When it was officially revealed at E3 2019 that George R.R. Martin was writing the lore for a FromSoftware title it was exciting and a bit worrisome for those familiar with the writer’s multiple-year-long struggle to finish his next novel, The Winds of Winter. After two years of concerning silence, it’s safe to say that Elden Ring feels like it will be well worth the wait.
You can’t talk about any FromSoftware game without first mentioning the gameplay. And for anyone who has played a Souls game, such as Sekiro or Bloodborne, Elden Ring will look and feel quite familiar. The perspective is identical, and the gothic aesthetic is reminiscent of the developer’s signature titles. In terms of controls, you still equip weapons, shields, and other items to your left and right hands individually, while combat has the same weighty feel with its emphasis on parrying, dodges, and rolls.
However, there’s plenty of innovation in Elden Ring’s gameplay that long-time fans can look forward to, including a much more robust spellcasting mechanic, which features many new spells that are extremely useful and incredibly stunning to behold. Besides the basic homing magic spells, there are also lightning spells, gravity spells, and even one that summons a giant fire-breathing dragon head. That last one is well worth using at least a few times despite its incredibly long animation simply because it looks incredibly impressive, especially running at the smooth 60 FPS I experienced on PS5.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of the magic in past souls games, there’s truly something here for everyone. Every class you can play as in the Elden Ring network test either has magic as their main method of dealing damage or they have a weapon that can use magic. As well as the magic you have from the start, you can also find Ashes of War all around the map which can be used to give magical properties to weapons in your inventory.
Best of all, you can test out these spells without needing to worry about giving your weapon a spell that doesn’t fit your playstyle. You can modify your weapon at Sites of Grace (the Elden Ring equivalent of the Dark Souls Bonfires) to be able to use a single spell. And you can change the spell any time you sit down at a Site of Grace if it starts to feel stale or isn’t working as well as you had hoped it would.
What’s more, you’ll be able to experience these new spells no matter which class you pick. My personal favorite during the network test was the Enchanted Knight, an armor-clad knight that can wield swords, spears, and staves. There were also four other classes available during the network test: the sword specialist Warrior, the magic-user Prophet, the nimble Champion, and the overpowering Bloody Wolf.
The handful of classes to choose from in the network test showed off an encouragingly diverse assortment of what can be expected when the full game releases.
Equally as important to this style of game are the boss fights that you can find all around the Lands Between in Elden Ring. There are your typical souls-style boss fights where you’re in a bespoke arena that traps you in against an incredibly powerful foe and serves as a piece of the enemy’s backstory.
Conversely, the open-world style of Elden Ring’s map means you can just be minding your own business riding your horse around when Agheel the dragon swoops down from the sky to ruin your day. Unlike other bosses in similar games, you can completely run away from these encounters and find a nearby place to relax.
This is just part of how the open-world style in Elden Ring completely changes up the souls formula. The network test drops you into the beginning of the game where you enter the Lands Between in an area known as Limgrave. This small section of the map allows players to explore and feel that sense of wonderment when discovering a new area with completely unique enemies or a well-hidden item.
Souls games already did a fantastic job of giving players room to explore considering their typically more enclosed maps. Elden Ring absolutely turns up the amount of exploration to previously unthinkable levels. The only limitation is truly the player’s ability to look at navigation in this game, unlike any other similar game before it. You can truly go anywhere at any time. Limgrave has so much area to explore and every inch of it is undoubtedly worth looking at.
Before reaching the open area where most of the network test takes place, you find yourself in a poorly lit cave. This transition from dingy darkness to light and the beauty sent forth by the giant shining Erdtree serves to make your first few steps into the Lands Between something that is truly awe-inspiring.
Elden Ring just keeps becoming more impressive with every new discovery of the game’s enemies, bosses, and environment. It’s undoubtedly one of the most visually spectacular games of the current generation, and it’s still some way off completion. Elden Ring could very easily look even better three months from now.
Of course, even the most enthusiastic players need to take a break from exploration at some point. Conveniently, this is where the Sites of Grace play a major role when exploring the open world of Elden Ring. These spots of respite give you a much-needed rest, allow you to level up, point you in the right direction with rays of light, and they play a crucial role in allowing you to manage your Scarlet (HP) and Cerulean (Magic) flasks as well as the brand-new Flask of Wondrous Physick.
This new kind of consumable lets the player customize a flask that has certain effects based upon the crystal tears used at the Site of Grace. The crystal tears are like ingredients to a potion that are used to give the Flask of Wondrous Physick different effects. And just like the Scarlet and Cerulean flasks, this item restores when you sit at a Site of Grace.
The Flask of Wondrous Physick is yet another example of furthering playstyle customization by giving the player the ability to create consumables that do anything from increasing your maximum stamina to causing a massive explosion that deals devastating damage to anything nearby (including yourself).
Open worlds and loads of customization offer a sense of freedom that other features just can’t reach and at the same time they’re a double-edged sword. There’s always the lingering concern with any open-world game that the developers might not be able to fill that space with anything useful. All that we can do now is wait and hope that the rest of the Lands Between are as well designed as Limgrave.
All in all, Elden Ring seems to be living up to the hype so far. I’ll stop short of saying that this title is a game of the year contender because it’s way too early to even start seriously thinking about that.
The most resounding endorsement I can give of Elden Ring is that I jumped into the network test as soon as the servers went live and I only stopped playing on the last day because the servers were shut down while I was exploring Limgrave. This hands-on preview has moved Elden Ring from a game I was excited about playing to my most anticipated game of next year.