Combining Skyrim and Dark Souls 3-like gameplay, Elden Ring reinvents the Souls formula, resulting in one of the most engaging role-playing games I’ve ever played, even if it was only for a short while.
The game is a spiritual successor to the Dark Souls series and is set in a mythical world full of dilapidated creatures, knights, dragons and more. I was able to hop onto the FromSoftware’s Closed Network Test from November 12th to 15th and played the title for roughly 10-12 hours.
This was an excellent opportunity to try out Elden Ring, and since it was so fun, it’s going to be tough to wait until February 2022 to fully experience ‘The Lands Between.’
The Lands Between
Elden Ring’s setting is beautiful and is vastly different than anything FromSoftware has released in the past. As soon as you leave the tutorial area, the world of Limgrave greets you with creatures running around, enemies, friendly NPCs and even hidden secrets.
The test allowed players to select from one of five pre-made characters, but when the game officially launches, you’ll be able to design a character and pick from 10 classes. After moving through the tutorial area, you’ll notice a light that’s reminiscent of the bonfires from previous Dark Souls games. The lights, called ‘Sites of Grace,’ are where you level up, pick your spells, pass the time (there’s a day and night cycle) and select your ‘Ashes of War’ (more on this later).
“It sometimes felt like I was playing Skyrim with Dark Souls combat, and in other instances, Elden Ring felt like Dark Souls with Souls-like action inside of Skryim.”
A little past the first Site of Grace, I encountered a knight-looking character on horseback, which, to my surprise, is a boss. Facing a boss roaming around the world is entirely different from previous Souls-like titles.
Another exciting event that took place was a dragon encounter. While traversing the world, a dragon flew over my head and landed in front of me, taking out several NPCs. Even though this boss wasn’t tied to a specific dungeon, the dragon ended up being the most challenging enemy in the closed network test. Thankfully, you can escape if you don’t think you’re ready to fight it.
Another interesting thing I encountered was a character pretending to be a tree, several knights on horseback protecting a travelling caravan and a mysterious platform that teleported me into the middle of a boss fight. These experiences were fascinating to run into with the context of a Souls-like title in mind, and I’m sure I’ll run into several more in the full version of the game.
Elden Ring also features stealth elements, which help a lot when taking out an enemy camp one foe at a time.
And, as you’ve likely seen in screenshots, you can travel around Elden Ring‘s world on horseback, which is unique to a Souls-like title. Fighting battles from a horse against other foes that are also on horseback is especially entertaining.
Speaking of the flying dragon Agneel, the closed network test for Elden Ring featured 11 bosses and a couple of powerful enemies to fight. They ranged from knights, a dragon, a weird beast-like creature, an odd feline-dog thing and a creature with a pumpkin head. I enjoyed seeing the different bosses that the game offered, and I am surprised how many fit into the map’s relatively small closed network test portion. While some roamed around in their designated area and remained visible from a fair distance, most were found in dungeons.
What will be interesting moving forward is if FromSoftware can continue to offer a wide variety of boss types. For example, we know that there are two dragon bosses, as seen in the trailer and closed network test, but the two dragons look so different in aesthetic and abilities that I don’t mind this.
During the network test, I was a magic user like I am in every souls-like game. Based on my experience, magic is far improved and allows me to take down bosses better — although not easily — especially on horseback.
A game within a game
Within the Elden Ring closed network test, most bosses are in dungeons, including a Beast’s Den, a Miner’s Cave, Catacombs and more. The dungeons are filled with enemies, traps and surprises, but importantly, most end with a boss battle. I enjoyed the dungeon elements of Elden Ring because those are the parts of the game that feel the most like Dark Souls. I fell prey to the enemies and traps repeatedly until I learned from my mistakes and made it through.
It’s also important to point out that you don’t need to go into any of these dungeons. They’re entirely optional, but you don’t get access to cool weapons, spells, and Ashes of War without exploring dungeons. The game encourages you to explore dungeons to improve your character, and while they’re gruelling, it’s for the best.
The closed network test also offered access to a ‘Legacy Dungeon.’ In these areas, you’ll fight Demigods, the most powerful bosses in different regions of the game. While I didn’t get to fight the Demigod in the network test, I was able to explore what seemed like a decent amount of the Legacy Dungeon before receiving a message that told me the network test was over.
In this Legacy Dungeon, called ‘Stormveil Castle,’ I was given two paths by a character. An NPC said I could either go straight through a gate or go around the quiet way. I, at first, decided to go through the quiet way that led to bird-like enemies with swords on their talons, enemies that could use a Weapon Art and a gross-looking miniboss character that took me multiple attempts to take down.
This area also offered spells and a key that would lead to the next part of Stormveil Castle. After beating the miniboss, I decided to try and go the other way. I was met with ballistic arrows that pierced my character’s body. Eventually, after making it through this, another miniboss caught me off guard and destroyed me. After a few more tries, I finished this path as well.
The point is, this intertwining, extremely tough dungeon reminded me so much of the gruelling levels featured in Dark Souls and Demon Souls. I found the title so interesting, as sometimes it felt like I was playing Skyrim with Dark Souls combat, and in other instances, Elden Ring felt like Dark Souls with the appropriate Souls-like action inside of Skryim.
Ashes of War
In Dark Souls 3, the player can find various weapons that feature abilities called ‘Weapon Arts.’ These are activated whenever you hold your weapon with both hands or forego the usage of a shield. For the most part, Weapon Arts are exclusive to individual weapons, such as my Dragonslayer Swordspear’s ‘Falling Bolt’ Weapon Art that could call down a lightning bolt on an enemy. However, in Elden Ring, there are now ‘Ashes of War.’
‘Ashes of War’ are different from Weapon Arts because, for the most part, they aren’t unique to specific weapons. For instance, Falling Bolt in Dark Souls 3 was only available with the boss weapon ‘Dragonslayer SwordSpear;’ however, in Elden Ring, you can pick up the Ashes of War ‘Thunderbolt’ that calls down a lightning bolt on an enemy and apply it to any melee weapon.
You can also decide whether or not you want your weapon to do lightning damage or stick to its original damage type. This matters as some enemies are more susceptible to different types of damage. Some weapons come with their own ‘Ashes of War’ that can’t be found elsewhere, but for the most part, they’re interchangeable, and I enjoyed this flexibility.
Another new feature in Elden Ring is ‘Spirit Summons.’ To summon a Spirit, you need to find its ‘Spirit-Caller’s Ashes .’ Once you locate them, the Spirit can come to your side in battle. Spirits are typically enemies you’ve seen or will see in the wild. This helped when fighting brutal battles, but they have a life bar and can be made quick work of.
I had the strongest Spirit helping me with the dragon fight, and it made no difference at all as the dragon quickly took care of it. I’m not saying Spirits aren’t helpful — they made certain dungeon bosses easier — but many of the dungeons only feature one ‘Site of Grace.’ This means that if you die, you annoyingly get brought back to the beginning of the dungeon. Most of the Spirits I encountered were human-like, but I also ran into a nearly immobile jellyfish that squirted poison at enemies.
To balance things out, you won’t be able to use Spirits when you’re playing co-op, and you can only use them in more challenging areas of Elden Ring. Usually, you’ll see a little Spirit icon on the left-hand of your screen, and that’s how you know you can use your Spirit summonings. You can also use only one at a time, and they take a considerable about of your magic bar to summon.
Elden Ring was recently delayed from January 21st to February 25th, and the delay breaks my heart. I thought playing the Closed Network Test would soothe my longing for the game, but that’s not the case whatsoever. In fact, I now want to play it so much more.
Elden Ring is the perfect game for Souls fans, with profound lore created by Game of Throne’s George R.R. Martin, a world filled with surprises and creatures, cool spells to try out, Spirits to collect and Ashes of War to master; I’m incredibly excited.
FromSoftware’s Elden Ring will launch on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X on February 25th.