We played a few hours of Bandai and FromSoftware's exciting upcoming action RPG
With its vast world featuring huge dungeons with complex and three-dimensional designs that are seamlessly connected, Elden Ring is shaping up to be an exciting prospect for 2022.
The open-world fantasy action RPG from Bandai Namco and FromSoftware, from the creative minds of game director Hidetaka Miyazaki and renowned novelist George R. R. Martin, will hit that sweet spot for fans of the Dark Souls series and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which offer challenging hardcore combat and relentless, unforgiving enemies to defeat.
Fanatical was one of the lucky few to be invited to play an early build of Elden Ring during the closed network test, and here are our first impressions courtesy of Curtis Budworth.
Opening the gate leading out to the open world of Elden Ring was something so unexpected. Greeted by a strangely colorful yet sullen-looking world with the giant spectral tree in the distance, you soon realize the sheer scale of the world, reminding me of my first time entering Irythill of the Boreal Valley in Dark Souls 3, a truly magnificent sight, with the impressive draw distance showcasing everything in your reach.
It's here you’re also given the basic understanding of the game, which is to say veterans of the SoulsBorne series will immediately feel at home in this world of mystery and danger. It’s a familiar feeling represented by past games in the series, which is no bad thing.
Your first task is to choose a class that best represents your playstyle. While not featuring quite as many as its predecessors, at least in the network test, you still have the basic archetypes specializing in melee and magic combat skills and with that it’s time to explore.
As you make your way to your first Site of Grace, Elden Ring’s version of bonfires, the world lets you know exactly where your place is.
The first enemy I encountered was a huge knight on horseback, the Tree Sentinel, patrolling the hill before me. In classic Dark Souls style, I approached confidently, sword in hand and swiftly had my teeth kicked in.
This wasn’t a regular enemy; this was a boss. Complete with it’s own orchestral score and health bar spanning the width of the screen. Never has something epitomized a game so well before.
This game wants to punish you, it wants you to get up and be smacked down again and those brave enough to step up to the challenge will feel a sense of reward like no other.
This isn’t a compulsory boss fight, you can easily just walk around it, avoiding it entirely but doing so denies you the Runes (Elden Ring’s “souls”), you’ll need to become stronger, giving you a better shot at defeating the next one that blocks your path.
The combat will feel familiar to those already well versed in the SoulsBorne series. You have your class-specific weapons (sword, axe, staff etc,) in your two hands with consumables in your pockets. You’ll make calculated attacks and dodges to defeat the famously difficult enemies that populate the world.
Since this is an open-world game, you have access to a map you’ll use to mark objects and areas of interest and a compass in-game to guide you. The absence of a mini-map allows for more natural discovery, since you’re not staring at it or following a waypoint and it’s this sense of discovery that’ll have you checking every corner of the map looking for new items and secrets and this is really where Elden Ring sets itself apart from Dark Souls.
You’re given the freedom right off the bat to go anywhere you please. You are generally guided in a direction by faint wisps of light coming from the Sites of Grace, pointing you to areas of interest but whether you choose to follow them is completely up to you. Elden Ring will inevitably be compared to the likes of Breath of the Wild regarding its open-world design, after all, they’re both games that strongly encourage exploration with only vague hints of guidance, they both use environmental cues to lure you into a new area and discover its secret - Elden Ring does something a little different, however.
During my time with the test, I came across a lake filled with crabs and dragonflies. After spending a few minutes killing them and gaining my Runes, I heard a monstrous screech and a crash coming from behind me.
Turning around, there stood a towering Dragon, staring down it’s next victim. Not even attempting to take this monstrosity on since I knew I was under-levelled and didn’t feel like getting stomped on just yet, I carried on my merry way in awe of what I had just witnessed, another random boss encounter and I hadn’t even made any story progression. I could see the Dragon hunting me, stalking me as it was allowing me to run away.
Stealth is something we haven’t seen in the Souls series before, and it plays a significant role here. Throughout the world you’ll encounter areas with large amounts of enemies, usually guarding a hidden chest or something similar.
Unwise to face them all head-on, strength in numbers and all that, your best tactic is to scout the area ahead with your spy glass and plan your route. Using stealth to sneak up behind your enemies and backstab them before they can alert the others (yes, they can do that now), not unlike the outposts in Far Cry.
I hope these encounters are more fleshed out in the full game, assuming they’re a common find, of course.
In a much-appreciated change, Elden Ring gives you the option to distribute your healing and mana flasks however you choose. Got a melee-only build and can’t use magic? You can trade in your magic flasks and get an equal number of healing flaks in return.
You’re also given a new way to acquire flasks, previously, you’d have to return to a bonfire or hope you find some in the world, here you can replenish your stock by defeating groups or coming across scarabs in the world.
Crafting is now something you’re able to do before combat. Scattered throughout the world are materials for crafting weapons, consumable etc. It’s usually a good idea to plan ahead since death means everything in this game.
Once enough Sites of Grace have been visited, you’re greeted by a mysterious woman, offering to help you grow and become stronger, this is where you’ll trade your runes for stat upgrades. She also gifts you a ring, allowing you to call your new best friend, Torrent.
He is your most efficient way of traversing; he’s fast and can double-jump, letting you reach areas you otherwise couldn’t before. He is crucial to your journey, treat him well.
Strong exertion for jump
Once I decided to make progress on my story, I was greeted by a huge troll-like monster, something akin to Resident Evil 4’s El Gigante. I had a choice, I could either attempt to fight the troll and the guards on either side of it or run straight past onto the next Site of Grace.
I decided on the latter, not realizing what laid ahead of me would be so much worse. On the back of Torrent, I rushed past and up a winding, windy road, cluttered with more guards waiting to ambush me.
I eventually came to an abrupt stop after being shot off my horse by what looked to be a siege weapon. This game doesn’t play it safe at any point, you must be constantly ready to fight.
And so, I did, and was immediately sent back to my last Site of Grace. Once I made it past the siege group, I was rushed into a conventional boss fight, unable to leave.
Towering above me was a threatening presence, hitting me with everything it had, and it was here I knew From Software were on to a winner. Everything leading me to that point, teaching me how to overcome in something the studio has never attempted before yet telling me they understand good open-world design better than most studios out there.
I really hope the rest of the game meets expectations. You’re in for a real treat!