Elden Ring feels like everything FromSoftware has been doing for the past 12 years all at once. Sure, you could probably describe its latest title as open world Dark Souls and be more than halfway there, but to do so would ignore the obvious undertones of Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that help make this new title stand apart from the rest. While we’ve been made to wait longer than usual, Elden Ring is genuinely shaping up to be the definitive FromSoftware game.
A three-hour session with this past weekend’s Network Test is the reason we say that. An early look at the opening area of the experience reveals so much, including how combat and traversal work in The Lands Between. Our really big takeaway is that everything is so much more freeing: there is a dedicated jump button, mounts get you from place to place much faster, and the stamina gauge refuses to budge from bursting unless there’s an enemy about.
Combat is much the same. Fights will feel familiar once an enemy has spotted you, with the usual satisfying backstabs the reward for getting behind them while the clashes of swords result in parries and damage dealt. Although, it is what happens in the lead up to those engagements that really makes the difference this time around. Now you can crouch and sneak about ala Sekiro, making it easier to get the drop on enemies or avoid them altogether if they prove too much of a match on your first try. The new jump button comes into play too: it’s another way of creating distance, or it could be an unfair advantage if your adversary is vertically challenged.
Our time with Elden Ring’s initial expanse was full of mystery and intrigue too. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the Sites of Grace are the replacements for Bonfires, Runes are now what we call Souls, and the Estus Flask is still a thing in spirit, but venture outside of these known quantities and The Lands Between have some hidden surprises. Optional dungeons litter the landscape, providing hidden treasures for those who put in the effort to see them to their end.
Oh, and there’s probably a boss standing between you and that fabled chest of goodies. We encountered a handful of them during our time with the Network Test, all of which ranged from grotesque to just downright creepy. FromSoftware is the master of boss design and mechanics, and we expect those skills will be employed in Elden Ring too. Just this first area is a great taster of what’s to come.
This all feels like the Dark Souls of the past on a much bigger and grander scale. The opening area is large and vast, with many landmarks to discover and little caves and dungeons to rummage through. Enemies litter the landscape, items are everywhere to be found, and NPCs appear just when you need them. Materials can be picked from foliage, animals slaughtered for Runes, and mysteries on the horizon lure us away from the main objective of charging Stormveil Castle. With so much to see and do, a single three-hour session was never going to be quite enough. We tried to forget about how we could do this all over again with different builds just to make sure we had free time over the weekend.
It’s welcoming then that there are still so many unknowns the game has up its back pocket. You’re able to change the time of day from Sites of Grace, but how much of an impact will this actually have on the experience? It’s seemingly minimal in the Network Test, with different sorts of enemies spawning depending on whether the sun is up or not, but could there be more dramatic consequences for doing something at night as opposed to the day later on in the game? We can’t wait to find out and play around with the feature come February. And what was that persistent icon on the left-hand side of the screen all about? So many unknowns, and not too long of a wait until we actually find out what’s what.
There was one problem, though. The Network Test defaults to prioritising the frame rate, and well, it doesn’t do a very good job of it. 60 frames-per-second is the target, but it only achieves it some of the time with fairly consistent drops and stutters. It didn’t ruin the fun whatsoever; it’s just a little distracting and off-putting in the middle of a tense fight. Of course, though, there are still a few more months until Elden Ring’s full release so this may not be a problem come February.
Good news for FromSoftware fans chomping at the bit for Elden Ring, then. The developer’s latest project has been a long time coming, and after years of waiting, this Network Test is all the proof we need to say it’s been worth those years of secrecy. This is a new type of Dark Souls, a new type of Bloodborne, and a new type of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice all at once. If you loved all of them or (somehow) just one of them, there’s something to fall for in Elden Ring.
Elden Ring launches for PS5 and PS4 on 25th February 2022. Did you have the chance to play Elden Ring this past weekend with the Network Test too? What were your first thoughts and impressions? Share them in the comments below.