Those familiar with From Software’s back library will have a fair sense of what to anticipate from Elden Ring. Elden Ring is a dark fantasy action RPG set in a meticulously designed setting. With its fractured storyline, the player must find connections, fill in the gaps, and draw conclusions. Its gameplay emphasizes the sense of success that comes from defeating seemingly impossible difficulties.
As with From Software’s previous games, Elden Ring builds on the strengths of previous titles, possibly fulfilling the open-world Soulsborne vision that many fans have longed for.
Yasuhiro Kitao of From Software says the team didn’t set out to develop an open-world game. From Software isn’t even convinced it has the right definition of an open-world experience, therefore it isn’t eager to label Elden Ring as one. In the gameplay, the hesitation to label Elden Ring as what it appears to be makes sense. True, it’s an open-world game, but it’s more like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild than any of the previous Assassin’s Creed games. The careful building of the environment and the moment-to-moment sensation of exploring are what set them apart for me
The Lands Between, where Elden Ring takes place, is a huge, linked realm that doesn’t seem large merely to be big. The visual density of the environment reveals this. Whether you’re on a cliff overlooking a foggy landscape, hiking through snow-capped mountains, or trekking through flooded towns, From Software wants you to be pulled to something interesting on the horizon, hoping that you’ll stumble upon something unexpected along the way. Like Breath of the Wild, the developer relies on curiosity rather than a map with dozens of symbols.
In a similar vein, the discoveries you make feel more emergent than in other open-world games. In a hands-off gaming demo I witnessed, a dragon swooped down and engaged the player. Normally, a planned boss encounter would have a scary yet grandiose symphonic soundtrack, a health bar, and a fog barrier to indicate that you are absolutely imprisoned, but not this time. It was only an enraged dragon hunting a wandering warrior.
Dungeons are scattered around the overworld, waiting to be discovered. These are typical From Software diversions that require players to battle traps, hidden foes, and bosses in order to find riches. The one I saw reminded me of a Bloodborne Chalice Dungeon. The controversial Chalice Dungeons may not seem appealing to everyone, but I didn’t see enough of them to say if they’re entirely hand-crafted or randomly generated like Bloodborne’s. Monsters jump on you as you emerge through a doorway, and a wooden box with a chain curving upwards. Hmmm.
There are also “Legacy Dungeons” spread across the world. The name implies that these sections offer classic Soulsborne gameplay in a confined setting. Stormvale Castle is a large medieval fortress that dares gamers to break its gates. A weathered, beastly-looking creature wearing an elaborate book as a necklace, skulking close, urges you otherwise. If you’re a nasty Tarnished seeking the Elden Ring, he can unlock Stormvale’s gates for you.
Here’s where things get interesting: the player is given an option. They can either ask the odd person to unlock the gate or follow the warnings and take a safer back path. Bold adventurers will want to enter by the front gate, but after the Tarnished’s initial arrow assault, they’ll discover the rear way is safer. Choosing one does not preclude the other. Instead, it’s offered as an on-the-fly difficulty choice. Do you appreciate the thought of accomplishing a Sisyphean task? Do you want a simpler, yet still tough, approach?
From Software’s games are known for their difficult difficulties, but the company seems to admit that there’s more to discover in Elden Ring. From Software’s aim, according to Kitao, is never to make a tough game. Instead, the team encourages players to have fun, overcome obstacles, and finish the game. Elden Ring incorporates innovative techniques to build games with a sense of worth gained from conquering challenges. One of these is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s mechanics.
The Tarnished, like Sekiro’s protagonist Wolf, is quick to leap into the air. In terms of gameplay, this means platforming is now more important, and Stormvale Castle was built with verticality in mind. The Tarnished is depicted slinking through an open window and into the castle. In the Lands Between, the Tarnished might choose between stealth and assassination. In combat, a jumping heavy blow will shatter an opponent’s posture, leaving them exposed.
This additional agility allows players who are less secure in maintaining their ground and fighting towering monsters, intimidating knights, or lethal magicians to have some control over the combat by influencing the tempo a bit more. They may also conjure what are basically minions to battle for you. Similar to a co-op partner, but with less tenacity. In a mob of opponents, the summons I witnessed were helpful in relieving the strain and even thinned out the gathering.
In many respects, entering Stormvale Castle felt like entering the world of Dark Souls, thus the Legacy Dungeons seem to live true to their moniker. The most intriguing part is that From Software claims the planet contains separate zones, each with its own style, attitude, and feel. That implies we’re about to enter a world that feels like it’s straight out of Bloodborne, Demon’s Souls, or something totally new.
Again, Kitao stated that Elden Ring intends to maximize its vast globe, so there will be lots to explore. There will also be lots of fascinating individuals to meet. From Software calls Elden Ring’s plot a “multi-protagonist drama.” The Tarnished will face old heroes and demigods in quest of the Elden Ring, and this game is more centered on them than past From Software games.
Characters have always been vital to the Soulsborne narrative—just look at the devotion around Solaire, Siegmeyer, Micolash, and Genichiro, to name a few. Elden Ring intends to focus on people to address the problem that From Software’s games have convoluted storylines. Focusing on individuals and the drama surrounding them helps to build a powerful story that anybody may appreciate.
That doesn’t mean it’ll be as simple as Sekiro. GRR Martin’s involvement virtually ensures it. Characters, rivalries, political intrigue, tainted bloodlines, and more were created by the Song of Ice and Fire author. In addition, From Software has developed its own storytelling style. According to Kitao, not all of Martin’s work is reflected in the game, but their position in history is. This is the type of stuff that the obsessive Soulsborne community will delve into.
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