Elden Call Hands-On Preview with the closed network test

Over the last six months we’ve seen a lot of Elden Ring, we’ve heard a lot about Elden Ring, but very few people, if anyone outside From Software, have played Elden Ring. That’s no longer the case, because over the last weekend I found myself completely engrossed in The Lands Between’s world. Like many others, so will it be when the closed network test opens to all who are selected to attend from November 12th to 14th.

For those who want an early look at what lies ahead, here are my impressions of the Elden Ring Closed Network Test.

The Fire Ring Gameplay Trailer 4K Screenshots – Summer of Games

Before we get into what’s new in Elden Ring, let’s cover what’s familiar. After all, this is the next game in FromSoft’s series of action-RPGs that has long grown out of any kind of convenient, all-encompassing label, unless you prefer to call the series the “Elden-Seki-Souls-Borne” series.

Slow and stable

The Fire Ring largely represents a return to the Souls style, which is most evident in its dark fantasy setting, but also consistent with its gameplay and mechanics. It brings back the split Estus Flask system from Dark Souls 3, allowing you to choose to prioritize either health or mana restorations by distributing your flasks as it suits you.

The fight is slower and much more methodical than Sekiro and Bloodborne.

Fighting is slower and much more methodical than Sekiro and Bloodborne, with often quite long start-up and recovery times on most of your attacks and healings, forcing you to pick your places and choose the right moments to attack, defend and take a sip of a flask.

There are also a few new tools this time. A new technique called a guard counter lets you perform a crushing counterattack after blocking a blow with your shield. And on the offensive side, you can perform a super satisfying rudder-splitting jump attack that can crash through shields and leave weaker enemies defenseless.

The biggest change in terms of actual mechanics is how the Elden Ring handles weapon art (or skills) and upgrade paths.

In the past, weapon art was special skills that were unique to a weapon or a class of weapons, such as. battoujutsu attitude with katana-class weapons in Dark Souls 3. Upgrade paths, on the other hand, refer to your ability to transform a weapon into another type by taking it down a path that either gives it more ground damage, elemental affinity, or increased scaling with a particular state.

These two mechanics have essentially been combined in the Fire Ring in the form of Ashes of War. While playing, you will find new Ashes of War that can be equipped with your weapons in places of Grace – Elden Ring’s version of a bonfire. Equipping a new Ash of War for a weapon will not only change that weapon’s stats and scaling, but also overwrite the weapon’s innate skills with a new one, unique to the Ash of War.

Let’s say as an example that my intelligence-focused character finds a Twinblade. Typically not a weapon I want to use on a magic-focused character, but it’s the best I have, and hey, it has a cool move set. Later, I find an Ash of War: Glintsword Arch that not only gives the Twinblade intelligence scaling, making it viable as a melee weapon for my building. But it also gives me the Glintsword Arch ability, which summons four magic swords that automatically fly against enemies that come close. Now the twin blade not only acts as a great melee weapon for my building, but it also comes with a powerful spell that does not occupy one of my actual spells.

The best part though is that Ashes of War can be transferred and not used when used, so if I later find a weapon that I enjoy more than Twinblade, I can place Glintstone Arch Ash of War on it and easily switch to a new weapon , which has always been a bit difficult and expensive to make in other Souls games once you have taken a weapon down a specific upgrade path.

Ashes of War encourages experimentation and opens up a wealth of variation in building options

If it’s not already completely clear, I love it here. It encourages experimenting with different weapons, opens up a wealth of variation in building options, gives me a different type of reward to get excited about finding in the world, and the skills themselves are just super cool to mess around with.

A truly open world

As cool as the ashes of war are, though the big departure for Elden Ring is the transition to a completely open world structure. Right from the moment you step out of the guidance cave, you are free to go in any direction you choose. You can follow the recommended path, illuminated by the light of grace; you can take a look to the right and decide to explore the ominous lake and ruins, or you can turn around and see a lonely island in the distance and think to yourself ‘I wonder how I can get over there … ‘

The areas were also not closed off by having tougher enemies in one place compared to another. You will find equally challenging battles in all directions and you can tackle them in the order you choose. That said, the area in the closed test is surrounded by invisible barriers, so it’s hard to say how this will unfold throughout the game.

What is particularly impressive about this closed network test is, despite how I was bricked into a relatively small zone that was still so much to explore and discover. From hidden NPCs to bosses just roaming the fields, to a bunch of extremely tough enemies that you could try to cultivate to get weapon upgrade shards, to a piece of land where the lighting constantly shuts down and leaves electrically charged rocks that you can clean up. It felt like every five minutes I came across something that made me go “what the hell is that ?!”

And then there are the dungeons and catacombs that are hidden all over the world, like shrines in Breath of the Wild. These dungeons varied greatly in their design, with some including only two to three rooms, a handful of enemies, and a boss fight at the end. Others demanded a torch to see the enemies and dangers inside; and others were still decently large caves on several levels, with some surprises for longtime veterans that I do not want to spoil.

The bosses in these dungeons are not nearly as difficult as the bosses of the mainline found out in the world, but they are still worth seeking out, as the rewards inside have always been worth the effort in my experience.

Fire Ring – Gameplay Demo Screenshots

The Fire Ring is also surprisingly forgiving when it comes to its open world. Your character does not use endurance when you are out of battle, so you can sprint, jump and roll endlessly. There are automatically activated respawn points in key areas that are hard to beat, so you rarely ever have to go the long walk of shame back to your lost currency if you die. And enemies will even keep their damage if you run away, so you can play punches and runs on your horse, whatever you want.

What is a legacy [Dungeon]?

Although I loved every single part of the open world exploration, it felt as if something was missing in the overall package that was not completely filled by the relatively straightforward dungeons tucked around the world. Fortunately, this is where Legacy Dungeons comes into the picture. These are long, linear levels in line with something like Anor Londo in Dark Souls.

I only got a small taste of Stormveil Castle, the first of Legacy Dungeons in the Fire Ring, but that little bit was more than enough to whet my appetite for more. Stormveil Castle is massive, with several trails right at the start, each coming with their own challenges. Take the side path and you will be greeted with treacherous terrain and the classic From Software trope having a bunch of guys with firebombs guarding a path with a bunch of explosive barrels. Take the main path and you will be greeted with a small army and a handful of ballistae, all trained to shoot in sight.

At the gate to Stormveil Castle

At the gate to Stormveil Castle

Despite being presented with a choice to do either one or the other, I still found myself going both ways. And even though they both end up being blocked off for the sake of the network test, I can not wait to see how they reconnect with each other in the full version.

I did not get much of a chance to test multiplayer due to the fact that there is a relatively small number of players in the closed network test right now, but everything seems like a fairly standard price. You can leave summonses for both cooperation and competition, you can invade other people’s worlds, you can wear rings that will call you into worlds that are being invaded, so you can try to defend the innocent, and you can wear rings that will call for help when you yourself are invaded.

However, there are a few things to note: It seems that you are only open to PVP invasions if you have summoned a player to play with you. Otherwise, you use an item called Taunter’s Tongue, which entices attackers to enter your world, even without you having a coop buddy to help you. There is also an item called Finger Phantoms that can only be used during multiplayer invasion, but I have not been able to find any in my playing time.

I have spent almost 15 hours on this particular closed test alone, where I have gone through each of the five starting classes and gone through their pace, and I still feel good. If the full version of the Elden Ring continues to match the quality of open-world design found in this very first area, then we are in the process of launching a very special game in February next year.

Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on Twitter @JurassicRabbit

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