Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Over this past weekend, I spent as much time as I realistically could playing the Elden Ring Closed Network Test. Unfortunately, in practice, this meant I only ended up playing in two of the five available sessions. My first three hour session was spent quickly attempting to get to grips with everything that was new in Elden Ring - the controls, mechanics, and open world - and nervously attempting to get through as much of the main path as possible. It was enjoyable and intriguing, but in a stressful sort of way, with the three-hour time limit constantly ticking down in the back of my head, forcing me into impatient mistakes and silly errors. I liked Elden Ring, and was hungry for more, but it wasn’t the ideal first experience with FromSoftware’s upcoming game.
My second three-hour session, by comparison, was glorious. With the fundamentals all worked out, and the main path near completion, I had the opportunity to really explore the nooks and crannies of Elden Ring’s map, to find challenges and treasure hidden off the beaten track, and to just drink in the world that’s been created by FromSoftware. It was wonderful, ludicrous fun, and now, all I want to do is keep playing. I’m not sure I’ve been this excited to get my hands on a game at launch in a long time.
More than anything, Elden Ring feels like a culmination of everything that director Hidetaka Miyazaki has created since Demon’s Souls first crept onto the PlayStation 3 - and into players’ minds - back in 2009. From Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls, to Bloodborne, and then Sekiro, Elden Ring is woven from the DNA of all of FromSoftware’s ever-evolving action-RPGs. The challenging sword-and-shield combat that Demon’s Souls pioneered, and Dark Souls perfected, is present and accounted for, but bolstered by more interesting spells and techniques that are far more inviting to use than in those games. Bloodborne’s faster pace and beastly enemies make the transition into Elden Ring as well, and the addition of both a jump and a crouch button - for improved maneuverability and actual stealth options - are pulled right out of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
There’s a little bit of everything that FromSoftware has become so well-known for here, but at its core, Elden Rings still feels closest to the Dark Souls series, with its stony-faced dragons and proud knights, clad in golden armour, seeping their way into this upcoming release. If you’ve played any Dark Souls game recently, you’ll find familiar motifs and mechanics hiding behind new names in Elden Ring. Incantations replace Miracles, but perform a similar role, acting as spells powered by faith, while Weapon Arts have been replaced by Ashes of War, and can be now be switched between weapons, rather than tied to a single one.
This familiarity can lead to a creeping suspicion, especially if you’ve only been watching trailers, that Elden Ring could be Dark Souls 4 by any other name. But that notion is soon put to rest as soon as you begin exploring the vast open world that Elden Ring offers up. Previous FromSoft games revelled in tightly designed dungeons, linked together in an interconnected world, allowing the developer to perfectly place enemies to challenge you, frustrate you, or simply to make sure you’re paying attention. While there was room for some exploration, you’d rarely be able to venture off the critical path for too long, before having to circle back. In Elden Ring, however, you’re free to explore in any direction you’d like, right from the start. Pushing open the doors of the starting cave for the first time and stepping into the lush, green world, invokes similar feelings to leaving Vault 101 in Fallout 3, or stepping out from the Shrine of Resurrection in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
This freedom of choice doesn’t just apply to which direction you go, of course, but also how you tackle each and every situation you come across along the way. Shortly after finding your first Site of Grace (which are basically bonfires or lamps; yet more familiar mechanics with a name) you’re directed directly into the path of the Tree Sentinel, a gleaming knight astride an equally-armoured horse who, for most players in the network test, will have served as the very first boss of the game. Even for experienced Dark Souls players, this fight is a tough one, a real early test of your mettle. You can die, and fight, and die again, and then, if you so choose, you can just… walk away. No longer confined to a boss arena, you can simply take a nice wide left, skirt around the boss, and make your way to the next Site of Grace. The same is true for most roaming enemies in the game, and while you’ll want to take them on in order to obtain currency and items, it’s not essential. Where previous FromSoftware games asked you to either fight enemies or sprint past them, Elden Ring lets you set the pace you want.
This isn’t just Dark Souls pasted over a more western-style open world, however, and there are some surprisingly clever new additions that help meld that rock-hard combat with a sense of exploration. Taking on a group of enemies, whether in an encampment or as part of the roaming caravan, could be easily discouraged, especially if you’re low on healing items. But Elden Ring rewards players for taking out a full group, by refilling a player’s HP-restoring flasks, ready for the next encounter. Similarly, you can now survive much longer drops in Elden Ring, without taking as much fall damage as you would have done in Bloodborne or Demon’s Souls. See something down a cliff that you want to pick up? Now you’re not dissuaded from risking the fall to grab the loot - most of the time, anyway.
And then there’s your horse. Well, sort of a horse, more like a horse-goat hybrid thing, maybe? Whatever creature it is, your Spirit Steed is an essential addition when travelling vast distances in Elden Ring, and it’s perhaps one of the best mounts in games. Its double jump is essential for climbing steep ruins or cliffs, and you can still take on your foes from horseback (or goatback), firing off magical spells or running an unlucky soldier through with your spear. It’s yet another option in a game full of options. And for those looking for something closer to the classic Dark Souls-style experience, you can find that here too, within the game’s more linear dungeons and closed-room boss fights dotted around the world.
Elden Ring feels like a culmination of every innovation and addition that Miyazaki has made since Demon’s Souls, from Dark Souls, to Bloodborne, to Dark Souls 3, and through to Sekiro, with a delicious smattering of the right kind of open world goodness. From what we’ve played, Elden Ring takes everything we love about the games that have come before, and turns them into something that has the potential to be even greater than the sum of its parts. February 2022 can’t come soon enough.
Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 01:30 AM
Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 01:52 AM
Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 01:53 AM