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'Elden Ring' Is A Remarkable Fusion Of 'Dark Souls' And 'Breath Of The Wild'

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'Elden Ring' Is A Remarkable Fusion Of 'Dark Souls' And 'Breath Of The Wild'

As I boot up Elden Ring for the first time, I wonder to myself just how different from previous FromSoftware games it’s going to be. We’ve been told this is the prestigious studio’s most ambitious game to date, after all - an open-world adventure made in collaboration with Game Of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, no less. Will a larger and more open experience lead to a softening of the razor sharp edges games like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice are known for? 

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I consider this question as I ride the elevator up through a gloomy catacomb and throw open the heavy stone door to reveal a sprawling world laid out before more. Gold leaves twinkle in against a dark grey, rain-dappled sky. My mind races with possibilities. I could head off in any direction, but some promising-looking ruins to the north catch my eye. 

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In a rush of excitement, I forget who made this game. I leap from the hillock housing the tomb I just emerged from without a care, and sprint towards the wooded area separating me from my goal. 

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It happens in a flash. A giant armoured sentry straddling a mighty horse comes thundering through the forest towards me. Trees crack and topple at its feet as it rushes up and brings its terrifying lance down on my head. 

I fall to the ground instantly, and am greeted with an all-too familiar message: You Died

Okay, so maybe Elden Ring isn’t so different from Dark Souls after all. In many ways, in fact, this is Dark Souls 4 in all but name. 

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Elden Ring will instantly feel familiar to anyone who has played a Dark Souls game before. Mechanically speaking, they’re near-identical - at least at first glance. Players will have to watch their stamina bar as they combine light and heavy attacks with dodges and rolls. There are special save points at which you’ll rest to restore health, level up, and manage spells. There’s a central “currency” (called Runes, here) that you collect from enemies that you’ll use to buy weapons and increase your strength - a currency you lose upon death and will then lose forever if you die again before you can reclaim it. You know the score. 

Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware
Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware

Throw in creepy NPCs, towering bosses, the ability to help or invade other players, and a mysterious fantasy world in a state of ruin, and you’ve got a Souls game. Yet Elden Ring makes a number of changes big and small to the established formula that slowly revealed themselves to me over the course of my time with the game and left me with a wonderful feeling: that I’ve only just scratched the surface of something truly remarkable. 

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Elden Ring’s closed network test (which you should be able to play in just a few days if you registered to do so) is a small teaser of what’s to come next year. I spent a good few hours exploring the first portion of The Lands Between, and was able to track down and conquer a handful of bosses, explore a dungeon, and die. Like, a lot. I loved every second of it. 

What’s immediately striking about Elden Ring is the greater emphasis on freedom. Not just in terms of the game’s vast open world, which is a far cry from the narrow paths and mazes of previous FromSoftware games, but in the way your character moves and engages with their surroundings and enemies. 

Combat still has the familiar rhythm of Dark Souls, but the addition of a jump button and the ability to crouch and hide in long grass massively changed how I approached encounters. The environment is key to victory in a way it never has been in a FromSoftware game before. One early boss battle, which I discovered inside a beachside cave at the edge of the map, kicked my ass multiple times. I’d stride into the cavern and start swinging my sword wildly. Two larger hellbeasts would quickly overwhelm me, flanked by their annoying minions. 

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Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware
Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware

Then I stopped playing it like a Dark Souls game. I took a moment, and realised I could use the layout of the cave to my advantage. Creeping in through the long grass, I was able to take out one of the bigger monsters and its bodyguards long before the other one ever knew I was there. With the tactical advantage, clearing out the cave was genuinely easy… or as easy as a FromSoftware game can ever be. Don’t get me wrong, the usual Dark Souls masochist crowd can still go in all guns blazing and have a great time - but in Elden Ring it’s just as possible to work smart as it is to work hard. 

Later on, I discovered a ring that allowed me to summon my “spectral steed”. With my new companion, I rode back to the knight that had so effortlessly put me down at the very start of the game and challenged it. It killed me again. Then again. And again a few more times. But with my own horse, I knew it was finally an even match. I could keep pace with the monster and dodge its attacks more easily. After learning its attack patterns and getting used to controlling my steed, we took it down and claimed its precious Runes, which I then used to level up and upgrade my sword. 

The spectral steed is one of the biggest game-changers in Elden Ring. This ethereal horse can be called upon at any time (as long as you’re not in a cave or dungeon), and is an invaluable ally. Its speed and agility (love that double jump) help turn encounters into thrillingly epic battles on a scale unlike Dark Souls ever managed, which is really saying something. It can also be used for hasty retreats when the going gets tough, which it so often will. 

Fortunately, summoning allies for help in battles - another FromSoftware tradition - is also easier than ever, meaning you’re never too far away from being able to call on human friends or NPC monsters for aid. And when even that fails? Elden Ring’s excellent open-world design means you can simply go off and explore somewhere else if a certain boss or obstacle is proving too much. This is Elden Ring’s most notable innovation, and the aspect that sets it apart from being just another sequel to Dark Souls. 

Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware
Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware

After being pasted by the formidable dragon you probably remember from the gameplay trailer several times, I simply backed away and explored the world some more. I was able to upgrade my weapons, kill some larger enemies and level up, and even discover a few handy crafting tools. There’s a nice touch of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild to Elden Ring, in that your exploration of the world is at constant risk of introducing you to an enemy you’re woefully underprepared for. And yet that same exploration is the very thing that’s needed to grow, learn, and prepare. 

Your curiosity is constantly rewarded, although unlike in Zelda, an interesting-looking spot in the horizon is far less likely to be an adorable Korok handing out seeds than it is to be an unknowable abomination from beyond the void handing out death. Over the course of my weekend with the game, I discovered close to a dozen or so hidden dungeons and nine or ten completely optional bosses hidden away in places I’d never have thought to look without following player-left hints and speaking with fellow journalists. I saw ancient tombs, a network of mines guarded by a troll, and a mysterious portal to a strange dimension. The Breath Of The Wild comparisons are certainly apt, but the original NES Zelda feels much closer to Elden Ring - in terms of both mystery and brutality.  

Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware
Elden Ring/ Credit: FromSoftware

I still have some reservations as to how the game’s open-world will serve players in contrast to the usual FromSoftware formula of intricately designed labyrinths, but in the context of this playtest? It worked. It gave me the space to move on from certain sections without feeling locked in to them, and that’s a huge deal. And given the beta takes place on just a small portion of the game’s entire map, I’m incredibly excited to see just how much more FromSoftware has hidden away. It’s certainly the most content I’ve ever seen in a demo, and if it’s indicative of the final product, we’ll be playing Elden Ring for a very, very long time indeed. 

When I finally returned for my climatic battle with the dragon, so much of what Elden Ring wants to be suddenly clicked into place. This is a game that dares you to take risks. To experiment with your surroundings. To go out into the world and learn from your mistakes. And that’s exactly what I did. 

Rushing towards the dragon on my steed, I slid under its belly and sliced its legs with my greatsword, leaping from my mount and hitting the scaly bastard with a barrage of lightning spells. Before it could spin around and burn me alive with its flames, I’d called upon my horse once more and gotten well out of range, ready to speed back in for another attack. The rush of taking down such a monster my way, on my terms - and in such style… It felt exhilarating. It felt like Dark Souls on a scale I’d never imagined before. 

With the beast felled, I hopped right back on my horse and headed towards a strange light on the horizon, the promise of further adventure in my heart. Rest assured, Elden Ring is shaping up to be something very special indeed. 

Featured Image Credit: FromSoftware

Topics: Elden Ring, Dark Souls, Bloodborne

Ewan Moore
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