There’s this hip hop number I’m a fan of, called Money Dance by Rick Ross. It does not have much to do with From Software’s upcoming action RPG Elden Ring, but there’s a simple text in it that perfectly sums up my early hands-on time with the game’s upcoming closed network test: “Careful, I’m approaching you with a business mind / A little two steps while I check the time ”.
For three days last week, I practically rolled over to my friend’s PS5 (which I, by mistake, ‘borrowed’ when the Elden Ring’s closed network test is unfortunately not available on PC this time). If you applied for CNT and were selected, you will be able to experience everything I am about to tell yourself from Friday, November 12th to Monday, November 15th. But even though my hands-on with Elden Ring was short, I’m sure this is Souls taking a step in the right direction. It is at once new and familiar, but forever exciting. I’m going back.
Since I played the game on PS5, I can not vouch for how it will run on our rigs, but what I saw made me make a big cheerful roar. Even at this early stage, the Elden Ring ran beautifully with very few problems and drops in frame rate on my 1080p TV. Without the help of a dedicated frame rate counter, it seemed to be close to 60 fps after my best guess, so it should feel pretty similar to what we can expect from the PC version when the game launches fully next year.
So let’s set the stage, Tarnished. I got to explore most of Elden Ring’s opening zone, Limgrave. Besides the fact that the test barricaded certain parts of the wider game with invisi walls, I had free rein. I could explore the catacombs, rise in level, try co-op, ride around; all. Stormveil Castle that appeared on the horizon? Yes, I could even take on a head coach there. Good luck, I tell you. Bliss. Either way, without further ado, let’s dig in.
Grade creation was not available in this early build, so we had a choice of five preset classes instead. I chose Prophet, mainly because I wanted to test the magic, and because they had paired a wooden scarf with a blond bowl. Others like Bloody Wolf and Enchanted Knight were also available, each with different stats, starting weapons and the like.
And right from the very first tweak of the thumbsticks, Elden Ring felt familiar. It’s a Souls game okay and feels like it’s been built by the bones in Dark Souls 3. You’ve toughing the equivalent of Estus to rebuild your health, you have the diamond shaped HUD at the bottom left of your screen you have the health bar rests on top of a green endurance bar. Come full release, combat is likely to take many forms, but at the basic level this also has the rhythm and cadence of Souls; this is certainly not Sekiro or Bloodborne.
This does not mean that the Fire Ring is recycled souls. Far from. Stepping into its world for the first time evoked a wave of excitement that only The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild have pulled out of me. Immediately you will pan to the golden tree towering up in the sky and look out over the green hills and realize that this is ambitious. It’s not like previous Souls games are not home to large spaces and interconnected open worlds, but survival often requires you to hold your breath and squint in the dark for the next bonfire. Here there is room to breathe.
This is made all the more apparent by the breeze that hovers over Graces (your bonfire equivalents), leaving behind those sparkling golden paths that suggest someone else’s location. You can rest on your laurels to rebuild health reserves, replenish supplies, but also new things! Like changing day / night cycle or equipping Ashes of War, which I will get into in a bit.
At least from this first area, what stands out to me is the difference in how Elden Ring’s open world can be structured compared to previous Souls posts. Glue pits remind me of a skewed spider diagram. In the center is a beautiful landscape filled with sights. Camps abound with enemies and fallen ruins host giant bats. An army of huge crabs crashes around the marshy marshland. Twin giants tow a chariot filled with prey, while a procession of threaded undead follows. Do not worry, friendly NPCs are also scattered throughout the place. A warrior wearing a funny helmet warned me of a nearby dragon. Another shady wizard hoped I would go and die in a ditch somewhere. As always, they oozes character.
Like Breath Of The Wild, your card starts in the Fire Ring as a black abyss that you will bring to life during the game by finding card fragments. I stumbled into Limgrave’s fragment in a large camp of undead soldiers. After picking it up, the Limgrave region sprouted to life in this wonderful hand-drawn style. I also got a sense of how big the game’s card could be. Glue pits felt quite large for a starting zone, so it makes you wonder how extensive will they become as you evolve?
However, branch off from Limgrave’s vast central roads, and the game narrows. In these moments, there is this sense that the game goes from free roaming Elden Ring to linear, classic Souls. Perhaps a better way of saying this would be for Elden Ring to pull from its closet of Soul’s biggest hits. From an early age, it is clear that the game does not lose sight of its history.
For example, I stumbled into this cave entrance tucked away at the edge of a field. As I stepped down, the atmosphere changed. The Elden Ring expanse curled up into claustrophobic souls, with the bright exterior giving way to a dark, cold interior. I had arrived in a set of catacombs with dense corridors and thick metal doors closing them. Walls burped flames, and small stonecrops sprang down from ledges. After a bit of rooting I had pulled on a handle, which led to an optional boss fight with what can only be described as a large statue of a dog with a sword. It was nowhere near as hollow as the catacombs of Dark Souls, but certainly felt like a taste of what’s to come.
The way Limgrave is sewn together also affects how things go. Souls often lead you into areas where you are forced to move forward, control corners, and pull handles; it is a hesitant crawl through a series of tunnels. My time in Limgrave could not have been more different. This is not a barren world, but more a curated collection of meaningful things nicely separated. There’s a real sense of discovery, of “Oh fuck me, what is IT ?!” It is perhaps not surprising that I more often than not learned that whatever it is will kill you. You have room to explore the crabs and carts. This way, the game moved as fast as I wanted it to. It was only when I ventured up to Stormveil Castle where this changed.
The journey to the castle was spectacular to say the least. A journalist colleague and I ventured up this winding path together. As we ascended, a violent storm rolled in, blurring our view and causing the flora around us to whip back and forth. Once we had dealt with wolf ambushes and guard patrols, we came across the boss of the demo. And hoo boy, we had one time.
Good time for that. This was a towering guy with a western accent, a knotted rod and a chip on his shoulder. Even with two of us, it took many, many attempts to defeat him. He was a typical Souls boss, with signposted attacks hitting HARD. Never unfair, but always dirty in his tactics. Take him down to half health, and he whips out a lightning hammer, a lightning sword, and lightning daggers. We managed to trap him with magic, which felt a bit cheesy and a touch repetitive. Yet the excitement was unbearable and the triumph incredible.
Abandoned bosses offer you Runes to use, but also Ashes Of War. At Graces, you can attach these to weapons and they will reinforce them with cool abilities. I beat it from lightning man into my club and it electrified it! Not only that, but it gave me the ability to inflict a lightning strike on nearby enemies. I liked that I could steal bosses’ signature moves right away, as opposed to being lumped with an expensive crafting material like in previous Souls games.
From then on we dived into the castle. The test would not let us go much further in, so we only got a small taste of its intricate interior. Again, it was very soulful. Ladders and ledges. Firebombs and dark rooms. Wonderful, but just wonderful. In the end, my only complaint was not knowing where I stood in relation to the enemies in Limgrave. I was not sure if I was handed over or the sub-level, or what, really. But maybe I can dive deeper into this another time.
There’s so much more to say about my Elden Ring appetizer, but I can not keep you forever. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of things too, but I hope I’ve at least given you a sense of what it’s like to play in the early hours and how it compares to old Souls. . Stay tuned for more impressions, but if there is one thing I leave you with today, it is this: Elden Ring is brave and ambitious, but knows its limits. As a result, we can be in for an open world that actually pushes the boundaries for once.