Elden Ring is a game with many standout features, be it the ingenious deployment of open world exploration, the imposing lineup of brutal boss fights, or its depthless character customization and build variety. It also features — remarkably for an open world game but characteristically for From — best in class levels, showing off a mastery of wireframe and architectural design honed over the studio’s back catalogue. To my mind the jewels in Fromsoft’s level design crown now are the opening stretch of Central Yharnam through Cathedral Ward and Old Yharnam in Bloodborne, and Elden Ring’s Legacy Dungeons. These are six monolithic levels that are intricately interconnected, visually arresting and possessing of hundreds of secrets. So here are most of the best levels the studio has ever made, ranked.
Note that the game features plenty of other smaller dungeons, regions, caves, tunnels, underground cities, mines and more that offer plenty of extra dungeoneering for the intrepid Tarnished — however these are the setpiece dungeons the team have saved their strongest concepts for.
In case it wasn’t obvious, this will include spoilers for all of the major areas in Elden Ring, as well as boss names and story beats.
6. Volcano Manor
Fromsoft love a lava level — see also Lost Izalith’s dragon arse-filled magma pits and the Iron Keep’s sweltering fortress for just two examples. Combine that with lavish churches and gothic streets worthy of Bloodborne and you get the Volcano Manor, the headquarters of the Recusants.
The big twist with this level is that you can complete it in one of two ways — either navigate through its various enemies, traps and chokepoints as normal, or fulfil a number of assassination missions for Lady Tanith in the beautifully appointed Volcano Manor drawing room to earn the right to “meet” the area boss. These missions take you across the Lands Between in Agent 47 style, hunting down marks who have somehow fallen afoul of the Manor or at least ended up on their hit list. Much of the time these are your friends — NPCs who have helped you in past boss battles such as Tragoth. It’s a devious twist that you can earn a shortcut past the area by slaying those who were there when you most needed a helping hand. After all this, Tanith will introduce you to (what used to be) Praetor Rykard.
Should you decide to set out into the dungeon itself, you’ll be able to enjoy the sequel to Irithyll of the Boreal Valley’s concept of Christmas Yharnam — it’s Lava Yharnam, with arguably the game’s clearest callbacks to Bloodborne’s architectural style. There’s another good callback here too — the long awaited return of the man-serpents from the original Dark Souls. These goofy lizard-headed men once defended Sen’s Fortress from encroaching Chosen Undead who would ascend to Anor Londo and guarded Seathe the Scaleless’ prisons. They’re back and much, much windier and floppier as their necks elongate to come and get you. The manor’s backstreets are crammed with these as well as various zombies, dogs and the intimidating Abductor Virgins (who can kidnap you from Raya Lucaria, Hypogean Gaol-esque, for an early visit to this area).
One of the most underappreciated hallmarks of Fromsoft level pathing is rooftop exploration, culminating in fleet-footed journeys across the rooftops in Sekiro. That comes out really strongly in Elden Ring’s Legacy Dungeons. The Volcano Manor in particular makes its gothic rooftops a key part of your traversal through the area, with you jumping between buildings to take out poison-throwing zombie nobles and battle the man-serpents as well as stay above the Abductor Virgins. Unlike in Sekiro however, your purchase on these rooves is much more precious again, as it is not easy to get back up onto them once you drop down. It makes for some very tactical moments planning where and when is best to leave the relative safety of elevation.
When you do venture down to street-level the heat is on with some tough encounters against the likes of the Omenkiller. You can also get back into the buildings to wind through the Manor’s various vestibules, quarters and halls for treasure. Or just set out across the lava, where I experienced the most hilarious chase I ever have in a video game — jogging slowly but frantically away as an Abductor Virgin, also in a slowed roll, trundled after me, hoping I would happen upon some kind of path back to the street. Simultaneously the most and least intense chase sequence ever.
For its placement at the bottom of my list I have a lot to say about this level — and that’s because like all of these it’s absolutely incredible. Again, these would dominate any list of the best levels From has ever done. The Volcano Manor is really non-linear, with tons of hidden areas and secrets, an instant classic boss fight I won’t discuss here and a really clever twist allowing you to bypass it altogether — but honestly, why would you!
5. Stormveil Castle
There are plenty of castles and forts to storm in the Dark Souls games, but Stormveil is the castle to end all castles. It feels definitive, Fromsoft bringing to bear the design heuristics they’ve honed over more than a decade of games in this style with a more generous budget and extensive familiarity with the hardware they’re developing for. Stormveil is a triumph, and the finest castle infiltration you’ll be doing in a game that has plenty of that on offer.
Stormveil is the seat of what will be most players’ first major story boss or “Shardbearer”, and elegantly is the first thing you see as you open the doors of the Chapel of Anticipation after completing the character creation process. In fact this hulking edifice looms over the opening hours of the game both literally and figuratively. It is visible from most of Limgrave, stabbing up into the sky, and is gatekept by Margit, the Fell Omen, who presents a tough and technical boss fight that (intentionally) bounces most players back into the open world to explore.
Once Margit has been felled (for a time, at least) you can penetrate the castle walls proper and begin your one-Tarnished invasion. The NPC Gostoc and your self-preservation instincts will lead you to navigate round the crumbled walls away from the fearsomely guarded main gate, which serves two purposes. Firstly, it gives you the satisfying Dark Souls feeling of encroaching on hostile territory obliquely, sliding in from an angle they never expected (even though it is designed specifically for you to do so) and even as familiar with the visual tricks of these games as I am I was grinning with delight when it let me drop down to an out-of-the-way looking ledge to begin my infiltration.
Secondly, it lets you take on the first part of the castle — basically one of the towers — as a very linear, controlled mini-dungeon. You get a sequence of different Undead Burg-flavoured enemy mixups and encounters that you learn one by one. This culminates in a fantastic surprise moment where somebody (Gostoc, we later discover) locks you in a pitch black room with a heavily armed and very pissed off elite knight to dice you. Gostoc, it turns out, shadows you through your journey into Stormveil and steals some of your runes every time you die. It’s masterful how this re-introduces the classic Dark Souls dungeon exploration (even if you haven’t taken on any of the small catacombs, caves, tunnels or the more appropriately levelled Castle Morne on the Weeping Peninsula, which functions as a gentler tutorial) while applying pressure via progressively harder enemies, an NPC stalker and added complexity to the environment.
As you progress through Stormveil it opens up, becoming more hub-and-spokey, multiple corridors and paths taking you to different parts of the castle. Eventually you do have to overcome the siege defenses — but only the backmost layer of them, having snuck past many of the trebuchets and enslaved giant soldiers arrayed at the main gate. Because Elden Ring excels in using Dark Souls’ bonfire-based checkpointing as a way to capture terrain, you can now use your footholds deep in the castle to makes sallies back towards the front gate, ambushing the defenders. It feels intended, as one of the first rewards you get for doing so is meeting Nepheli Loux, who can be a very helpful NPC summon in the coming battle against Godrick the Grafted.
Stormveil Castle is a phenomenal piece of architecture that starts with you sneaking through the castle’s minor outer ramparts and culminates in you dismantling its defenses from its seat of power. It’s even more of a triumph in modern From level design than winding through High Wall of Lothric or ascending up Ashina Castle because the sense of escalation and increasing complexity is so expertly ramped up. By the time you are done, you will be levelled up and geared up, ready to adventure deeper into the Lands Between.
4. Raya Lucaria Academy
Towering over the murky Liurnia of the Lakes is the Raya Lucaria Academy, the largest of several dungeons associated with the study of Glintstone and the masked mages seen throughout the Lands Between. Sellia Town of Sorcery, the Carian Study Hall, the Carian Manor and several mines with significant presence of Glintstone sorcerers can serve to help build up to this immense setpiece dungeon.
After you’ve acquired the Glintstone key needed to get in, the academy cuts arguably the most impressive façade of any building in the game. In fact I recommend coming here at night, for a few reasons — firstly the moonlit majesty of the building as it looms over you is a moment of splendour I stumbled upon simply by happening to get in at that time during the game’s day-night cycle.
Secondly, it sets a suitably creepy atmosphere for the zombie graveyard you have to go through soon after arriving. Elden Ring has plenty of moments of straight-up horror, and here’s some good old B-movie zombies lurching at you from behind gravestones and out of the earth itself. While Elden Ring zombies are more like the classic desiccated hollows from Dark Souls than the truly repulsive shambling dead of contemporary Resident Evil, it’s still a great setpiece. It also undermines what you might be expecting when you enter the grandiose academy. This is no twee wizarding school — something foul stirs here.
After this you start unlocking free reign of the academy proper, which is much more vertically layered than Stormveil. While Stormveil does allow you to travel up and down its lifts and to areas on its ramparts, Raya Lucaria lets you tiptoe around its buttresses at dizzying heights and take a waterwheel down into the deepest depths. Once you are in it feels like a self-contained world with discrete areas that are more visually distinct than those in many of the other dungeons. Some areas are dedicated to the study and craft of Glintstone magic, lined with books and mystical paraphernalia. There’s a vast central plaza, nooks and back passages leading to treasure or mini-bosses, and lavish study halls and libraries.
Again it’s the rooftops that really do it for me, giving that Anor Londo and Cainhurst vibe of breaking out of bounds to explore forbidden areas and try to gain a tactical advantage over foes. These are some beautiful buttresses to roam and hide some of the best treasure you can find at this point in the game, as well as some pretty tactical encounters with enemies like the Avionettes who can unleash near-constant arrow fire on you.
The diversity of environments and play that they bring to bear with Raya Lucaria makes it such a standout, and each time you return to look for secrets you missed or investigate some corner of its map you’re handsomely rewarded. The flavour is also more directly targeted at my predilections than Stormveil, which bumped it up above that one.
3. Crumbling Farum Azula
Elden Ring seems to have been designed with the knowledge that, because of Twitter, YouTube and various online communities, reveals and surprises carefully crafted for the maximum emotional response on the part of the player can be spoiled in a microsecond. Depending on how sensitive you are to this stuff, it might be very disappointing when a screenshot of a late game area gets through your mutes and you don’t get to have the surprise for yourself because someone else is publicly celebrating having that exact moment.
I personally think the Four Belfries area, accessible from the beginning in Liurnia of the Lakes, solves for this very cleverly. By using its waygates you can travel to small sections of Nokron and Crumbling Farum Azula much earlier than you otherwise would, letting you get the full effect of their remarkable vistas without being spoiled — the chances for which increase as you spend dozens of hours in the game and days, probably weeks in real-time at risk of online spoilers.
I was floored when I got that sneak peek from one of the Four Belfries waygates of what looked like a combination of the Dragon Aerie and the Ringed City, a half-obliterated ancient temple suspended in the sky, outside of time. It’s one of the boldest, wildest visual concepts From have gone with for a level.
If some of the stonework here looks familiar when you arrive, not to mention the resident monsters, that’s because you’ve already technically explored quite a bit of Crumbling Farum Azula. It’s literally crumbling, entire chunks of its ancient temples and walkways falling to the Lands Between to form the ruins you come across as you explore Limgrave and other areas. See the description of the Ruin Fragments you pick up all over those ruins — “these shards of stone are believed to have once been part of a temple in the sky.” One of its residents even survived that happening, as you can encounter the Farum Azula Beastman as a boss in one of the Limgrave ruins. In terms of building up to eventually visiting an area, it’s very cool.
Reaching Farum Azula itself, teleported in the good old Dark Souls tradition to this late-game dungeon -the last mandatory dungeon in the game — you find it suspended aloft, immense typhoons spinning between its buildings and half-destroyed rooves as chunks of mortar are torn seemingly in slow motion ever further from the remains of the temple.
I had been worried that the endgame dungeons of Elden Ring would lean too far into the Dark Souls 3 late game and DLC design philosophy of simply throwing throngs of heavily armoured enemies with infinite poise at the player one after the other, or worse the constant barrage of the Dreg Heap and the Ringed City which disincentivised exploration of otherwise scenic environments because you are always on the run. Fortunately Farum Azula is nothing like that. There are ample opportunities to appreciate its striking design, which sometimes feels like a mix of the Ringed City’s Javan shikharas and the Dreg Heap’s collapsing stonework.
Simply put, you move through this much, much slower than you do through the Ringed City. That’s because my exploration of this area (and what feels like the intended pace) leans heavily into two of the new systems in Elden Ring, crafting and stealth. At points during my playthrough I honestly had forgotten that I now had these options to help with the various encounters, but the visual language of Farum Azula hints so strongly at traversing it stealthily it is barely a hint at all but a mandate. As you descend into the ancient temples you start coming across elite knights staring out in reverie at the typhoon, presenting perfect opportunities for backstabs. The thing that will get you is the discarded potsherds, goblets and other clutter all over the floor, clattering under your feet to alert these intimidating foes. Later they’ll be patrolling up and down the ornate corridors on set paths. Turns out one of the most overpowered items in the game is the Soft Cotton — an easy and cheap item to craft in large quantities that momentarily silences your footsteps. Crumbling Farum Azula became a classic stealth playground where I had to use my consumables to conceal my approach, observe enemy placements and patrols and then choose the right moment to strike. Making my play at the wrong time would mean a fight with a very tough enemy, possibly alerting others nearby (just like in a proper stealth game), so it was always tense and always satisfying to clear out the halls and corridors of the temple.
If you were one of the players that carefully crept around the encampment of Godrick soldiers in Limgrave assassinating everybody, and then just took on every other area as if you were playing Dark Souls and didn’t have a crouch button, this is the perfect area to go back into Sekiro mode. There’s even an incantation called Assassin’s Approach that my Confessor started the game with, that I forgot about — but the Soft Cotton is so cheap to craft it was probably better to save FP anyway.
Crumbling Farum Azula just makes for a perfect deployment and blend of the game’s lore, visual design, systems and gameplay. Instead of rewarding parrying and roll timings like Dark Souls 3 wants to, it rewards planned and conservative progression and allows for thorough exploration — my preferred approach. Its strengths are also directly in conversation with what is new and exciting about Elden Ring, and it is a highlight of the game.
2. Miquella’s Haligtree & Elphael, Brace of the Haligtree
Vertical level design is a major part of From’s playbook, and has been deployed to excellent effect in the other legacy dungeons — but nowhere more spectacularly than in this very hidden and very optional zone. You pick your way firstly down a treacherous tree canopy, then round the surreal and ornate town built in the branches, from there around the trunk and the huge citadel that “braces” it, and finally down into its roots for one of the game’s most famous boss encounters.
The Haligtree Canopy, which is the first of the three major parts of the dungeon, is a classic platforming journey down a gigantic tree to assail the areas beneath. On the face of it, it does seem to commit the cardinal sin of rushing you past its content and visuals with a hail of projectile attacks from the many enemies perched there. Unlike the descent down the Great Hollow to Ash Lake, which is characterised by enemies that only really pose a threat up close, here you are facing the Envoys with their bubble trumpets, ready to blow you off a branch to the giant ants on a trunk below or just out into thin air to your death.
However, unlike Yahar’Ghul or the Ringed City, this area doesn’t actually resist exploration that much. You just need to apply the approach you likely have dozens of times in the overworld of the Lands Between and scoot to the bonfire first before heading back the way you came to unpick the encounters. Sitting at the Haligtree Town Site of Grace and then going back up the tree, dealing with the enemies as you come to them and scouring the branches for treasure, is far less difficult, even very straightforward as many enemies will now have their backs turned to you. True to form for the original Dark Souls, changing your perspective and approach makes all the difference — provided you can get out of the Dark Souls 2 & 3 mindset of sprinting from bonfire to bonfire to make forward progress.
The Haligtree Town is the next setpiece, and you really are being hit with one amazing setting after another with this dungeon. It’s a tumble of ivory gilded halls and staircases nestled into the tree and inhabited by tough enemies — though not so many that you can’t get breathing room to admire the environments. You’re back on the rooftops, with it being far safer to scout the town’s various buildings from this vantage point and plan your route — as well as defanging some of the enemies lurking on the rooftops hoping to surprise you. Like many great examples of level design, it nudges you along a path of least resistance along to the shortcut and boss fight while letting you feel like you are wending a path of your own. It looks like a place, not a corridor, but I was never at a loss for where to head next. Considering the intricacy of the visual style, with the elaborate architecture and oversized foliage, it feels like a very well tuned journey as you eventually make your way down to the citadel of Elphael itself.
It’s another big fortified area with soldiers, and another Anor Londo quote with the oversized buttresses. However despite these familiarities I have rarely felt as uncomfortable exploring an area in a Fromsoft game as on the descent around Elphael and to the rotted vales beneath the Haligtree itself. Not in a Tomb of the Giants or Undead Crypt way where I felt unprepared for what was out there, but purely because of the atmosphere. The way the game has coded this particular shade of red to associate it with the Scarlet Rot, with a narratively horrendous thing and a very threatening mechanic, is used against you here because that colour is everywhere. The leaves of the trees have that same rusty hue, and against the pallid brickwork of the Elphael outpost they make for a masterclass in palette. Sickening, plague-ridden, grotesque. It’s broad daylight horror and despite how fun the area is to navigate with its winding routes, switchbacks and classic From shortcuts, it always feels uneasy.
This dungeon has an incredible sense of place. Firstly everything makes sense to be where it is — at least based on the internal logic of this fantastical setting. As you encroach further into this territory your footing becomes surer, the structures more grounded and solid, but simultaneously you feel yourself getting further and further away from anything familiar. A big brutalist citadel is nothing too unusual for a Fromsoft game, but the atmosphere is completely alien. You go down deeper into the rot as you progress. The decay here isn’t the mouldering forgotten decay of many areas you can visit in the game, it’s an active rot, something that festers as your feet sink into it and your shoulders brush past it, a putrefaction that has truly taken hold.
My only knock against this area would be that it has a “Best Of” lineup of enemies you have encountered previously in the game. This does mean that most players should know what they’re doing in a majority of the encounters, and therefore be unlikely to get stymied as they explore and enjoy the incredible art design and all-round awe of this place, but some different monsters would have contributed to the isolated and alien vibe in an additive way. Overall it’s unforgettable, with the most powerful atmosphere of any area in the game.
1. Royal Capital Leyndell
I spent at least eight hours of my playthrough just exploring Royal Capital Leyndell, the biggest and best dungeon in the game. This place is a labour of love. It’s like High Wall of Lothric, Lothric Castle and Cathedral of the Deep in one, and then some. It’s also an incredibly significant location, being built around the all-important Erdtree and acting as the venue for many of the major confrontations towards the end of Elden Ring’s story.
“A sprawling capital city that houses various strong enemies, as well as champions that were previously encountered. The Royal Capital of Leyndell functions as the seat of government and administrative center of Atlus Plateau.”
Nestled at the base of the Erdtree itself, it presents as a shining walled city, all brilliant gold and gleaming towers. Indeed it has many of the most lavish and luxuriously appointed interiors in any Fromsoft game, displaying the power and wealth of the citizenry.
You come into the capital as you do many of Fromsoft’s imposing citadels — having rode round its vast outskirts and outer defenses on Torrent, you find a side gate and begin navigating around the crenellations of this fortified city. Moving from balconies to ramparts and eventually down to major avenues that grant access to more areas of the capital feels like genuine urban exploration — the thoroughfare becomes a point from which you branch off into different areas after a more linear journey to that point. You unlock the city much like you do Yharnam, eventually having the run of the place. Taking to the rooftops is once again both a solid strategy and the best way to admire your surroundings fully.
There are also temples and sanctuaries devoted to Marika and the Erdtree itself, as well as immense branches that give you a way to access the highest and most sanctified areas of the capital. These all contain beautiful paintings, sculptures, shields emblazoned with the Erdtree and faded banners. The regalia of the erstwhile Golden Order surrounds you more than ever.
It features a lot of memorable sub-dungeons and small areas that are either combat arenas or stealth playgrounds, from tight alleyways that let you get stealth kills to a ruckus with another militarised lion and an even grimmer graveyard than at Raya Lucaria.
For all the might and regality the city conveys as you first breach it, the more you explore the more cursed it feels. There are Misbegotten monsters hacking up carcasses and feasting on them, Ulcerated Tree Spirits roiling under the ground, and the city’s catacombs simply swarm. You get a feeling that something important is absent here — and has been for a long time.
There’s also the immense dragon, seemingly killed and fossilized in its moment of death, preserved in rictus in the centre of Leyndell. Bigger even than Elder Dragon Greyoll, this beast’s wings allow you to scale up to areas you couldn’t otherwise reach.
The city is full of the ghosts of what it used to be before the Shattering, most remarkably the Roundtable Hold itself. Crossing one of the more disused courtyards you come to and slipping into a second story window, you quickly recognize your surroundings — the real, corporeal Roundtable Hold, abandoned or fled by the warriors of renown that once inhabited it.
Dark Souls dungeon design is famous for having an “oh, I’m back here” effect, and for concealing multiple hidden paths, optional areas, secrets and shortcuts. Leyndell is the ultimate expression of that. There is enough of this place for it to be the main setting for an entire game.
In terms of atmosphere and unique visual design, it isn’t quite as jaw-dropping and unique as Elphael, Farum Azula, Nokron and Nokstella (the latter two of which I’m not including on this list as they don’t officially count as Legacy Dungeons but are both incredible). However in terms of wireframe and intricacy, this is it. There is no question that this is the best level From has ever created, and there is so much joy to be had in adventuring around in it.
So there you have it, the six main dungeons of Elden Ring in ranked order. Honourable mentions once again to the Eternal Cities of Nokron and Nokstella, as well as Castle Morne.