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Hands on: Elden Ring Review

First Impressions

I’ve spent several hours with Elden Ring during the closed network test weekend, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. The open-world structure blends with the Souls-style RPG mechanics incredibly well, and the combat is just as punishing and rewarding as previous FromSoftware games. This is definitely one to watch out for in 2022.

Introduction

Elden Ring is an upcoming RPG by FromSoftware, the same developer behind famously difficult games such as Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne. 

This time round, rather than sticking to the mostly linear labyrinth-esque structure of its previous titles, FromSoftware has decided to adopt an open-world format with clear inspiration from the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

But is the open-world map a good fit for the Souls genre? And what other changes can you expect compared to the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne? Bandai Namco Entertainment invited me to go hands-on with Elden Ring to find out, as I spent several hours playing through the closed network test. Here are my early impressions. 

Open world

  • Open-world format compliments the Souls-style RPG mechanics
  • Optional dungeons feature boss battles and valuable loot
  • Can spawn a celestial horse to get around the map quicker

I was slightly concerned when I found out FromSoftware was adopting an open-world format for Elden Ring. After playing recent open-world games such as Far Cry 6, I’ve become fatigued by filler content and forgettable side quests that prioritise quantity over quality. 

I was also unsure whether FromSoftware’s incredibly successful blueprint would still prove fruitful when departing from its linear roots – why fix something that isn’t broken? 

But I’m happy to say FromSoftware has proven my doubts wrong, as Elden Ring fits in with the open-world structure perfectly, with a great focus on curiosity-driven exploration.

The world of Elden Ring

Even after acquiring a map, Elder Scrolls doesn’t feature any objective markers that distractingly pop up on screen. You’ll see various environmental clues gently nudging you towards your main goal, but you’re otherwise free to explore the world at your own pace. 

I ventured off the beaten path almost immediately and discovered a dungeon. Elden Ring’s take on dungeons are not too dissimilar to those found in the Elder Scrolls series, featuring a number of enemies to fight, deadly traps to avoid and loot to plunder. Each dungeon also concludes with a punishing boss encounter, but they’re often worth the effort with an incredibly useful item offered up as a reward.

These dungeons are completely optional, but the experience points and items gained are invaluable for powering up your character, proving to be a fun and rewarding alternative to grinding. 

Elden Ring combat against a troll

Elden Ring is packed with hidden secrets, as I’d find something particularly interesting in every corner of the map. I discovered a magic dagger by venturing down into an underground crypt, and I gained some handy crafting recipes by sneaking into an enemy camp. I was even ambushed by a colossal dragon when strolling through the swamp. This world feels alive, despite featuring far less chatty NPCs than your average RPG.

Elden Ring features a new crafting mechanic too, enabling you to turn the likes of animal bones into throwing knives, and plants into potions. This not only provides an incentive to scour the map for resources, but also to save up your ‘Runes’ to purchase as many recipe sheets as possible. 

FromSoftware also introduces horse riding for Elden Ring, enabling you to spawn a celestial mount right between your legs whenever you fancy. You can even fight against enemies while riding your horse, although combat isn’t quite as deep as when sparring on foot. 

Elden Ring horse riding

Importantly, FromSoftware hasn’t lost sight of the core components of the Souls genre when adapting to the open-world format. Death will still see you lose experience points (aka Runes), with campfires (now called Sites of Grace) acting as checkpoints and allowing you to level up.

While I was only able to explore a small section of Elden Ring’s world during the closed network test, I was incredibly impressed by how much content it managed to pack in without ever feeling overwhelming. Plus, the core mechanics from previous Souls games have been integrated so well here, that you could easily make the argument that they’re a better fit for the open-world format opposed to a linear structure – FromSoftware is really onto something here. 

Combat 

  • Combat is punishing but fair, like previous Souls games
  • New counter move is useful for smaller enemies
  • Ashes of War can alter damage type of a weapon

Elden Ring features the superbly tight combat from previous Souls games. Enemies will deal you lots of damage if you make a mistake, but animations will clearly telegraph each attack, allowing you to memorise patterns so you know whether to roll, block or parry. 

FromSoftware has also introduced a new counter move, which can be triggered immediately after you block an enemy’s attack. This makes it relatively easy to dispatch your average grunt, but spam it against a larger enemy and it’s only going to leave you exposed.

Like previous games such as Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, you’ll be able to pick from a variety of character classes at the start. This means you can create a variety of character builds, whether you want to specialise in strength and wield hulking battleaxes, or focus on magic and fire spells from a safe distance. 

Combat

FromSoftware has also put more focus on stealth here compared to Dark Souls, allowing you to crouch and silently sneak behind an enemy for a backstab. This is arguably one of the weaker elements of Elden Ring’s combat, as crossbow men would often start shooting at me with pinpoint accuracy as soon as I entered an area, even if I was creeping through long grass.

As with any Souls game, it’s the boss encounters that provide the real high points in Elden Ring. There’s already an incredible variety on offer in this closed network test, from a wolf-like beastman that relentlessly chases you around the arena, to a towering troll which will stomp you into the ground. I only managed to succeed in two of the five boss battles I encountered, with a punishing but fair difficulty encouraging me to hone my combat skills and find better weapons. 

You can upgrade weapons in Elden Ring by spending experience points, like with most other Souls games. But you won’t be able to use special gemstones to alter the damage type of your sword, axe or hammer.

Elden Ring stealth

Instead, you can discover Ashes of War items, which not only alter the special attack of each weapon, while also shifting the damage type. The Ashes of War are interchangeable between weapons too, so you can swap in the most useful one for a particular battle, and don’t need to worry about permanently losing a powerful upgrade to a low-level sword.

There’s also the option to summon friends into your world to help take down particularly difficult enemies, or even enable invasions for PvP combat. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try out the multiplayer feature, but it’s great to see it return.

Graphics and Presentation

  • One of the best looking Souls game yet
  • Suffered framerate issues on PS5 during preview
  • Ray tracing is coming in a future patch

Elden Ring is a gorgeous game, with a bright colour palette making the game world far more vibrant than any of the dark, gloomy worlds of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. 

I played Elden Ring on the PS5, and had two modes to choose from: ‘graphics mode’ and ‘performance mode’. The former renders the game at a 4K resolution, while the latter will prioritize a 60fps performance instead. 

Horse combat

I picked the ‘performance mode’ given that timing is so incredibly important in Elden Ring, but was disappointed to see the frame rate drop on numerous occasions during my playthrough. It’s too early to get concerned about this in my opinion though, with Elden Ring not set to launch until February 2022 – that gives FromSoftware plenty of time to smooth out all of the kinks. 

Elden Ring will support ray tracing in the future via a software patch on all supported platforms, but I unfortunately wasn’t able to see this in action during my preview.

Elsewhere, I was impressed to see how clean all of the menus looked, with a press down on the touchpad providing detailed explanations for all of the terminology and stats when judging the qualities of a weapon. This is one of the most approachable Souls games I’ve played, with plenty of pop-up messages giving you succinct explanations for the various mechanics at play here. There’s still no option to change the difficulty though, which is no surprise since this is a FromSoftware game. 

First impressions

Elden Ring’s move to an open-world format initially felt like a needless risk, but after playing it for several hours, I’m happy to report my concerns were misplaced. The RPG mechanics suit the open-world structure very well, with plenty of weapons, spells and upgrades providing a great incentive for exploration. 

The optional dungeons are fantastic, and the abundance of boss encounters ensures that FromSoftware is still focusing on its greatest strength. If you’re a fan of the Souls games, then I’m confident you’re going to love Elden Ring, while also potentially proving to be of the more approachable entry points for newcomers.

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FAQs

Is Elden Ring like Skyrim?

I can certainly see similarities with the open-world format and the optional dungeons, but Elden Ring still differs greatly elsewhere, with a far more punishing and nuanced combat system.

Will Elden Ring be like Sekiro?

Elden Ring clearly borrows stealth and the jump mechanic from Sekiro, but the combat and RGB mechanics are closer to Dark Souls and Demons Souls than Sekiro.

When will Elden Ring launch?

Elden Ring is currently scheduled to launch on 25th February 2022.

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