scholars line the halls, books in hand. The floors gleam with an otherwordly sheen. A mystical miasma hangs about it all. It feels like a world of its own, self-sufficient and tightly guarded. Secret passages dot the area, and there are deathtraps galore. It feels almost like a classic Souls dungeon, a more tight experience with absurd visual splendor.
4 Stormveil Castle
From the moment you step foot in Limgrave, you are greeted by an unmistakable sight. Many of them, actually. The Erdtree towering over all, the church over yonder, the Tree Sentinel patrolling, and the beaches further on. But what grace wishes you to see is the towering Stormveil Castle, enwreathed in storms and home of the demigod Godrick. It is a decrepit old fortress now, a place with a wondrous legacy left to ruin. Much like Godrick himself.
Stormveil surmises much of what Elden Ring excels at. It is a castle, of course, and those are far from an uncommon sight in FromSoftware's titles. But unlike the guided paths of Lothric or the self-contained Boletaria, Stormveil feels like a full castle. The initial wall to keep you out, the small city and church contained within the keep. Patrolling knights and secret passages. Little ledges that require deft jumps to reach. It feels like a place for the select few, but also like something that could've never worked in a previous Soulsborne game. The freedom of movement and routes makes Stormveil feel like a fully planned and mapped area.
3 Crumbling Farum Azula
Much of Elden Ring attempts to be clear to you. You know its history in broad strokes, you know the major players, and you know what must be done to fix the world, whatsoever you decide "fixing" means. But you also hear of the ancient dragons that once ruled the world, but only ever see their weakly descendants. And then are the Beastmen, seldom seen, but seemingly not from the Lands Between. And then you light the Forge of the Giants.
You awake in Farum Azula. Perhaps you saw it once before, transported by the Four Belfries. But now, you stand at its center. A crumbling land suspended in tornadoes, a land that exists beyond notions of time. Here is the home of the loyal Beastmen, and the final resting place of the ancient dragons. Farum Azula, even in ruins, is breathtaking. Rays of light glimmering between pillars, warriors of all ages convene to plunder and test themselves, and the whole place is built on haphazardous layers of itself. You can feel the eons of history permeating from it unendingly, and it feels truly distinct from anything else in the game.
2 Miquella's Haligtree
The Haligtree is something oft-mentioned throughout the game, though little information is ever given on it. It should be the home of the demigods Miquella and Malenia, though it is hidden from all but the Albinaurics, a people taking refuge there. But of course, you can find your way to this holy land, by benevolence or by blood. And unlike the Erdtree that towers high over the Lands Between, the Haligtree is in a much more desperate state.
Corrupted by rot all the way through, you begin on the far outreachs of the Haligtree's branches, deeply knotted and treacherous on every step. You then descend into the quickly-built Haligtree town housing the Misbegotten. Then comes the true beauty, when you travel along the layered wall of Elphael that wraps around the Haligtree, finally working your way into the roots themselves. It has such beauty amidst the rot and such variety that no other dungeon can boast. It's even entirely optional, and houses one of the game's most infamous fights. The Erdtree preaches grace, but the Haligtree actually practices it.
1 Leyndell, Royal Capital
Long throughout the game is Leyndell hyped up to you. The Royal Capital of the Golden Lineage, and proud home of the Erdtree. It is a benevolent place of grace, its double walls never truly breached, and now with the self-professed Omen King Morgott presiding over it all. With such hopes held behind it, surely Leyndell cannot possibly match its description, and yet somehow it achieves it with ease.
Oft-forgotten in games is the incredible power of music and visuals. A cutscene isn't needed to evoke emotion, but a carefully guided camera and timely music. Upon finally ascending the steps of Leyndell, you emerge to see the great dragon Forttisax impaled and calcified, the music of the envoys' horns matching the area's theme, and many Page's throughout joining in with their own instruments. It fulfills the promise of density that was expected from the Ringed City, and truly feels like a city with layers and even a sewer system seamlessly attached beneath. All while the leaves of the Erdtree fall upon you, hastening you forward. It is a masterpiece of an area.
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