Elden Ring is still not due for a few months but developer From Software has given some lucky individuals around the world codes to try out their latest game for a limited amount of time. I was one of those lucky people and I have spent quite a few hours with Elden Ring thus far. Despite getting the code for me, I also wanted to share my impressions with you, as someone who enjoyed the games from this studio but at the casual level.
The Premise and Gameplay
Elden Ring is an open-world RPG from…From Software, the studio behind hit games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro as well as a partnership between Hidetaka Miyazaki and Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin. And despite making the jump to an open-world, anyone who has previously played a From Soft game will feel right at home here, but specifically a Dark Souls game. This kind of feels like a spiritual sequel to that franchise in particular, from the gameplay mechanics, combat timing, magic system, art design and lore. Instead of being an “ashen one” restoring embers, you’re a “tarnished” this time around and lighting a bonfire (called Sites of Lost Grace in Elden Ring) which restores grace as well as activates a guiding light to your objective, which you can choose to ignore. If you die in the open, you can choose to respawn at one of these bonfires or at a Shrine of Marika, which are checkpoints in tougher areas without the bonfire benefits. You start the game in a dark cavern and quickly emerge into the open world known as the Lands Between. For the closed beta, the map is limited to the region of Limgrave but there is dynamic weather and a day/night cycle.
There are also a ton of gameplay mechanics that will be instantly familiar to anyone whose played these games. Bloodstains return on the ground, showcasing the fate of other players in the game world and there are messages of help or deceit left as well by other gamers. PVP and co-op also return. The flasks also return, this time as Ashes of War, and like Dark Souls III, and allow you to restore your health or your mana meters and you can choose how many to allot for each type. I noticed that the animation to refill your health seems much closer than in DS3 and leaves you much more vulnerable to attack.
For the network test, I didn’t have much time to get hands-on with the game, so my playthrough was with one character, the enchanted knight with body type “A”. Other classes available included the warrior, champion, prophet and bloody wolf. My character used a spear as well as a magical staff for casting spells by default, but by pressing left on the D-pad, the character thankfully had a shield as well. I say thankfully because you definitely need to combine dodge rolls, shield blocks and the new guard counter ability, which allows you to unleash a heavy attack with the right trigger right after landing a successful parry.
Since the world is large (even in the contained closed network test zone), there’s now a magical mount to help you traverse the land quickly. You can also do mounted combat, but I did find this a little clunky as you have to time the attack just right and choose the optimal direction of your swing while moving and evading.
There are magical summons that can be found throughout the world that can assist you in combat and some enemies drop special magical components that can make your life a lot easier, even if you’re not playing a magical build. These include the Glintsword Arch, which is an Ash of War, a buff of sorts you can apply to any weapon that can be used in a thrusting manner.
Is It Hard?
That’s probably the question on everyone’s mind who has played a Soulsbourne game before. Many were worried that the jump to open-world would make the game easier thanks to the patrolling enemies and such. But just because this is an open-world game, doesn’t mean any of that difficulty found in From Soft games is lost. While the first few combat encounters may have you thinking “oh this is manageable”, the game quickly moves you to the deep end. By the third Site of Grace I found, I graduated from simple fodder to a giant troll in a narrow cavern flanked by many ranged enemies. Enemies also tend to gang up on you. I found myself swarmed by shielded foes out in the open and after I came across that previously mentioned troll, I found a small herd of them in the open shortly after.
There are also aerial enemies that can swoop down on you without warning (unless another player has left a messaging indicating a threat) and you may find yourself being attacked via long-range and up close in environments without much room to roll out of the way, forcing a more strategic approach to combat.
Bosses and Dungeons
Bosses are the bread and butter of any From Soft game. I remember when I played Dark Souls 3, I thought that the first boss of that game was a bit of a pushover and acted as a light tutorial foe. He can be easily defeated in one go. The same cannot be said of the first boss I fought in Elden Ring. Margit the Fell Omen was an incredibly challenging foe, combining ranged attacks, leaping attacks and a magical hammer he would twirl around, giving him a lot of range and quick mobility. I fought him a few times on my own before summoning other players to join the battle. It took quite a few tries, even with help, as Margit would hammer my help into oblivion or off the cliff we were fighting on. Eventually, we emerged victorious and both opted for a rigid bow emote to cap off our success.
Upon beating Magit, Elden Ring will quickly herd you towards your first dungeon. Dungeons in Elden Ring feel much more like a traditional Dark Souls experience in that they’re much more linear (with branching paths of course) and you’re no longer in an open-world, which limits your combat arenas to narrow corridors and such. Legacy dungeons will also be integral to the progression of the story, as the bosses of these domains guard a piece of the Elden Ring. Stormveil Castle, where Many Armed Key Master is located (more on him below), is one of these Legacy Dungeons, but the network test only allows us to see a small fraction of it.
Considering this was a closed network test and basically a beta, some bugs were to be expected and hopefully will be rectified by the launch in 2022. One big one I had was during my fight with Many Armed Key Master, one of the bosses. This fight is in a tiny, dark room and he attacks you with his many arms, each holding a sword. In other to get a breather, I left the room to refill my health bar (at no cost to Many Arm’s health bar), but the boss continued to attack me through the wall, killing me. He has very long arms and swords and the hitbox just didn’t detect the wall separating us.
Also, and this is more minor, but my map screen refused to load any details, it was simply a black/grey square with icons on top of it, so I can’t comment on what the map actually looks like firsthand.
Overall, Elden Ring very much looks and feels like more Dark Souls, just with many new mechanics and opportunities to explore and tinker with the game. If you like these kinds of games, then this is right up your alley no questions asked. If you’re new to the gameplay of From Soft, I found that the game was pretty demanding quickly and may put off newcomers to the developer. That said, I wouldn’t let the difficulty discourage anyone from trying it, as challenge reaps the reward.