Elden Ring network test impressions: 12 things I learned as a Dark Souls fan

Publication date of the original Japanese article: 2021-11-11 00:00 (JST)
Translated by. Nick Mosier

FromSoftware’s new action RPG Elden Ring inherits elements from their previous titles such as Dark Souls, and it puts them in a more open and free experience.

I’ve been a fan of FromSoftware for nearly 23 years. I’ve also exhaustively played their recent hits such as the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a playtest before the upcoming network test that will be available to the public. And with that, here are the 12 things I think you should know about Elden Ring from the perspective of a longtime FromSoftware fan.

Please note that the content of the game can potentially change between now and its release. In addition, my time with the game was spent on the PlayStation 4 version.

The “FromSoftware DNA” is alive and well

Firstly, Elden Ring unmistakably comes from the same lineage as FromSoftware’s previous titles, with combat and gameplay systems sharing many similarities. For example, gestures and weapon movement feel like they are based on the Dark Souls series. Things like conversations with NPCs and the flavor text for items also prod at your imagination in a way longtime fans will be familiar with. On the other hand, I was won over by how flashy and unexpected the newly added skills were.

The appeal of the world itself

Elden Ring brings with it a new charm not seen from FromSoftware before—the freedom of its open field. The game has bright and sprawling plains that are teeming with life. Hunting and gathering plant life are also connected to crafting. And while the game indicated where you should go next, which way you actually go is up to you. Plus, the weather system and day-night cycle add another layer of freshness. One example is being able to sneak up on enemies from behind when it’s pouring down rain at night.

*The game hasn’t been officially referred to as an open-world game so we’re using “open field” to describe it.

The looming presence of the Erdtree

Then there’s the Erdtree, which players are sure to notice. The Erdtree is the foundation of the story and a destination for the player. As if it was covering the sky, its commanding presence can be felt from nearly any outdoor area. When you see it, you can’t help but wonder what awaits at the base of the tree and when will you get there. It’s also a nice visual accent when swinging the camera around during battles.

The open field expands gameplay possibilities

Even in a massive open area, you’ll rarely lose your way. This is because of the game’s map and Grace’s Guidance that point you toward your next objective. You can also purposely head off in the other direction to search for sleeping treasure and dungeons to explore. It’s also easier to avoid enemies in the large field. Do you fight enemies to level up, or do you head for the boss straight away? It seems like now you’re more free to choose.

Gameplay changes to go along with the expanded world

Elden Ring features a new “crouch” move to hide yourself and a “jump” for clearing obstacles in your path. Plus, actions taken outside of battle don’t reduce your stamina, so you don’t have to always be concerned with managing it when moving from place to place. It also appears that they’ve done away with weapon durability from the Dark Souls series and made other adjustments to make exploring fun and stress free.

There are two types of checkpoints

One type of checkpoint is a Site of Grace which acts as a respawn and healing point similar to bonfires in Dark Souls. There are also checkpoints called Stakes of Marika which act as respawn points. Dying far away from a Site of Grace can be brutal, but if there’s a Stake of Marika nearby, you can respawn there and continue on your quest. With the map being as big as it is, these are probably to help reduce travel time for players. But leveling up and passing time,  can only be done at a Site of Grace.

Horseback riding is responsive and feels good

In Elden Ring, you’ll need your trusty Spectral Steed to navigate the large world. On top of feeling good to control and enabling you to traverse quicker, your horse comes with the ability to double jump. It’s also possible to collect items while on horseback.

Horseback is especially exhilarating during combat

Your horse isn’t just for getting around; it also adds a breath of fresh air to combat. You’ll get to taste the thrill of dueling with other enemies on horseback. It does take some getting used to, though. Even for the swift Spectral Steed, dodging isn’t as precise as it would be on foot. It’s also not possible to guard on horseback, and if the Spectral Steed takes too much damage, it will disappear.

The motion involved with attacking from horseback is relatively long, so it will take some time to get the feel for hitting your target right. The high level of mobility seems more suited for fighting large enemies, but once you’re used to it, it’s also possible to mow down smaller enemies in your path while riding along.

The hit detection feels more refined

It may just be me, but it feels like the hit detection is more accurate. The previously mentioned Spectral Steed and main character each have their own separate hit detection, and you can get by devastating attacks from large enemies by barely going under their arms and weapons to position yourself at an opening near them.

And there were times when fighting regular enemies where I thought I was going to get hit, but when examined closely, just barely avoided the attack. I also successfully dodged some boss attacks by crouching and jumping. Along with these new moves, new battle tactics are possible now that weren’t before in previous FromSoftware titles.

The utility of the guard counter is outstanding

The guard counter is a new move that can be used in combat. If you attack right after blocking an enemy attack with your shield, you can strike back with a fierce blow. This also does a lot of damage to an enemy’s stance. If you break your opponent’s stance, you’ll be able to hit them with a fatal strike that deals a lot of damage. It’s a move that combine offence and defense into one.

Actions from the Dark Souls series such as parry and backstab are also present, so you can definitely put your Dark Souls skill to good use.

Summon spirits to turn the numbers in your favor

Summoning spirits is also interesting. The spirits are kind of like minions that temporarily help you in battle and are unlocked when you obtain certain items (Ashes). While you can only summon one type of spirit at a time, there are some Ashes that summon a set of multiple spirits. Being able to attack in numbers, even when playing alone, can be a lifesaver. However, groups of spirits tend to be wiped out wholesale by bosses, so it’s important to consider the situation when using them.

“Ashes of War” determines both weapon skill and weapon infusion

One new element I was particularly surprised by was the Ashes of War system. Fixed weapon skills should be familiar to those that have played Dark Souls 3, but in Elden Ring, items called Ashes of War can be swapped and applied to change the weapon skill to your liking.

Moreover, some Ashes of War can also infuse your weapon voluntarily. And in this test version of the game at least, changing the Ash of War attached to my weapon didn’t cost any resources. It allows for flexibility, so if physical damage isn’t cutting it against an enemy, you can easily try to imbue your weapon with lightning and try again.

The video below contains some actual gameplay footage, including some things we talked about earlier such as combat on horseback and new skills. Please note that the footage is from the Japanese PlayStation 4 version of the game (played on a regular PS4). We can expect higher quality visuals from high-spec PCs and next-gen game consoles. We’ve tried to be conscious of spoilers in this video, but the end does contain some footage of a dungeon boss.

I experienced more content than I could cram into this article during my test play, but an even bigger adventure awaits us when the game launches next year.

Elden Ring is schedule to launch on February 25, 2022, for PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. There will also be a network test starting on November 12, for those that are selected.