Elden Ring hands-on: Impressions from the trial version of the closed network

Elden Ring, the new game from Dark souls and Blood-borne develops FromSoftware, feels like reconnecting with an old friend. Playing through a few hours of the game’s upcoming network test – a beta version of the game that offers a screenshot of Elden Rings big open world – felt like slipping back into a game Dark Souls 3, only bigger, wider and with various new things to see, collect and fight.

But it will definitely feel familiar, especially if you have played the new breed of FromSoftware games that are groundbreaking of Demons’ souls more than ten years ago.

In the beta’s opening area, there’s a section called Cave of Knowledge, a tutorial zone that teaches players the basics of Elden Ring. Many years of Dark Souls players need a bit of this training in addition to refreshing new jargon. Instead of finding relief at Dark Souls bonfires, players rest and recover at Sites of Grace. Instead of harvesting souls as the currency for all purposes, players collect on runes. There are the necessary items to summon other players to your world, colorful stones that you can leave as breadcrumbs, and a few flasks to refuel your health and magic points. The battle itself is almost identical to that of FromSoft’s latest fantasy action RPG, 2016’s Dark Souls 3. (That’s fine. These games have excellent combat.)

In other words, veteran FromSoftware fans should feel at home after learning the local dialect.

Image: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco

To step outside the world of Elden Ring, a large open plain called Lands Between, is a different experience. Unlike the mostly cordoned off areas of games like Dark souls, Between countries is a surface on a par with Hyrule of The legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or The Elder Scrolls land of Skyrim. In fact, you get a summoned horse, known as a Spirit Steed, to help you explore Elden Ring‘s card fast and (surprisingly) safe.

The Lands Between is easy to move through for other reasons. Sites of Grace will offer visual guidance on where to go. There are routes to travel sneaking in case a major threat stands between you and your destination. And at least in the beta test portion of the game, my character could teleport from place to place from anywhere on the map. Sites of Grace are plentiful, and at some point during my time with the beta, I cried briefly over a long trip back to another place, only to realize “Oh, right, I can just instantly teleport from there from here. Where as preferably from. ” Players even have the choice of reviving themselves in other sacred places, called Stakes of Marika, if they encounter one.

The new level of convenience is not unheard of in a FromSoftware game. The developer has given players more and more generous opportunities to travel through its worlds over the years. But I wonder how much of the unlockable, interconnected worlds Blood-borne and Dark souls will be sacrificed for Elden Ring‘s open world ambitions.

Image: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco

In the slice of Elden Ring which I could explore, I saw some interesting things. From the start, a riding forest warrior in golden armor drove home to the point that some threats had to be avoided. I tried to fight him twice before realizing that I was undermined and underqualified to receive him. Elsewhere, I came across a shallow lake filled with crabs – many large ones, a few of them giant, some hidden underground until I walked close to them. There were pockets of human guards outside a guard, groups of goblins tending their own businesses, and slimy creatures roaming around a nearby beach. There are definitely plenty of other strange and dangerous things to encounter out there, after only scratching the surface.

Another part of the game, a “Legacy Dungeon” called Stormveil Castle, feels picked up from a Souls game and fell into Elden Rings open world. At the gates of the castle, a helpful (but suspicious) character told me that the castle had two routes: one very difficult, one very easy. He was right. The easy route had a horrible, multi-armed abomination at the end of it, but was otherwise populated by lightly killed grunts. The hard route threw more than a dozen guards armed with crossbows after me – plus some guard lion-shaped beast that thrashed me when I got too close. (The beta limits how deep players can venture into Stormveil Castle, so expect a “Continue …” message if you play the beta.)

The difficulty level of FromSoftware’s pedigree is definitely here in Elden Ring. The game’s demo offers a taste of it in a fight against Margit, a giant, hammer-swinging man with too many arms who really should not move as fast as he does. He is tough. It took me at least a dozen attempts to finally overcome him through patience, studying his movements and remembering to keep my shield up. In other words, he’s a boss in FromSoftware’s style: headbanging hard, but only if you’re careless.

Image: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco

So do not expect Elden Ring, despite fantasy writer George RR Martin’s well-publicized commitment to being much more accessible than Dark Souls, Bloodborne, or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This is a tough game. Players will die and die again. They will experience a mostly run-down narrative told through history and the occasional interaction with other characters who seem to know much more about this world than you do. Some will be deterred by it, while others will enjoy the challenge and haste of putting down a previously intimidating threat.

Elden Ring takes a new approach in other areas of gameplay. There is a great emphasis on craftsmanship. Instead of relying on random drops or merchants to sell you consumables, they can be made using recipes and naturally occurring resources. Expect to pick flowers, hunt wildlife and buy stoneware where you can bake your balms and bombs. Players also have help in the form of new summonable creatures; Ash can be purchased from merchants who will let you call wolves, sword-wielding skeletons and undead magic users rather than help you in battle. Of course, players can also summon other players over the internet or go and help them in their worlds. Or invade them, like an evil spirit.

FromSoftware’s taste of Elden Ring is enticing. While much of it feels incredibly familiar, Lands Between’s open world already offers entirely new opportunities for exploration, memorable moments and discovery in just a small quadrant of the game. Players will have more to explore in February when Elden Ring comes to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X.

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