Last week, we were given the chance to go hands on with Elden Ring, with six hours of play time in total. The demo started off in the same way as the recent network tests, but from there I was given the freedom to explore, fight and progress at my leisure. During this time, I was struck by Elden Ring’s decidedly welcoming approach to a tutorial, and by the rich abundance of life and greenery throughout the opening area. Make no mistake, Elden Ring is still a Souls game through and through. But by trimming off some of the fat that made previous games obtuse at times, FromSoftware has primed a Souls experience that encourages experimentation and meets players halfway.
Note: Access to the Elden Ring Preview demo was provided by Bandai Namco, and offered through a streaming platform. This means that we are unable to comment on performance for now, but will likely have more to say in our upcoming final review closer to launch.
Before going into the roughly six-hour demo for Elden Ring, I had not played the game yet. I skipped the network test in favour of a more complete experience, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This being a Souls game and all, I knew to brace for a challenge from the get-go, and was fully primed for a tough introduction to The Lands Between. These fears turned out to be unnecessary, as Elden Ring spent the first half an hour or so teaching me the core mechanics and giving me opportunities to try them out. There’s a tutorial section for those who want it, and the first section of battles are clearly designed to show you the ropes before setting you loose.
Dark Souls and its cousins have always been great at preparing players for what lies ahead. In the past however, much of the finer details were held back, with entire functions completely hidden until players really dove deep on exploration. This was not the case with Elden Ring. I learned jump attacks, countering, and crafting, all in quick succession. There are even glowing waypoints to guide you between checkpoints. The menus have been streamlined too, with multiplayer explained in its own section, allowing players to easily use items to summon other players, either to aid or invade other worlds. Part of me has always loved the mystery held at the core of every Souls game, but I will admit that it can be frustrating at times. Elden Ring seems to have finally struck the right balance between hand holding and player-side investigation and exploration. You’ll still need to read the descriptions for every item you pick up, but there are many guides in place that make things a lot easier to understand.
One of my favourite additions to Elden Ring is the counter-attack. If you manage to block an attack, either with your shield or other weapon, you can hit RT/R2 to immediately launch a powerful counter-attack. Gone are the days of practising on early enemies to get your counters just right, you can simply rely on a generous window to make your move. Don’t fret, fans of classic Souls, the shield parry is still there and it's still tricky to pull off every time.
Give This a Try
This more refined approach to onboarding will help new players, no doubt. It’ll also help veteran players, giving them the freedom to explore the dizzying suite of build options and tactics available. I’ve played every Souls game so far, and while I consider myself to be fairly competent at them, I’m also extremely boring. Give me a sword and shield, let me pour points into dex, strength and endurance, and I’m happy from the first enemy to the very final boss. Apart from a brief run in Dark Souls 2, I rarely use summons, or magic of any kind. There always seemed to be too much to lose in experimenting with new items and tactics, a sense that levelling one way would lock me out of others.
The way that Elden Ring encourages players to try out new things through crafting and streamlined summons finally broke me out of my routine. I tried magic out, picked up ranged weapons and used items more regularly. The world was filled with resources I could use to craft arrows, traps and consumables, so I never felt the need to hang onto anything for too long.
The summons system in particular has been changed to make things clearer and more viable. Certain Summons are now essentially consumables, taking from your FP bar to spawn allies that stick around until their health bars are depleted. You can only bring out one at a time, but doing so will give you an edge over bosses, as your spectral jellyfish pal hurls poison-tipped projectiles from afar.
The Ashes of War mechanic allows players to apply special moves to weapons, similar to Weapon Arts from Dark Souls 3. These can be swapped out at Sites of Grace (bonfires, basically), adding new attacks into your arsenal. All of this culminates in a combat system that spurs players on, giving them the freedom to swap out weapons, summons and new attacks with relatively little investment. It absolutely makes for a better Souls experience, and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the more wacky builds.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
I’m hesitant to describe too many of the ways in which Elden Ring feels more approachable than its predecessors. This is still a Souls game, after all. While systems have been simplified, and freedom of movement cranked up, you’ll still do plenty of dying in Elden Ring. For example, in the opening area I came across a camp filled with enemies guarding treasure. It took me six attempts to best all of them, requiring patience and stealth, as well as some careful countering.
Bosses are as nightmarish as you might expect, even with all the new bells and whistles at your disposal. Margit the Fell Omen blocks entry to the castle, wielding a hammer made of light that they use to rain down fast and weighty blows. Giants litter the hills, backed by legions of archers and ragged hounds. Bulky knights roam the open areas on horseback, swinging spears and lances wildly. If the first six hours of Elden Ring are anything to go by, players are in for a truly punishing time.
Come On, Grab Your Friends
Mercifully, FromSoftware has made multiplayer much easier for Elden Ring. There’s a dedicated multiplayer menu that highlights items that can be used to summon and invade, and there are more hints given on using and leaving Summon Signs.I can’t wait until the Souls community gets its hands on Elden Ring. Between the wide open areas and the ever-present emotes and messages system, there’s a vast canvas waiting to be filled.
The first six hours of Elden Ring left me extremely satisfied and excited for more. I’m happy to see FromSoftware open up and give further explanation of systems that have long been difficult to engage with. By streamlining some of the series’ staples, Elden Ring looks to offer a welcoming and authentic twist on a beloved formula, all the while encouraging experimentation, and making it easier than ever to link up with friends. Launch day can’t come soon enough.