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February 2023

Elden Ring

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: From Software
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2022


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Elden Ring'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 15, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Unparalleled adventure awaits in Elden Ring, an epic fantasy action/RPG title created by Dark Souls' Hidetaka Miyazaki, and George R.R. Martin.

In a way, Elden Ring sounds like someone's made-up ideal game rather than something that exists.

"What if the guys who made Dark Souls teamed up with George R.R. Martin to create an open-world game?"

Yet Elden Ring does exist, and while information has trickled out, the game has been largely hidden in shadow, which is why last weekend's network test was so hyped.

After getting some hands-on time with Elden Ring, at least one thing is obvious: If you like FromSoft's games, you're going to like Elden Ring.

Perhaps the first thing worth noting is that Elden Ring is ridiculously huge compared to any of FromSoft's previous games. Even the most open of those was still walled in. Elden Ring feels absolutely massive. When we started the network test, we were basically thrown into a staggeringly huge chunk of the game and explored. There are some golden lines that point you in the rough direction of plot progress, but otherwise, you're on your own. Explore that castle or that dungeon, or get brutally murdered by something huge and terrifying. The choice is up to you.

Surprisingly, this works really well. The game isn't quite as meticulously designed as the previous From games, but it still feels vibrant and alive. The world is large, but it goes for depth more than sheer numbers, and that works in its favor. The enjoyment of a Souls style game comes from mastering an area more than sheer exploration, and Elden Ring feels like it combines the two in a satisfying way. Of course, there are dungeons that feel a lot more like standard Souls areas.

As this is an open-world game, you get a Spirit Steed. This is the element of the game that I'm most iffy on. Riding the horse is fine, and it's a great way to get where you need to go. Combat on the horse feels more iffy. Ranged combat feels fine and works well, but melee combat feels awkward and difficult in a way that isn't common with Souls games, with weird hitboxes and slow animations rather than more deliberate combat. Maybe this is something that'll be adjusted before release, or maybe they expect you to keep a ranged weapon available for mounted combat. I know it was the singular part of the demo that left me feeling cold.

Gameplay-wise, Elden Ring feels like a Souls game. If you've played the previous games or any of the spin-offs, you have a good idea of what to expect. It doesn't feel exactly like Dark Souls 3, since there are elements of Bloodborne and Sekiro scattered throughout, including equipment and monsters that feel familiar. It's clearly far more in the Souls mode than the other two games, but it feels that From is melding its various titles together and taking elements from each.

Probably the biggest difference from the previous games is the emphasis on switching skills and builds, rather than picking one specific build and sticking with it. You can change your weapon skills any time you rest, and there is a ridiculous amount of them. Some let you attack with different elements, some let you use distance attacks, and some look really cool. Regardless of whether you're going ranged or melee, you'll use and swap skills a lot. It feels like this game gives special attacks a far greater emphasis than ever before.

Magic feels absurdly powerful. Elden Ring has more wide-open environments and larger groups of enemies than any previous Souls game, and magic can exploit both of those. One of the classes can transform its head into a giant fire-breathing dragon that melts entire armies. You can shoot lasers, summon swords, make claws pop out of the ground, and all sorts of other things. Assuming the network test is representative of the rough design of the final version, then Elden Ring will be probably the most magic-friendly title since the original Demon's Souls.

Speaking of classes, the network test had five builds available: Bloody Wolf, Champion, Enchanted Knight, Prophet and Warrior. Bloody Wolf feels like the default Souls character with medium armor, a shield, and a big sword. It's probably the most beginner-friendly class, especially since Strength builds increase the damage you can take and the armor you can wear, allowing you to make a reliable, tanky build. Unfortunately, it can't use magic, which puts it a bit behind most of the other classes. Thanks to the flexibility of weapon skills, being without magic gives you fewer options, not zero options.

Champion is the first of the faith-based magic (called Incantations) classes and serves as a midpoint between melee and magic. It starts with an ax and significantly higher Strength stats but less Mind, so they can't use their Incantations as often. This is the class to pick if you like Incantations but don't want them to be your primary method of attack. That is difficult to stick with, considering it has the aforementioned "turn your head into a fire-breathing dragon spell," which is absurdly good.

Enchanted Knight is the only staff-wielding class and thus the only one who can use traditional Int-based magic. Surprisingly, it starts off fairly tanky, with good armor and a nice shield. Magic is the name of the game, so the knight has a huge number of viable choices. I hesitate to call it overpowered, but the knight is probably the most powerful class in the demo.

Prophet is the other faith-based magic class. Compared to the Enchanted Knight, it is a far more traditional magic class with terrible melee skills but tons of spells and FP to cast those spells. Incantations are more support-based than standard magic, but the Prophet has a unique Beast Claw skill that is more than enough to make up for the fact they are a wiffle bat in close-range combat.

In comparison, the Warrior is probably one of the hardest classes in the demo to play. The other member of the No Magic Club begins with dual-wielded blades and a cool skill that lets you attack from a distance. Warriors are for those who want to deal tons of damage as quickly as possible. Dual-wielding turns you into a buzzsaw of doom, but you're also rather squishy, so you're putting higher potential DPS ahead of survival.

Overall, Elden Ring was a lot of fun to play. Even the network test was so jam-packed with things to do and enemies to encounter and areas to explore that I could've wasted dozens of hours in that area alone. It feels like a Souls game and something fresh and new, similar to Bloodborne and Sekiro on a grander scale. Assuming the full version lives up to what the network test showed off, Elden Souls has the real potential to be 2022's Game of the Year.

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