Ring of Elysium launched into early access last year, and it did so in a very different state to what it looks like now. The battle royale shooter landed with an ice-cold setting that required players to gather resources, throwing survival elements into the mix in a bid to differentiate itself from the likes of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. It was an interesting blend of ideas, but Aurora Studio ended up putting all that to one side and instead returned months later with an entirely new map that replaced snowy blizzards with volcanic ash and sunny beaches.
Several months later and the game has been deemed complete, although a seasonal format means that change is likely going to be a mainstay for Ring of Elysium moving forward, and that's no bad thing when you look at the likes of PUBG and Fortnite, both of which thrive on constant iteration and revision. Most recently, that evolution has manifested itself as a new game mode called Ashen Eye, which changes things up and puts a new spin on the last player standing format. More on that later, though.
First things first, let's get the basics out of the way. Ring of Elysium is a battle royale game that offers players third- and first-person combat, but the significant difference when compared to its contemporaries is the three classes that players can choose from. There's a glider, a mountain bike, and a Just Cause-esque grapple gun, with each one offering players a different way to approach traversal and enemy engagement. We tended to roll with the bike, but everyone is going to have a favourite.
Once you've selected your class you can choose your starting point on the map. There's no aerial bombardment of players on this island, and things start with boots already on the ground. Players can immediately begin exploring nearby buildings as they search for guns to complement their starting weapon, although we noticed over-long asset load-in times that would see the game start with weapons floating in mid-air while we waited for the structures to appear around them (the issue seemed much more prevalent when playing the new Ashen Eye mode, although that's just an anecdotal observation on our part).
The loot in RoE is plentiful and, in our humble opinion, not all that interesting. It doesn't take too long to equip yourself with an arsenal of powerful weapons, with additional armour, items, and grenades. We felt like we were at near-full strength pretty early on in each round, which took the edge off the sense of progression you get when playing a game like this. It has its advantages though, and we never felt like we died early on in a match because of blind luck, apart from one or two deaths where our opponents were on us in a flash.
One thing that did frustrate us a little was the occasional lack of clear visibility. There are some really atmospheric moments in RoE, like the thunderous storms that see lightning crackle across the screen and sheets of rain fall all around, or when ashy clouds descend like something out of a disaster movie. However, there are also particle effects during normal play, such as leaves blowing in the wind, and when coupled with light texture pop-in off in the distance, it can be hard to trust your eyes, or you might subconsciously dismiss another player by accident. It's not a game-breaking problem, but it also isn't as clear as something like Fortnite, where it's super easy to see an opponent no matter how far away they are. That being the case, we found ourselves feeling a little ineffective at times.
There are a number of ways to play the game, with both solo and squads currently available. These modes aren't particularly interesting in themselves, although there are tools added to the mix that spice things up, including drones and a wealth of in-game vehicles to commandeer. During these standard modes, the play area shrinks over time and the hopefuls need to stay ahead of the sulphuric ash that falls at predetermined moments - it's all fairly standard battle royale action, but it's well-implemented.
Three-player mode Ashen Eye, on the other hand, is a little different, in the sense that play moves along inside the eye of the storm, kind of like the end of a Fortnite match when the last players alive are kept moving to stop them hunkering down and camping their way to glory. The system isn't dissimilar to the one used in Fear the Wolves (another game that has you pick a starting location rather than parachuting in), but with volcanic ash instead of radiation, and like that game, each round of Ashen Eye ends with a helicopter extraction while players keep tabs on their dwindling O2 levels.
With sun-kissed beaches, inclement weather, well-thought-out map features, and natural-looking animations, Ring of Elysium is impressive from a technical point of view. While the asset load-in times could be better optimised, overall we were impressed by the visual fidelity of the island as well as the quality of the audio effects. In fact, the whole package is polished and fully featured, and it's hard to criticise what is being offered to players for nothing. Of course, not everything is free, and there are cosmetics to buy alongside Fortnite-style season pass progression, but you can pick up the game and have fun without putting your hand in your pocket, and that's always appreciated.
So it looks good with its crisp and polished visuals, plays well thanks to some solid gunplay and plausible physics, the island itself is interesting to explore, and the whole thing is free-to-play in its most basic form - when you look at it like that it's an easy recommendation to make, not least because you can try it without spending a penny. Yet at the same time, we didn't really fall in love with Ring of Elysium in the way we probably should have given its considerable strengths. There's some missing spark, something that doesn't quite click enough to elevate this to the upper echelons of the genre where it would compete with the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Blackout. Our feeling is that Aurora Studio has tried to make a battle royale that appeals to all players, but as the old saying goes, it has become a jack of all trades but a master of none. Ring of Elysium is a polished and fully-featured battle royale that's comparable to PUBG in terms of style and execution, but in the grand scheme of things, it falls just short of greatness in a genre already dominated by titans.