Elden Ring might be FromSoftware’s Breath of the Wild

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

FromSoftware’s Elden Ring, at first blush, looks like a sort of Super Dark Souls, a spiritual continuation of that action RPG series in a vast, vaguely familiar fantasy world of sword and sorcery. But the developer of staunchly challenging games like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is attempting something grander with Elden Ring’s huge open world.

This is a fantasy land so massive that it requires an in-game map, something that past FromSoftware games have never offered. Players have had to memorize the worlds of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro by exploring their dungeons and castles repeatedly, building up those maps inside their brains. But in Elden Ring’s the Lands Between, the game’s landmass, they’ll be able to place markers on a map and receive guidance on where to go next.

As players adventure through the densely packed Lands Between, they’ll encounter dungeons, giant castles, and the occasional dragon bolting out of the sky to attack them. “We want the Lands Between to be filled with threats and discoveries,” said FromSoftware producer Yasuhiro Kitao, in a video presentation with Polygon, who described the game’s large map as “not just big for the sake of being big.” In that video presentation, FromSoftware showcased diverse settings: wintry plains, an autumnal forest, a flooded city, and a decaying, swampy land.

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

Kitao said that the dungeons that players will encounter in the fields of the Lands Between will have variety — there are caves, cemeteries, and catacombs, and they’re handcrafted, not procedurally generated like the Chalice Dungeons of Bloodborne. But players may find some familiarity down in those dungeons, with traps, contraptions, torch-lit tunnels, treasure, and minibosses scattered throughout.

Players, known as Tarnished in Elden Ring, will also encounter terrible monsters and enemy soldiers. There are big, majestic ashen dragons and armored knights. There are bizarre enemies, some with a dozen arms in which to wield weapons, some with snakelike bodies. In one fight, an oversized falcon with swords affixed to its talons pecked and sliced at the player, while also throwing powder kegs at him.

Tarnished will have a variety of combat techniques at their disposal to deal with threats in the Lands Between: sword combat, archery, magic spells, stealth, and arrows that will put enemies to sleep.

Like Dark Souls games, players can also summon help. They can call upon their Spirit Steed, a horse-like creature that will aid them in traversal and when mounted combat is warranted. Players can also summon other players, up to two at a time, to assist them in cooperative multiplayer. Different is the option to summon AI-controlled allies of other types. Kitao described “tanky defenders” and “assault types” — and even a small mob of friendly monsters — that can be summoned with the ashes of the deceased. While he didn’t offer many details, it sounds like the creatures you slay in Elden Ring may offer their assistance in the afterlife as disposable, consumable allies.

A Tarnished on a Spirit Steed, wielding a twinblade, against a dragon
Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

Even moving through the world of Elden Ring is different. In addition to the aforementioned Spirit Steed, which can double jump across ravines and launch a hundred feet in the air with the aid of mystical jump pads, players can … jump. Similar to how the Wolf of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice moved through his world, Elden Ring players will be able to leap and bound without fear of fall damage through the environment. Traversing some areas, like crumbling castles or rocky terrain, appears to require liberal jumping around.

In one section of the game, known as Stormveil Castle, we watched a Tarnished approach the entrance gates, only to be greeted by a friendly character who told them that going through the front door was a bad idea. He offered a second safer route. But the player opted for the hard path, had the gates open for them, and was immediately welcomed — with a volley of arrows. Doubling back to pursue the easier, circuitous path, we were shown that it required a lot of jumping, sneaking, and battles with armed but underprepared guards. There was also a giant troll — had the player chosen the direct, more difficult path, it would have been a face-to-face fight. In this secret path, they took it down stealthily with a sleep arrow and let it lie.

In another section, the player approached a caravan containing treasure under the cover of night. They sneaked through tall grass to hide themselves, shot a sleep arrow into a guard, and finished him off with their blade. The other guards, now alerted, were dispatched with a curved sword and magical skills imbued into that weapon. It was short work, and the treasure was quickly earned. More guards were dispatched by summoning a quartet of red-eyed phantoms with their ashes. It was a battle unlike anything I’d seen in a FromSoftware game: the player, five ghostly creatures, and a half-dozen soldiers all fighting at once.

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

The core combat will likely feel familiar to Dark Souls players (slow and calculating), but FromSoftware is also borrowing from the faster-paced elements from Bloodborne and Sekiro. Players can dash out of harm’s way and whittle down an enemy’s stance to deal critical damage — not quite the guaranteed kill of a deathblow from Sekiro, but deadly nonetheless, Kitao said. There’s also a new combat mechanic (Guard Counter), that will let players quickly respond after blocking at the expense of stamina. Kitao said that Guard Counter is separate from parrying, which will return from Dark Souls.

There will be other familiar elements from FromSoftware games past: fast travel via Elden Ring’s equivalent of bonfires (Sites of Lost Light); a young maiden who will help them level up and learn new skills (her name is Melina); a hub world where friends and allies met in the fields will congregate; and fragmented storytelling that will let the player interpret the events and history of this world. It will also be, in the FromSoftware tradition, a challenging game. The developer may encapsulate that best in its own description of Elden Ring: “a good, old-fashioned RPG.”

Elden Ring comes to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on Jan. 21, 2022.

Comments

"FromSoftware’s Breath of the Wild. . ." So shallow and empty, yet propped up by a fawning gaming press enchanted by the "newness of it all?"

100+ hours say hi

I had about 60 or 70 hours into the game before I finished it. I still think it was a largely hollow experience in terms of what was put in front of me. Are there people doing crazy things in the game the developer never intended – sure. People can do that in any number of games. The core Zelda experience however was spectacularly dull and I stand by my comment that reviewers were distracted by the fact that it was "Zelda in an open world" to focus on whether or not that open world was actually something with depth to it.

But it has depth, it just has depth of systems. I think you don’t like it because it doesn’t prioritize what you like in a game, but that has nothing to do with it being shallow or critics somehow being tricked or shallow themselves.

Where were these depths of systems? In the character progression tied to running two minute shrines? In the magic system that. . .oh there wasn’t one. In the evolving set of tools you get that. . .oh, nope. How about the combat system? The food crafting?
Genuinely curious where this "depth" is that is baked into the game (and not a consequence of players finding ways to open the game because there wasn’t much else to do and certainly wasn’t intended by the developer).

Guess I played 300 hours of a shallow game with no systems. Must be a huge idiot who was tricked by the press.

Yeah, the press must have duped me too; An experienced game director with indie & AAA open world credentials. Man, they must have really pulled the wool over my eyes for those nearly 100 hours.

I’m really reconsidering my life choices here.

I’m old and playing Zelda games from the beginning, some of them multiple times. When BOTW came out I was disappointed at first. I missed huge shrines and special items. But after a while I realised in this game the whole world is like a big giant shrine.

Meanwhile I’m over 600 hours in the game, finished it multiple times and now I think its just the best game ever made. You will find "depth" in every little detail: The music, the weather system, the physics and chemical engine, the combat system, the flora and fauna, the villages, the horse riding, the landscape, the clothing and armor, the weapon functionality. If there was ever a video game I really love its BOTW and its a shame Nintendo didn’t released more DLCs.

Thank you for expounding on that one!

" In the character progression tied to running two minute shrines? In the magic system that. . .oh there wasn’t one. "

No Zelda ever had that, stop confusing it with Skyrim

" In the evolving set of tools you get that. . .oh, nope. How about the combat system? The food crafting?"

Eh, yeah, exactly, look it up

Like running around in a linear big dungeon is "deep", Like adding a spreadsheet is "depth".

Yeah, that’s really not a ringing endorsement for me either.

It’s completely valid to dislike BotW, but to assume that it’s popularity is due to the collective dishonesty (or naiveté, or whatever it you you are claiming leads to their misguided fawning over the game) of games press and a fan base that is likely in the millions (given it’s sold over 14 million copies) seems, at best, misguided or, what is more likely the case, willful trolling.

That and the fact that looking up youtube videos of the game just tell you the depth is there, way more than most videogames, they just don’t slam you in the face with it, so "real" depth you actually need to involve yourself in, instead of menu’s or lore dumps

The depth is there, you just have to make it yourself.

What does depth mean if not layers / systems you have to peel away at and explore?

https://www.polygon.com/2020/10/8/21507975/genshin-impact-breath-of-the-wild-comparisons-opinion-impressions-rpg

This piece from last year did a great job of explaining how BOTW’s depth really depends on what you prioritize in a gaming experience. It’s a fantastic exploration/adventure game but its RPG elements and characters are pretty shallow. It’s an objectively great game but it will probably never be one of my favorites for that reason.

Why does a zelda game need RPG elements? They aren’t RPGs, they’re adventure games. And BotW is about as "adventure" as it gets.

I don’t think the author was arguing that it needs to be a different game, I think the article just serves to highlight how the game’s world is deep but its systems are not. And that’s fine! But Nintendo chose to incorporate some light RPG elements with varying degrees of success. A great example of this is the weapon degradation system, which definitely pushes players towards exploration vs roleplaying. I personally hate it and wish there was a maintenance mechanic but I can see why players who value discovery over RP might like it.

Yeah this, people wanting spreadsheets and character building, Link’s here to climb that mountain and save a princess yo.

Good point as well, exactly the reversed of why some people like BOTW. Rewards are very subjective thing.

the whole backlash against BOTW is super, super weird.

BOTW leans so heavily into its open world and systemic gameplay that it’s really off-putting for people who prefer video games with more structure, which really is a significant amount of gamers. The hype’s died down so now they’re getting a chance to speak up, I guess.

Is it a significant amount of gamers, though? I see no evidence of that. I see people complaining about it in comment sections, including polygon dot com’s. I don’t think people who frequent the comment sections on video game websites are representative of the overall demographics of people who play a game that sells 23 million copies…and, even in the comment sections they’re still usually outnumbered.

Believe it or not there’s a massive amount of people that didn’t care for the game, possibly recognized that it was well-made and well-received, and (importantly) don’t give a damn about telling the whole world that they found the game to be "okay".

That’s just how it works for pretty much every game, even the really big ones that make huge news and sometimes even gaming history.

OK, but the comment I was responding to was specifically about people who were speaking up about not liking BotW (itself in response to a comment about "backlash"), so I’m not sure it’s enlightening to jump in with "every game has people who don’t like it and who don’t tell the world about that."

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