Have you ever played a Dark Souls game? Depending on who you ask about it, you’ll either hear “they’re great!” or “they’re horrible!”. Having spent the last decade making some of the most challenging yet rewarding action RPGs of all time, developer FromSoftware is getting ready to release its next adventure Elden Ring in just a few months. How exciting!
Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s biggest move to an open world structure. While its previous titles like Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had also utilised an open level structure, this one is much vaster than before. From the beginning of the demo, you’re confronted with a myriad of different routes to take to explore Limgrave. Do you take the perilous road guarded by the Tree Sentinel? Or do you dart towards the nearby lake guarded by a fiery dragon?
These choices massively inform your approach to Elden Ring’s enemy encounters. Taking inspiration from Sekiro, a click of the left thumbstick puts your character into sneak mode where you can surprise enemies with a stab in the back. On the other hand, the game’s various minibosses can also be avoided by taking alternative paths.
Limgrave is a large map, at least compared to what we’re used to with previous FromSoftware games. But it doesn’t quite hit the scale of big in-game worlds such as Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Ancient Greece. Instead, Elden Ring prioritises packing a lot into a little, with plenty of hidden caves, treasure and bosses hiding off the beaten path. By chance, during my session I found a secret dungeon occupied by a boss and an NPC that offered to teach me about sorcery. Some crucial discoveries are so cleverly hidden, that it makes exploration worth your scrutiny.
WELCOME TO LIMGRAVE
Meanwhile, Elden Ring also features a map screen to navigate. You can fill it in by collecting map fragments that are hidden across the world. When you discover a new Site of Grace (this game’s version of a Dark Souls bonfire, basically), it’ll get added to the map where you can fast travel to it at any time. Pins are also available for you to mark your own points of interest for future reference.
I’ve found this to be quite a controversial addition to the game’s formula. The big appeal of Dark Souls and Bloodborne was navigating your own map in your head, learning the world as you played within these spaces. I’m not sure if Elden Ring having an actual map screen to conduct all your business is going to work well or badly, but I’m keen to see how it plays in the full game.
To get around, you can summon a horse called Torrent. Not only does this noble steed help you cover ground more quickly, but it can also jump over obstacles and high ledges that you simply can’t do on foot. Torrent is also useful during combat, giving you safer options to take on groups of enemies and bosses that require speed over precision.
ACTION LIKE NO OTHER
So how is Elden Ring’s combat? My first impressions from the demo tells me it plays similar to Dark Souls in many ways, but is also drastically different in others.
You’re given the standard array of slash and thrust moves, as well as the parrying and backstabs that Dark Souls players love so much. The way your character moves, and even their animation set, feels recycled from the original game itself. Not that we’re complaining. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it yeah?
On the other hand, dual wielding two swords is also an option if you don’t want to opt for a shield. This adds a bit more speed to your attacks at the cost of losing the ability to block. Sorcery is, again, another style that you can invest in. In the full game, there’ll be plenty more options for combat too. It seems that, as good as Sekiro was, FromSoftware is back to giving more choice in player expression.
THE ‘A’ WORD
And now for the big question that’s on everyone’s mind – accessibility. Is Elden Ring more accessible for the average gamer than its spiritual predecessors?
It definitely does make some strides in making the genre more accessible to players who may not be familiar with soulslikes or put off by the difficulty. If you’re stuck on a boss or a certain area, the game does give you multiple ways to deal with it. You can leave and level up a bit somewhere else, and come back later much stronger and capable to deal with the threat. You can also summon other players in multiplayer to come and help you, and to Elden Ring’s credit, multiplayer is a lot more seamless this time around than in previous FromSoftware adventures.
With the world being as open as it is, it also means you can often find ways to sneak around certain bosses and not be forced to engage with them if you’re not up for it. This was a big frustration for me with Sekiro. Farming for higher levels was much more limited in that game, and many of the minibosses weren’t optional. On top of the already brutal fights in that game, this made it an accessibility nightmare.
What is less surprising is not being able to pause the game, as well as the lack of difficulty options. As someone who got the platinum trophies for Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro, having beaten them many times, I am still in favour of them including some hard-coded options to make the experience a little more forgiving on inexperienced players. Trust me, it wouldn’t compromise the experience of the game at all.
So if anything, Elden Ring feels like a mixtape of all three Dark Souls, Sekiro and Bloodborne. Bits and pieces of FromSoftware’s past neatly tied together in a bow.
I can already tell Elden Ring is going to be my favourite game of next year. It’s got everything; exciting, strategic combat, a large open world filled with many secrets, and an actual boss called “Pumpkin Head” – what more could you want? I don’t know how I’m going to last until February!
Featured Image: FromSoftware