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Elden Ring Preview: Dark Souls Evolved

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Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

Elden Ring isn’t Dark Souls 4, but you might as well consider it to be.

Taking place in the realm of the Lands Between, Elden Ring transports players to a fantasy world created with the input of George R.R. Martin. But that doesn’t mean there are heaps of exposition; as usual for a FromSoftware game, everything here with regards to the narrative is drip-fed. While there’s a deep backstory to delve into if you wish, all you need to know is that you’re a Tarnished, and it’s your goal restore the Elden Ring and become the Elden Lord.

Diving into the recent Closed Network Test, we’ve spent hours exploring just a fraction of the Lands Between. To say we’ve come away impressed is an understatement. Elden Ring is going to be one of the best games to come out of 2022, mark our words. This is Dark Souls evolved, taking core elements of the much-loved series and masterfully implanting them into an open world setting. All the while adding some new elements to boot.

A handful of character presets were available during the test, covering pretty much all playstyles. Male and female body types were available for them all, too. We spent time with two of them; the magic-focused Prophet, who wears what looks like a wheel around their neck, and the Bloody Wolf, a sinister-looking warrior. Our experience with each of them was unique, to say the least.

Playing first as the Bloody Wolf, we began in a dank crypt before emerging to a lush, green world. Opening the crypt doors is a revelatory experience; the world laid out before you is immensely detailed, and so, so colourful. It’s unlike any other world that FromSoftware has created.

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There are many things here that feel familiar. You discover sites of Grace, for example, that once activated allow you to rest, prepare your magic spells, and more. And just like in Dark Souls, resting respawns lesser enemies that you’ve vanquished in the world, as well as refilling your duo of flasks; one that restores your health and another your FP – essentially magic power. Progress a little further, and you even gain the ability to level up at Grace sites via talking to a maiden.

Elden Ring is mechanically very similar to Dark Souls, too. When it comes to combat, FromSoftware has took the approach of “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?”. It’s purposeful and tense, with a large emphasis on managing your stamina. Outside of combat, however, new additions such as being able to summon and ride a horse make exploration fast and more rewarding. There’s a new crafting system, too, allowing you to make a wide range of items to help you in your quest. Materials can even be quickly gathered while you’re on your horse.

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It’s the open world here that really makes the difference though. It’s always been enjoyable exploring the nooks and crannies of worlds created by FromSoftware, but you really get a sense of wanderlust when let loose in the Lands Between. Interesting landmarks far in the distance draw you in, making you curious as to what secrets, or treasure, they hold.

We discovered some ruins being used as a camp by a small army of knights, for example. On its periphery were two carriages, protected by guards. We snuck up behind them, taking them out silently, then raided the carriages for their goods. Upon clearing the ruins of the rest of the knights, we also found a cellar that housed a treasure chest. Inside was a rather spiffy double-bladed sword. Going off the beaten path doesn’t just lead to treasure, either; we’ve explored numerous caves that led to optional boss encounters.

When it comes to bosses, many will be happy to hear that they’re as tough as ever. In fact, Elden Ring seems to revel in the fact. Shortly after emerging from the crypt in which you start the game, your first encounter is likely to be against a giant armoured knight riding atop a horse. Chances are the fight will be over before you know it – he’s monstrously powerful. But you live and you learn. The open world structure means you don’t need to beat him; you can simply take a detour around him if you wish. And perhaps make a note to return to give him a good hiding once you’ve powered yourself up a little.

That, along with numerous other quirks, makes Elden Ring perhaps the most accessible game of its ilk yet by FromSoftware. Once again there’s co-op, for example, allowing you to summon others into your game to assist you with taking down tough enemies. Summons are available too, allowing you to bring computer-controlled allies such as a pack of wolves into the fight. It’s still tough, but you’re given more of a chance of levelling the playing field and emerging victorious.

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Starting over again with the Prophet after playing as the Bloody Wolf, it’s also clear that using magic is essentially easy mode. We’ll admit, we struggled against most bosses playing solo as the Bloody Wolf. As the Prophet, however, we killed most on our first attempt, with their starting Beast Claw attack having decent range while also causing a great amount of damage. It’s a shame that they aren’t a little more balanced, but there’s still time for things to change.

We expected Elden Ring to be good, but not this good. It’s captivating from the get-go, immersing you in a world that feels dangerous yet rewarding to explore. This may be an open world game, but it doesn’t bog you down with millions of icons on a map, all vying for your attention. Instead it feels natural, letting you enjoy it at your own pace without being pressured to tick off objectives. Mix in some of that Dark Souls magic, and you have a game that’s destined to eat tens of hours of the lives of those who delve into it next year. And chances are there’ll be no regrets.

Elden Ring launches 25th February 2022 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

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Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!