From Software, as you may already know, has a new game coming out early next year. It’s called Elden Ring, and after spending a few hours with it during last week’s preview, I’m here to say that it’s shaping up to be something really special.
To set some expectations, Kotaku did have access to the closed network test, but our time was limited to two three-hour sessions. While it wasn’t an unfettered look at the open-world game, it was definitely enough to get a sense of the overall experience.
Elden Ring is a lot of things. It’s From Software’s first major release since 2019’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It’s the heir apparent of the Dark Souls franchise. It’s the company’s first attempt at transplanting Souls-style gameplay into a true open world. It’s Dark Souls IV. It’s Dark Souls II 2. It’s the natural culmination of an impressive resume that began with 1994’s King’s Field, and as such, is also a game almost 30 years in the making. It’s an experience From Software is singularly capable of pulling off.
But perhaps most important of all, Elden Ring is fun. Oh my god, it’s so freaking fun.
I’ve previously spoken at length about Elden Ring’s opening moments (you know, the tutorial area with the hole everyone kept falling into) and my favourite part of the restricted demo (accidentally finding my way to an island I half-convinced myself was unreachable). Those two stories sit at opposite ends of the open-world spectrum, the former representative of the genre’s ubiquitous emergent storytelling and the latter a perfect example of how From Software seems poised to reinvent open-world games for good.
Elden Ring, despite giving players a huge sandbox to explore and interact with, is deliberate and intentional. Every bit of the world-building that contributed to Dark Souls’ legacy can just as easily be found in Elden Ring. The only difference is that there’s more of it.
One can feasibly expect a modern, open-world game to be a collection of cool landmarks with little of note in-between apart from some lush visuals to make travelling from Point A to Point B at least aesthetically pleasing. That’s not the case with Elden Ring, though I must say it’s incredibly beautiful. No, From Software’s devs went the extra mile to ensure every moment is a crafted experience despite having exponentially more area to cover with the studio’s unique flair for making fantasy come alive.
A wooded lane isn’t simply window-dressing between waypoints but a set piece for learning the intricacies of stealth combat.
The entrance to a castle isn’t just an awe-inspiring example of the world’s architecture but the beginning of a breathless chase sequence.
A random gathering of worshippers in a swampy field isn’t merely a chance for you to mow down a group of enemies on horseback but the catalyst for a surprise boss fight against a man-eating dragon.
Unless the Elden Ring demo condensed everything cool about the game into 1/12 the square mileage to fool us, I’m frankly worried about the developers. The attention to detail that must be going into making this ambitious project a reality is nothing short of herculean. As much as I’m anticipating Elden Ring’s arrival on February 25, I’m also more than happy to wait even longer if it means the folks at From Software aren’t killing themselves to get it out the door.
In any case, my brief time with Elden Ring showed me that From Software is entirely capable of owning the open-world video game genre. I don’t know how I’ll go back to massive plots of land with nothing to see between points of interest apart from environmental details that feel copy-pasted to simply fill space. Even as a diehard Dark Souls fan, I’m blown away by what the developers were able to accomplish with this small slice of the full game and worried about my free time come next February.