As you may be aware, the recent network test of ELDEN RING has taken place, and thanks to FromSoftware I was fortunate enough to score a code without having to resort to paying all the money on eBay for one. What I hope to present to you here is the collected thoughts of my time spent running about the place, often with a gang of soldiers on my tail, and to try and find out whether this is more than just Dark Souls in a pretty new frock.
For those of you who don’t obsessively follow the exploits of FromSoftware (do such people exist?) let me do a little bit of scene setting for you. Coming from the aforementioned developers and George R.R.Martin (although rumours that he will write some of the story and leave the fans of his books hanging remain unproven), ELDEN RING is a game very much in the Dark Souls vein, but with the size and the exploration potential turned up to 11. Promising a vast campaign, brutal combat and an entire land to explore on an epic quest, ELDEN RING has been firmly on my radar since the first trailer, many moons ago. Now, with the ability to jump in early and see what’s what, you better believe I was delighted with the opportunity.
The first choice we were faced with in the network test was the decision as to which character build to take. There were a few to choose from: Enchanted Knight looked pretty cool, Prophet was your bog standard spell caster and Champion felt a bit too naked for my liking (if I’m going to be sword fighting, bare chested is not my first choice of attire). My character of choice then was that of Bloody Wolf. I mean, if there’s a character class called Bloody Wolf, why would you not choose it?!
As I’m sure we all know, the world of Dark Souls is quite often a bleak one, with a palette of depressing browns and greys; even the castles feeling oppressive. Imagine my surprise on leaving the underground spawn area to see the world of ELDEN RING looking absolutely beautiful – green pastures and vistas to behold, seemingly stretching forever. It felt very much on a par with the first time I stepped out of the tutorial area in Oblivion and that sudden sense of “this is a much bigger world than I thought”. Straight away the familiar feelings started to come back.
The controls of ELDEN RING are lifted straight from the Dark Souls instruction book. Attacking moves are mapped to the right trigger and bumper, dodge is B, Heal is X, and so on and so forth. If you’ve played a Souls game, you’ll be right at home.
However, there are some new things to enjoy on the combat side, and the first of these is stealth. You see, you can go full on sneaky peaky mode this time around, hiding in bushes and sneaking up behind enemies for one-hit kills via a backstab or critical hit. Honestly, this makes a massive difference. The most fun I had was sneaking around an enemy encampment, taking out the soldiers one by one, and imagine my surprise when I discovered that I could also sneak up on the wolves that they use as guard dogs! The sneaky approach even works on the larger enemies, who while they remain nameless, are more than capable of ruining your entire day – the equivalent of Dark Souls’ big black knights – and getting in a devastating attack, then quickly following it up with a sequence of quick attacks was enough to polish them off. Usually. I say usually, as a couple of times they were able to recover and stab me into little pieces, so caution is still very much the word of the day here.
There are also things that can be found in ELDEN RING called Ashes, that you can apply to your weapon at the bonfire equivalent – the Lost Graces – which in addition to allowing you to rest and reset all the enemies in an area, will also show you where it is you should be going, via the medium of streams of light. These can imbue your chosen weapon with new elements; one I found had the power of lightning, which made things very exciting!
Running about the place eventually led me onto the first boss, as you might expect, and despite an early encounter with a giant creature with a nifty line in stomping attacks, it turned out he was just the warm up. The bosses in ELDEN RING are still hidden behind fog gates, but yellow this time. You’ll be glad to know that they still hit like a truck. I have no shame in admitting I had to get help in to take him down, all with the assistance of two friendly phantoms.
Neatly, it seems as if the multiplayer system in ELDEN RING has had a bit of an overhaul from that seen before it, as you need to use an item in order to see the summon signs that have been left by other players. These can be gold, and these are the good phantoms, or red, in which case a player is summoned who wants to give you a good kicking. I only made that mistake once, believe me.
The graphics of ELDEN RING are extremely good. Playing on an Xbox Series X, and getting to the castle after the first boss, a few moments had to be spent looking out over the vast vista that I could see. With still more than three months to go before release – ELDEN RING releases on February 25th 2022 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC – I think this could well be a game to watch. It looks great, sounds great (you can often hear enemies before you can see them) and the combat systems are pretty much there as well.
I mean, it’s obvious that a network test would throw up a few minor issues, such as enemies with big spears being able to stab me through a solid brick wall, and the majority of the other foes being somewhat psychic, but there is nothing that is worrying me.
The biggest compliment I can give ELDEN RING is that my time with the game via the network test absolutely flew by. Yes, I can see this being a huge time sink, especially with the scale of the game that appears to be hinted at, but I for one am very excited to see what FromSoftware and Bandai Namco can do with this concept.
Huge thanks go out to Bandai Namco for giving access to the network test of ELDEN RING on Xbox Series X|S. If you want to get your money in ahead of release, you’ll find ELDEN RING available for pre-order on the Xbox Store for £49.99 for the Standard Edition, or £64.99 for the Deluxe Edition – you get an original soundtrack and digital artbook included with that one.