Elden Ring Network Test Impressions — Set your alarm, Tarnished

The Lands Between, once ruled by Queen Marika the Eternal, seeks Tarnished to restore its Elden Ring. Forsaken by the golden grace and exiled, the Tarnished now return after the Elden Ring is shattered by war to reclaim the Great Runes and bring peace.

Elden Ring is the latest title by Fromsoft following in the footsteps of their modern classic Dark Souls series. Editors David Flynn and Richard Allen recently had the opportunity to participate in the first network test and explore a massive chunk of The Lands Between. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right into it.

The test begins with you choosing your class. I (David Flynn) went with the Enchanted Knight who starts off with a shield, spear, staff, and two magic spells. In these kinds of games, I prefer to have a mix of melee and ranged attacks at my disposal, which is exactly what the Enchanted Knight offers. Your Tarnished begins in the Fingerfold Hero’s Grave, a short jaunt past a blocked off area leads to the first open world area, Limgrave. First off, the game is absolutely stunning with a pale, fall color palette, and a giant, golden tree looming in the distance. From the cryptic, masked man you encounter, you can gather that the tree is in fact your destination, marked by a golden trail emitting from the Sites of Grace which serve as bonfires.

Of course, that’s exactly the opposite of what I did – there’s a big world out there to explore! The first thing I did was engage in some PvP, as that’s what the network test is for. As per usual, the shoulder buttons use whatever’s in your right or left hands respectively. For example, light attacks with R1, heavy attacks with R2, block by holding L1, and parry with L2. You can roll by tapping Circle, but you can also jump by pressing Triangle to get around or avoid attacks. This first encounter was a good way to shake the rust off. I haven’t played a Soulsborne game since Dark Souls 3 (though I just started the Demon’s Souls remake), but Elden Ring feels nice and familiar albeit with a few tweaks and improvements.

Like its counterparts, Elden Ring is all about watching your enemy, predicting their movements, and outwitting them in the very deliberate combat. The biggest addition this game brings to the table is the open world. I’ve already mentioned that just this small section feels absolutely massive, but that doesn’t really convey just how much there is to discover here. As you head off into the world, you’ll immediately encounter a giant man on a giant horse who is very hostile. He’s a boss, but I never felt equipped at any point to face him, so instead I snuck around him and entered a dilapidated church where I encountered a merchant. Since I couldn’t level up yet, I instead could spend my runes on his wares or in forging to improve my equipment. From there, I headed north and entered a cave I initially thought was the first, critical path dungeon, but was actually entirely optional.

Dotted around the landscape are dungeons, caves, and temples which are structured much more like the traditional, linear levels we’ve seen before. They usually start off with a conveniently placed grace site, and require you to either reach the boss or find a lever to open the door to the boss. These areas are short and sweet, allowing you to quickly get back to the boss after dying, sometimes even placing the door right next to the grace site – the game is thankfully very generous with checkpointing so I never got too frustrated.

Elden Ring Network Test Gameplay - PS5 [Gaming Trend]

In fact, I found Elden Ring to actually be pretty easy comparatively. Magic is usually pretty powerful given that most enemies and bosses are melee, but it’s almost unfair here. There were a few bosses I didn’t even have to go near, they didn’t stand a chance. Of course, those are all the optional bosses – the mandatory boss beat me to a pulp multiple times. From these dungeons, you can find powerful new gear, runes, and spells. At one point, I found a dual bladed sword which was so cool I used it for the rest of the test. The equipment isn’t as versatile as the trick weapons in Bloodborne, but this is still early game so no doubt there are even more secrets to find.

Going back to the open world, there are enemies spread out in groups all over the land. Defeating one of these will restore a charge of your healing/mana flasks, enabling persistent exploration and minimizing backtracking. There’s so much to see, I think without this I would be dying far more often because I’m just too curious about what lies in the distance.

Once you reach a certain grace in the east, the maiden will approach you and allow you to finally level up using your runes and her power. Stats seem basically the same as usual, like strength, vitality, dexterity, etc. She also gives you a spectral steed to more quickly traverse the landscape. While I was pleasantly surprised by the open world itself, I’m more mixed on the horse implementation. To both summon and get off of it, you have to use the item either on your Square button list or by going into the menu. It feels very disconnected from everything else and makes getting on or off in the heat of battle more difficult than it needs to be. Mounted combat is a nice novelty, but can get old fast with how much missing is involved on the side of both parties. Unless I have a specific destination in mind, I doubt I’ll use the horse much.

Overall, I went in fairly excited for Elden Ring, but I left chomping at the bit for more. This feels like something new in a genre that was quickly growing stale. The world is instantly captivating and has things to find everywhere, while the combat offers more options than ever. February cannot come soon enough.

Richard’s Thoughts:

From the first notes of the piano to the powerful swell of the orchestra and choir, you can just tell Elden Ring is going to be special. Granted, my love of SoulsBorne games may make me a bit biased, but there’s still little else that compares to booting up a new FromSoftware game for the first time and hearing that music rise to greet you.

Simply put, Elden Ring is fantastic. If you put it in front of me and didn’t tell me what it was, I’d assume it was the next Dark Souls. Really, it is in everything but name. Sure, it draws from other FromSoftware games such as Sekiro – especially with your new ability to hide in bushes and ambush enemies – and Bloodborne, but feels almost exactly like an extension of Dark Souls 3.

I’ll admit, I was a bit wary of the open world. Open world has never been my thing, and a Souls type game with an open world? I scoffed. Well, from the moment I stepped foot outside the tutorial cave and witnessed the immense beauty of The Lands Between, I was hooked. The game world is massive and is completely open to explore at your leisure. Rather than being overwhelming, it felt natural. It took mere moments before curiosity kicked in and I set off in search of adventure.

I understand that an open world may sound counterintuitive when compared to previous Souls games which, while not spelled outright, always had a suggested order of completion. Elden Ring handles this by having enemies both tough and weak scattered everywhere, and thanks to your newfound ability to sneak, you can just skip the enemies that you’re not quite ready to tackle. Case in point – the very first enemy you’ll see upon entering the open world is a boss, the Tree Sentinel, and he will destroy you in seconds if you’re not properly prepared so it’s best to sneak around him, level up a bit, then come back – preferably with a few friends.

Elden Ring plays nearly exactly like a Dark Souls game, just with different names for familiar items. Bonfires are replaced with sites of grace, which allow you to rest, replenish your flasks, distribute your flasks between health regeneration and magic regeneration, level up, equip an ashes of war to a weapon (more on that in a moment), and more. As always, resting will respawn enemies. Sites of grace also show you via golden rays the general direction to head to progress the story, although it is completely up to you whether or not to go that way or to explore instead. If you die, you’ll resurrect at the last site of grace that you rested at. Instead of souls, you gain runes when defeating enemies and upon death will drop them, if you don’t retrieve your dropped runes before dying again then they will be lost forever. Fast travel between sites of grace is unlocked from the moment you begin your adventure.

From the outset you have access to multiplayer. Pressing the options button on the PS5 opens up a menu, which has a multiplayer option. Here you’ll find all the items available for multiplayer, including how to place your summon sign, how to place your dueling sign, how to invade, how to send phantoms home, how to ask for help against an invader, etc. This is where you can also set a group password, which will make you more likely to see messages, summon signs, phantoms, and more from others using the same password. You can also set a multiplayer password to allow only individuals with that password to show up in your game. Be warned, neither of these options prevents you from being invaded.

To initiate multiplayer you must first use an item called the Furlcalling Finger Remedy, which will allow the summon and dueling signs of other players to appear in your world. While signs can appear in the wild, they almost always appear near a site of grace or an effigy, which are dispersed throughout the world and which, when activated, initiate a summoning pool. Gold signs summon Furled Finger cooperators who can join your game and help out until a boss is defeated, after which they return to their world while Red Signs summon duelist adversaries, which come into your world to have a 1 VS 1 fight with you. The summoning player is always referred to as the Host of Fingers. If you’d rather hop into another player’s game then you can place the Tarnished’s Furled Finger, which allows you to be summoned for some jolly cooperation, or the Duelist’s Furled Finger, which allows you to be summoned for a duel. If you feel like attempting to ruin someone’s day you can use the Bloody Finger to invade, or use the Taunter’s Finger to beckon Bloody Fingers to invade your game.

If you are invaded, you can use the White Cipher Ring which will seek out someone to hop into your game and help you take down the invader. Likewise you can use the Blue Cipher Ring to make yourself available to answer the call for help from others. Using the Finger Severer allows you to choose a summoned player to go back to their own world.

The newest addition, and the most unlike any previous Souls games, is the Ashes of War. The Ashes of War are acquired a number of ways throughout your journey, from defeating bosses to finding hidden treasure chests. These ashes can be equipped to certain weapons to imbue them with powerful magical attacks. Thankfully, you are able to equip or remove ashes at any moment without fear of losing the ashes, so you’re free to experiment to find which weapon and ash combination works best for you.

You are equipped with multiple flasks, which can be divided up at sites of grace. The Flask of Crimson Tears is used to restore your health, while the Flask of Cerulean Tears is used to replenish magic. Defeating large groups of enemies in game sometimes refills one of your empty flasks, which is nice when you are stuck in a particularly rough area and far from a site of grace. You also have a special flask, the Flask of the Wondrous Physick, which allows you to mix various crystal tears you’ve found to create unique one off potions, which may restore health and magic, or restore health and add a buff, etc.

I’m not sure how many bosses the final game will have, but if the beta is any indication, it is going to be massive. In this beta alone I defeated 8 bosses: Margit the Fell, Tree Sentinel, Beastman of Farum Azula, Flying Dragon Agheel, Stonedigger Troll, Grave Warden, Demi-Human Chief, Pumpkinhead, and Burial Tree Watchdog. I also know of at least three other bosses that I did not have time to tackle. What’s more, most of these bosses were optional – they were there to guard a treasure or a specific area, but were not needed for me to progress.

Overall, my ten or so hours with Elden Ring made the wait until February much harder. I can’t wait to dive back into The Lands Between and see what else this game has in store for me.

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