Elden Ring is finally out this Friday, and while I’ve been lucky enough to have my greasy hands on it for the past few days, we still need a bit longer to get through this massive, open-world adventure, especially to test out its vital network functionality when the public servers go live, with everyone jumping on board. For now, here’s a quick review-in-progress to let you know that yes, Elden Ring so far has pretty much everything Souls fans have been hoping for, in a huge, challenging gauntlet of unique and varied bosses.
The amount of challenge, especially in the initial area of Limgrave, may depend on your level of previous experience with Souls-type games. While early in the game there are more obviously tough bosses who clearly are meant to help gate progress and encourage players to build themselves up a bit before tackling them again, there’s also quite a few real pushovers, especially if you go with a magic build and know your standard keep-your-distance and don’t-get-greedy tactics. I’m possibly biased because I’ve played through every Soulsborne game, but the difficulty curve is quite a bit gentler and more encouraging this time around, which is actually quite pleasant to experience.
This is partially due, as well, to how many more options you now have in the larger, open world of Elden Ring. Stealth is often the best way to take out patrols of soldiers on open roads, but you can just as easily charge in on your steed, Torrent, and rain hell on them with your broadsword. Certain monsters can be even summoned to do your own bidding to assist in tougher battle. Meanwhile, Ashes of War found around the game allow you to equip unique abilities to your weapons, for additional spectacular attacks or magic powers, or abilities that can help co-op play such as area healing.
Exploration is encouraged and rewarded, as many important items are housed at imposing structures you at first only see in the distance. Optional dungeons dot the landscape housing similar appearances and structures, but unique bosses, and you also never know when you might be challenged on the open field by a giant robot re-assembling itself from debris scattered around, or a dragon that swoops in to roast the party of soldiers you were carefully creeping up on. The world feels more alive than previous Souls games, and while enemies will respawn on death and continue on familiar patrols, encounters never feel as repetitive as they could before. The initial Limgrave area, featured in the Closed Network Test, is quite a bit larger than that test allowed and there are quite a few more areas beyond it, each ruled by its own lord which you have to topple. There’s not only open fields and swamps, but detailed castles and other complexes that offer more tailored and detailed experiences than some of the more generic optional dungeons. There’s also the Roundtable, a kind of base of operations you can return to at will, which you can unlock further areas and goodies within.
The design of the world itself is also very intriguing, with ruins, castles and strange structures crumbling around the base of the enormous golden Erdtree which looms over the skyline. Playing on an Xbox Series X, performance on a whole feels silky smooth, especially compared to the Closed Network Test, whether playing alone or online. The voice acting is as grandiose as you’ve come to expect from a Souls game, and the score has plenty of memorable battle themes. The only slight disappointment is in the opening cinematic, which forgoes the traditional Dark Souls hyper-detailed and moody CGI for relatively plain painted still frames, which I accept could be a casualty of the pandemic. The lore, apparently developed between Hidetaka Miyzaki and George R.R. Martin, I haven’t quite got a complete handle on yet (but to be fair, a lot of the story in the Souls games goes over my head), but Elden Ring paints a similarly melancholic mood with its presentation that feels both lonely and inspiring at once.
Part of the changes Elden Ring makes to the Souls formula are to the way multiplayer works, now done through ‘fingers’ and finger remedies and so forth, which can be crafted from common materials found across the map. You can make yourself available for summoning, or summon other players at specific ‘pool’ markers found around the world, both for tackling certain bosses or dungeons, or just for freewheeling across the open world until you encounter a big boss. If you want to make sure you get paired up with your mate, you can even set a password now.
Over the next few days, I’ll be focusing more on co-op and invasions in Elden Ring, especially as it’s released to the public on 25 February. However, at this stage I am greatly enjoying the darkly beautiful world of the Lands Between, and the many, many bosses and mini-bosses found within. Stay tuned for our full review in the near future.