Last weekend I got some time in the closed network test for Elden Ring, the upcoming open world title from the creators of Dark Souls.
I was extremely interested in playing, because I’ve mostly been trying to avoid any footage aside from trailers or anyone else’s commentary, so that I would be able to go in as mostly blind as possible once I finally got my hands on it. Here are my thoughts after around roughly six hours of gameplay.
The first thing you’ll do is choose a class. Mages are typically stupid OP in Souls-like games, so I opted for the Bloody Knight. Why not run with something that’s more melee focused like my STR build from Dark Souls II? A few quick options, like choosing between body type a/b (male/female), and I was ready to check out this new adventure.
Right off the bat, you awaken in a cave, which isn’t really all that surprising considering the majority of these games have you start out somewhere dark and isolated. What I didn’t remember was that this game was open world, so it was quite a shock walking out of the cave into a vast sprawling forest standing before me.
I run a few steps out and I’m being prompted to pick berries – what the hell for? Turns out I’d find out why just a little bit later on, when I picked up an empty flask that allowed me to concoct my own potions that could be used alongside my estus flasks. Interesting.
The next thing I noticed was a giant armored knight on horseback guarding the main pathway into the the ruins just beyond the forest. Needless to say, I ran up and slapped him to see what would happen, and he split my face in half with a quick swing from his massive polearm-axe-spear-thing that moved far faster than I anticipated.
After a few more attempts, I was able to whittle him down to about half health, and decided I’d go try to find some lesser enemies to get a little stronger before I re-attempted taking on the Tree Sentinel – basically just the first half of the Gyoubu Oniwa fight from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
I decided to run back to the starting point to fully explore the caves I began in, and went through a whole ass tutorial section that I had simply skipped by going the other way. This made a few of the changes to combat make better sense, like why I had to use Triangle to pick up items, or why parrying wasn’t available.
For me, the biggest and most annoying change to gameplay I found so far is that weapons can be imbued with blessings, and activating a blessing requires pressing the L2 or R2 button depending on which hand the weapon is equipped in.
While this wouldn’t normally be a problem, you can’t parry if you’re using a weapon that’s able to be activated; so you’re immediately forced to choose between relying on your muscle memory or these new imbuements. I can’t say I was all that fond of it.
Progressing through the cave I met my first “boss,” which was really just a standard enemy presented like a boss fight so you can prepare for what’s to come. Clearly Elden Ring is meant to be welcoming to newcomers who are drawn to the open world style (such as Witcher III fans).
You kill the boss, and instead of getting a soul, you receive an enchantment for certain weapon types. For example, one boss drops an enchantment buff that casts off your shield. Hopefully this is meant to change in the final game, since using boss souls to craft special weapons is an iconic part of the Dark Souls experience, but we’ll have to see how it plays out in the final game.
Once again, I ventured out from the cave and broke to the left, stumbling across a church with an NPC merchant who also had a grace point (these are bonfires) for an easy return. Moving past the church, I found a cave that also strangely had a grace point at the entrance.
That was confusing until I went just a little bit deeper, and found myself facing off against two demi-human bosses when I reached the end. It was intense but not terribly difficult, and I was grateful for some easy souls- err- runes, so I could level up a little bit.
After defeating the boss, I was able to teleport back to the entrance and spend my runes to level up. Fast Travel is far more accessible in Elden Ring than it was in previous Souls-like games.
I left the cave and went nuts clearing out random soldiers wandering around the forest, while carefully avoiding getting too close to the front for fear of the ever-lurking Tree Sentinel. I eventually made my way past a strange looking statue, which works as a checkpoint so if you’re ganked, you won’t have nearly as far to return. EZ mode confirmed.
Exploring the ruins, I came upon a bitch ass soldier who had a war horn that saw me, and was able to call around 40 dudes and wolves to my location. It was nuts but easy to run away from and reset with fast travel. I see there’s some balancing issues that’ll need to be ironed out before release.
Further exploring the ruins, I found a circlet that allowed me to summon a horse. What the actual fuck? Dark Souls on horseback was a surprisingly fun gameplay addition that I expected to hate. Rushing around and bunny hopping over dorks to slash them in the back was so dumb but an absolute blast, so I decided to head back and pick on the Tree Sentinel.
Having a horse of my own allowed me the speed to more accurately go hoof-to-hoof with the Tree Sentinel, allowing me to get behind him easier for better chunks of damage between dodges. One thing that caught me off guard was watching the horse take a hit.
I realized the horse has it’s own health bar, and it can actually be killed and resurrected by using a charge of your estus flask. Finally, a reason to care about a horse that isn’t stupid like Roach.
I spent a majority of my time slowly exploring the early areas fully, so I didn’t find every boss that was available, but I did find my way through a valley of super windy giants that scared the balls off of me, and I escaped into a castle only to find Margit the Fell Omen. Knowing I had less than an hour left to play, I decided to try my best to kill this fucker, even though I knew I was way under leveled.
This boss reminded me a lot of Champion Gundyr from Dark Souls III but faster, had the ability to summon spectral throwing daggers, and a spectral warhammer that he used to smash me into dust repeatedly. I tried summoning some companions, and we made a few attempts, but as time ran out I wasn’t able to summon more friends. I eventually watched my last stall out as the beta servers went down.
Going in, I wanted to hate how much they changed Elden Ring from other games, but the more I played it, the more I enjoyed how much the changes brought to the experience. There are a few things that I didn’t care for, but I’ll reserve those judgments for the final version. Which I am now anxiously anticipating, just a few short months away. I can’t wait to add Elden Ring to my list of Souls-like Platinum Trophies.
Elden Ring was delayed, and launches February 25th, 2022 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
The Elden Ring beta was previewed on PlayStation 5 using the beta code provided by From Software. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.