Elden Ring is exceptional so far. I had the chance to gain access to the Elden Ring Closed Network Test a few days ahead of when it begins, and I am utterly besotted with it. If you’re trying to avoid spoilers, but want to know if you should maintain your excitement, that should do for you, and you probably want to close this page, because from here on out I’ll be diving into what I saw, got killed by, and managed to kill.
The Elden Ring Closed Network Test gives access to a small section of the game’s overall map. The world outside of the designated chunk was either gated off by water, which I assume we can cross later, or a big old white wall, which might be similar to what happens in multiplayer. I didn’t get a chance to check out the multiplayer ahead of the wider test, but a loading note did state that you’re limited with where you can go, so it’s unlikely that everyone can ride around on horses together. Sorry.
Even so, the small section of Limgrave contained forests, a lake, ruins, and beaches, not to mention one section that was just covered in storms. It’s littered with things to see and do. One thing that constantly struck me, like an arrow out of the blue, or a dragon landing from above, was how impressively pretty the game is. Every corner I turned had some burst of colour secreted away in amongst the enemies, and the skyboxes are populated with beautiful glowing trees and the odd dash of rain and lightning.
Alongside the above-ground bits of battling you’ll be taking part in, there are also little dungeons like the catacombs seen in last week’s gameplay trailer. I found one mine, one cave, and two catacombs in my time with Elden Ring. I’m also absolutely certain I missed a few places because I saw them as I was travelling but didn’t mark them on my map, because I’m an idiot.
Each dungeon took me between five and thirty minutes, depending on the unique set of traps and enemies contained within. The catacombs all had these little gargoyle things that moved like thieves from Dark Souls 3, but were also filled with traps like giant flame spouts and arrows coming out of the walls. The mine, on the other hand, had a lot of lifts, and the enemies within had been there so long their skin was rock solid, which meant my sharp weapon kept bouncing off.
The sheer variety of enemies I have seen and locations I’ve found is glorious. Plus, you’ve got things like caravans with special loot in them and field bosses that you’ll find as you roam around above-ground. These are enemies like the mounted knight and dragon from the gameplay reveal trailer. I beat the dragon, which I’m very proud of, but it took a fair few attempts, even with the addition of riding around on our spirit steed Torrent and the breadth of attacks available to me.
Fight it out
I predominantly used a Twinblade to fight, because I love Dark Souls 2 and twirling things around like a circus performer. The one-handed attacks were satisfyingly twirly, but the two-handed variants felt wonderful as well. The new jumping attacks are quite fun to use, and breaking someone’s guard by jumping up into the air and bringing your weapon crashing down upon them feels amazing.
You’ve then got combat arts, which are gained via Ashes of War. Ashes of War can be found by killing dungeon bosses, finding weird pocket dimensions with bosses in them, or found in chests around the world. There might be other ways too, but I didn’t run into them during my time with the test. Each of these can be equipped to different weapons. For example, one called Gravitas, which draws enemies towards you, can only be used on a weapon that’s of a certain size.
These allow you to customize some of your weapons, but not all. Some weapons are more like legendary or unique weapons, and they come with their own special attacks that can’t be changed. These range from magical spinny explosions on a greatsword, to an incredible slice of blood you can shoot out of a dagger. Equip load seems a little more forgiving than what Souls fans will be used to, which means you can usually have a few different weapons equipped, so you can properly embrace the variety the game is offering you.
A different kind of open-world
Of course, you can also try and avoid as much face-to-face combat by doing sneaky things like using stealth, or waiting until a big group of enemies is together and then taking them out with a summoned dragon head that breathes fire on your foes. You can also summon the spirits of other foes (again, these are found in dungeons and whatnot) to fight with you, but only in certain areas. This took me longer than I’d like to admit to work out, and I assumed you had to get a specific item to do so. You don’t. I’m just a big silly sometimes.
The thing is, the opportunities for stealth weren’t very numerous. While each set of ruins did have a few guards or enemies within, it’s highly likely that someone will spot you as you’re ganking some poor undead guard, then blow a big old horn. Let me tell you, you have not known true fear until a swarm of twenty enemies appears out of various tents and buildings littered around an area, all converging on your location.
These aren’t like outposts in Far Cry, they’re not copy and pasted and filled with enemies. Instead, foes lurk around corners, or sit around campfires while chatting creeping things and wanting to die in a dragon’s fire. Also, there are dogs or wolves a lot of the time.
I have but one regret
I love literally all of what I’ve played of Elden Ring so far. I don’t know what I was expecting from this type of more open world game coming from FromSoftware, but playing it solidifies what half-formed mental images I had. Despite the more open areas, you can still feel a lot of purpose in enemy placement. Big empty areas are only used as a way to give you a small breather before having some monumental threat show up. Hell, a stone giant stood up at one point as I was exploring what I thought were ruins and breathed fire on me. There are lots of surprises to be found. Many of them are deadly.
Horse combat is fast-paced and kind of hard to control, but it makes sense, because you’re not at your most adept when on top of another living thing. Plus, I got killed by an angry goat during an epic horse battle at one point, so you really do need to be careful of everything. The only thing that I feel bad about in Elden Ring is the fact that I’ve got to wait over three months to play more.
Everything else is somehow everything I wanted but didn’t know I needed from the next FromSoftware game. Elden Ring feels like the culmination of every FromSoftware game so far. It takes parts from every entry in the Soulsborne games and fuses them together, then plops it all in a big beautiful world and just lets you figure it out from there. I can’t wait for February, and I’m sure that if you’ve read all of this, neither can you.