Calling Elden Ring a hotly anticipated game would be something of an understatment. FromSoftware’s upcoming action RPG might very well be one of the most anticipated games in recent memory, if not ever. Looking at what the fabled developer is concocting with its newest game, it’s easy to see why people are so excited about it. In fact, having spent several hours with the game thanks to its recent closed network test, we’re convinced that it’s going to live up to that anticipation, and then some. Here, we’re going to go over our biggest takeaways from the Elden Ring network test.
IT’S VERY DIFFERENT FROM DARK SOULS
FromSoftware struck gold with Demon’s Souls’ formula, and over the next decade or so, the developer went to to iterate on that formula with a number of generation-defining modern classics. Elden Ring does take several pages out of that book, of course, but it also feels like a wholly unique beast. The biggest reason for that, of course, is the open world, which opens up the Soulsborne formula in delightful and unexpected ways, blending the classic grueling action that the subgenre has become known for with a sense of discovery and exploration that one might associate more commonly with something like Breath of the Wild.
IT’S ALSO VERY SIMIALAR TO DARK SOULS
Of course, being a FromSoftware game, Elden Ring does have a lot in common with the developer’s past works- especially the Dark Souls games. From the way your character moves to the more deliberate pacing of combat than what you might be used to from something like Bloodborne or Sekiro to the general approach the game takes to things such as game design, progression, and more, there’s a lot of Dark Souls in Elden Ring. On a more granular level, there are several familiar mechanics here as well, like Sites of Grace and Runes, which are, for all practical purposes, Bornfires and Souls in all but name.
THE OPEN WORLD IS AMAZING
After having perfected the art of crafting semi-linear and Metroidvania-esque worlds in Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro, FromSoftware is taking its first ever crack at open world design- though honestly, they’re going about it with a kind of confidence that suggests they’ve been doing it for years. The meme applies here very literally- this is the Dark Souls of open world games. The closed network test allowed access to a small portion of the game’s world, but even that was enough to promise great things for the entire game at large. From horrifying monstrosities looming in the distance to gorgeous vistas and sights around every corner to secret paths naturally leading you into caves and dungeons and what have you, Elden Ring’s world is packed full of things to do, and organically encourages exploration in a way that so many modern open world games fail to do. As you’d expect from a From game, there are no markers or waypoints to guide you, with the emphasis instead being on rewarding player curiosity- but once again, as you’d expect from a From game, that curiosity is consistently rewarded in the best ways possible.
THE DUNGEONS ARE AMAZING
For those who’re looking for the more tightly designed gauntlets that FromSoftware games have been defined by for over a decade, Elden Ring seems to have plenty of content on offer. Yes, the open world is the main attraction here, and it’s shaping up really well, but that open world is also populated by several linear dungeons. Here, Elden Ring transforms into a much more traditional Souls experience, with a similar approach to progression and level design. Stormveil Castle is the big dungeon for the area featured in the closed network test, but there are several other smaller dungeons as well, and they’re all unsurprisingly amazing.
THE TRAVERSAL SEES MANY IMPROVEMENTS
Elden Ring’s transition into an open world space rather than a more curated selection of areas for players to traverse through in a set order goes hand-in-hand with changes to traversal as well, with various expansions of movement mechanics empowering players to explore The Lands Between with greater freedom. The biggest change here, of course, is the ability to jump, which seems like a small thing on paper, but impacts the moment-to-moment movement quite dramatically. Stamina consumption has been tweaked as well- when you’re not in combat, you can sprint endlessly. Meanwhile, thanks to your trusty steed Torrent (who can also double jump), moving about the world at faster speeds is also possible. All in all, traversal feels much faster and more flexible.
THE COMBAT SEES MANY IMPROVEMENTS
As mentioned earlier, the general flow of combat in Elden Ring will be very familiar to anyone who’s played any of the Dark Souls games, with similar pacing and movement, and a similar emphasis on mechanics such as blocks, parries, backstabs, and what have you. At the same time, there are several additions here that add more depth to fights. The biggest new mechanic seems to be the Guard Counter, which allows you to hit back at enemies with a massive swing immediately after guarding against an attack. There are the Ashes of War, which allow you to equip various techniques and abilities to weapons and swap them out whenever you want. Meanwhile, aforementioned traversal changes impact the combat as well- horseback combat is a big new thing here, for instance, as is the ability to work jumping into your moves, like being able to deal helm-splitting jump attacks, for instance.
STEALTH IS IN
Elden Ring feels like a spiritual successor to the Dark Souls games, yes, but it also takes cues from other FromSoftware titles. The aforementioned Guard Counter, for instance, is similar to Bloodborne’s firearm counters, while Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice also sneaks its way into the experience with the addition of stealth. And stealth is very much a viable strategy- if you see a mob of enemies patrolling an area of the open world, you can always choose to pick them off one by one rather than taking them all head-on, which adds another layer of strategy to how you choose to approach combat scenarios.
THERE ARE SEVERAL QULITY-OF-LIFE IMPROVEMENTS
Elden Ring is a far more accessible game than FromSoftware’s previous works, and a lot of that is down to some smart quality-of-life additions. The open world, for instance, goes hand-in-hand with a map that you can pull up whenever you want, and a compass that’s always visible overhead while you’re exploring, and while you can place custom markers on your map, you shouldn’t expect a barrage of waypoints and markers and icons like you would in a Ubisoft game. The bornfires (or Sites of Grace, as they’re called in this game), also serve as fast travel points out in the open world, while upon finishing a dungeon and defeating its boss, the game also gives you the option to fast travel right back out to the dungeon’s exit. Finally, Elden Ring also introduces Stakes of Marika, which are essentially automatic checkpoints- anytime you die, you’ll be given an option to either respawn at the last Site of Grace you rested at, or a Stake of Marika.
A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO DIFFICULTY
For the purists out there who want their FromSoftware games to be grueling and challenging gauntlets, you needn’t worry about that experience being diluted here. Elden Ring is more accessible than a Souls, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier. FromSoftware head honcho has said that the game is going to be on the same level as something like Dark Souls 3 where challenge is concerned, and so far, that seems to be an accurate comparison. Things such as fast travel, checkpoints, stealth, and more do make things a bit easier, while the very nature of an open world game also means you’re free to hold off on taking on more difficult challenges until you’ve leveled up by doing other tasks, but there’s still no shortage of punishing large-scale fights against horrifying bosses that’ll put all of your skills to the test.
PREDICTABLY ENGROSSING WORLD-BUILDING
This should come as no surprise. From the days of Demon’s Souls right up until now, FromSoftware has been a master of passive and environmental storytelling, and each world crafted by the developer in its games is brimming with compelling, engrossing lore than players can (and often do) spend dozens of hours poring over. Elden Ring is set in a world that is created not only by Hidetaka Miyazaki, but also by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, which means what little of the lore and backstory we’ve been able to experience in our time with the game so far has been predictably excellent. Players will undoubtedly be reading item descriptions obsessively throughout their playthrough of Elden Ring.