Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of open-world games as much as the next person—however, being a fan of Fromsoft titles, I was really worried about Elden Ring and its jump to an open world map.
To me, the appeal of a good Soulsbourne/Sekiro style game is in its intricate and tight level design. Interconnected labyrinths that give the illusion of grandeur without resorting to vast swaths of emptiness and unmeaningful content. Despite only getting to play around 5-6 hours of the Elden Ring Network Test, I can safely say that the game not only feels like a proper entry into the Souls series style of games, but one that eloquently expands on the formula with its open-world approach.
For my short stint with the game, I chose to play as the Bloody Wolf class, which brought a good mix of high endurance and vigour (not to mention cool looking armour, reminiscent of the promotional material). Like an idiot, instead of completing the tutorial cave by falling down a small grotto, I instead immediately made it outside into the first open-world area present during the network test.
Allusions to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have been made before, which aptly describes the feeling I too experienced, stepping out into the Lands Between for the first time, mixed in with a healthy dose of the same kind of excitement I had when reaching Old Yharnam for the first time in Bloodborne. The open world, which was the biggest point of concern I had going in, pleasantly surprised me with how dense it was with meaningful content, even considering the limited play area of the network test.
“The open world, the biggest point of concern I had going in, pleasantly surprised me with how dense it was with meaningful content, even considering the limited play area of the network test.”
Unlike Breath of the Wild, which I thoroughly enjoyed but ultimately found hollow, or at the very least repetitive in its approach to open-world content, Elden Ring seemingly fixes. Firstly, the game not only features a large and expansive playing field, but one populated with numerous side ventures and areas of interest that all feel unique. Despite only getting to play around 6 hours due to the server issues on the Friday I had set aside for the game, my time with Elden Ring ultimately ended in me finding three unique bosses, two of which could be considered as mini encounters, a terrifying jousting knight on horseback and Margit the Fell Omen, the biggest threat out of the lot.
The first mini-boss I encountered was the Burial Tree Watchdog, an ancient Celtic-like living statue, and, honestly, my favourite design so far in Elden Ring. Equipped with a large stone sword, patina-stained mask and body, this strange rigid enemy kept me on my toes with its ground-pounding onslaught and occasional fire breath. After having died several times, I discovered my first Ash of War, an equipable augment for my sword that, when used, rains down a bolt of lightning which I quickly used to dispatch my rocky adversary safely.
Upon vanquishing the Burial Tree Watchdog, I was rewarded with yet another Ash of War, an item similar to the weapons arts found in Dark Souls III. It is more flexible though, in that it can be reused and equipped on the fly on a weapon of choice, adding to it a unique ability that drastically changes the base weapons capabilities.
“The first mini-boss I encountered was the Burial Tree Watchdog, an ancient Celtic-like living statue, and, honestly, my favourite design so far in Elden Ring.”
With my newfound ability to manifest homing missile-like swords thanks to the ash of war, I ventured deeper into the Lands Between, finally getting to meet Melina, the enigmatic woman from the trailer who acts as your means to level up. Thankfully, the ability to level up is once again possible at Sites of Grace, or what are essentially the bonfires found in ye old Dark Souls. Not having to travel to a designated hub area is a massive win for Elden Ring, eliminating the need to move back and forth between loading screens constantly.
Speaking of loading, the loading times on PlayStation 5 are minor, taking upwards of two seconds, making the brief time it takes to move between unlocked Sites of Grace a breeze. Before venturing further towards Stormveil castle, I wanted to take my time to explore the map and try out my mount.
I was skeptical about the utility provided by riding Elden Ring‘s spirit steed, as I find in most other open-world games, they tend to provide a means of faster traversal but fall apart when it comes to more precarious terrain. Thankfully, Elden Ring‘s mount forgoes realism and instead offers a double jump and the ability to ride airlifts that give even more height. Coupled with the ability to joust and engage in combat while riding, the mount in Elden Ring is not only a great utility but an enjoyable way to muck around in the world. It should be noted, the mount isn’t accessible in every area; mainly, the game tends to restrict its use in indoor environments.
Before heading into the castle for the demo’s proper story-boss, I doubled back to the starting area and then proceeded further south before eventually making my way towards an area called Post Town Remains. As the name may imply, the area in question is an overgrown monster-infested husk of what looked like what was once a settlement.
“Coupled with the ability to joust and engage in combat while riding, the mount in Elden Ring is not only a great utility but an enjoyable way to muck around in the world.”
Using my trusty steed to climb up a fallen edifice gave me a better look at the settlement below, including the means to enter a basement. Before proceeding, however, I noticed a convoy in the distance that looked suspiciously like it was carrying something worth investigating due to the sheer number of enemies around it.
After foolishly trying to engage in combat and dying several times, I finally managed to secure the goods by simply attacking the two giants carrying the convoy, causing them to halt briefly and giving me just enough time to run behind, mash the interact button, get my loot and run for the literal hills.
With a new set of armour and a cool AoE sword in hand, I made my way back to Post Town Remains and made my way down to the ominous-looking basement. Inside, like my encounter with the Watchdog, I met my second mini-boss adversary, the Pumpkin Head. Pumpkin Head which I found to be significantly easier than the previous encounter, felt like a mix between the Brick Trolls from Bloodborne with the girth of everyone’s favourite Onion Knight ala Dark Souls.
“Thankfully, Elden Ring‘s mount forgoes realism and instead offers a double jump and the ability to ride airlifts that give even more height.”
After the quick boss encounter, I left and made my way to the castle, but not before encountering Sorceress Sellen in a room adjacent to the Pumpkin Head encounter. Unfortunately, due to limited time with the network test, I was unable to test out magic use in Elden Ring. However, Sellen seemed like a rather interesting character, with her exposition hinting at a greater emphasis on magic in the game’s overall narrative.
With a few Ashes of War, and a newfound confidence in my riding skills, coupled with a better set of armour, I made my way to Stormveil castle, which felt similar to Demon’s Souls Boletarian Palace, particularly the steps leading into the castle proper, thankfully sans dragon, although there was a nasty troll.
Before getting inside Stormviel proper, I finally encountered Elden Ring‘s first story boss, Margit the Fell Omen. Unlike my previous two encounters, Margit posed a significantly tougher challenge. Equipped with massive staff, a ranged attack transforming energy sword that mid-fight transitions to a large and formidable hammer, I managed to best Margit after finally utilizing one of Elden Ring‘s new summon abilities.
“Sellen seemed like a rather interesting character, with her exposition hinting at a greater emphasis on magic in the game’s overall narrative.”
In addition to being able to summon other real-world players to your game, Elden Ring allows the use of spirits or NPCs, which don’t do much in terms of sheer damage, especially against large bosses such as Margit, but just having the aggro split gave me the opportunity I needed to come out on top.
Sadly, this is pretty much where my time with Elden Ring ended due to server issues on the evening I had set aside for the game. Even still, from the little I did see, I can already tell Elden Ring will be a special release, masterfully blending in the tight and linear game design found in the Souls series with an open world full of meaningful content that doesn’t feel repetitive or mechanical. In terms of performance, the game ran great on PlayStation 5, with very minor dips on occasion that will likely get ironed out when the game is released proper.
Finally, despite its cross-generational development, I found Elden Ring’s aesthetic to save the game despite its sometimes dated look, which only ever sticks out when compared to something like the recently released Demon’s Souls PlayStation 5 remake.
I was looking forward to Elden Ring, but I had deliberately kept myself from watching too much of the preview footage. However, after spending a few hours with this early build of the game, I can already say that it is now my most anticipated game of the new year.