Elden Ring Closed Network Test Impressions

Written by Lance

December 6, 2021

Bandai Namco recently held its closed network test for one of the most anticipated and ambitious games in recent memory, Elden Ring, from November 12 to 16, 2021. This would serve as the initial beta for a select number of players and offer fans of the genre a taste of things to come when FromSoftware’s next big title comes out in February 2022. Recently, courtesy of Bandai Namco, we were able to participate in the PlayStation 5 version of the test, and personally, to say that I was excited would be a bit of an understatement, especially for a game as grand of a scale as this.

Full disclosure: By no means, am I an “expert” on Souls-likes, but I have gone through different games of this sub-genre in the past, from Bloodborne, Nioh 1 and 2, and Sekiro to The Surge 1 and 2 and the most recent big-name Souls-like, the PS5 Demon’s Souls remake from Bluepoint Games. So for the sake of curbing expectations while retelling this experience, I can at least say that I went into this with a middle-ground amount of experience. The experience for other players, from first-timers to hardcore players, will most certainly be varied.

I should also mention that during the network test, I only have a limited time in trying the game out due to the nature of these tests. Also, due to this, my ability to take photos and record through the PS5 system was blocked. Nonetheless, I did take a few photos here and there for posterity.

When I started the game, I had the choice between five different classes, which is mostly standard fare for most Souls-likes, from proficient melee classes to those leaning more towards the magic. I’ve always been the melee-type when going for these games, so I decided to give the Bloody Wolf class a try, which is the most melee-oriented class available.

After an initial tutorial, I finally got to see what The Lands Between looks like in all its glory, and by God, does it look glorious. The scale alone is awe-inspiring and overwhelming, especially for a Souls-like that’s historically more, for lack of a better term, linear than what we are used to. There was a lot to take from this, so I decided to follow what the game instructed and secured as many of the “Graces” (this game’s version of bonfires, acting as save points) as possible while going through as many of the game’s enemies, overworld bosses, and even separate optional dungeons as I humanly can with the limited time given. Eventually, after going through a story-related scene, I was able to summon my own horse to make overworld travel way easier and faster, and that’s when I realized how this game really hits differently than its predecessors. There is just so much to explore in this piece of real estate that I can already tell that they have barely scratched the surface when it comes to just how grand this game is.

Funny enough, after having died multiple times to a surprise dragon that descended on an enemy encampment as well as a very aggressive horseman roaming around the world, I decided to switch my class up to see how I’d fare. And since I’ve heard so much from friends about magic classes being pretty powerful in FromSoftware’s Souls-likes, I decided to roll on a Prophet the second time around, a class that makes full use of its Faith stat to heal and deliver magic damage. True enough, through magic, I was able to kill the bosses at a faster rate, way faster than when I would have used the Bloody Wolf’s melee capabilities. So at the least, it looks like the same can be said for Elden Ring when it comes to the meta. But who knows, they could very well make damage adjustments in the next few months, so time will tell if magic will remain the top-spec for high-end builds.

There is really only one way to describe this game as accurately as possible: it is Souls-like with a sandbox open-world setting through and through, with new additions inspired by FromSoftware’s greatest hits. Everything that veteran Souls-like players have seen in the past, they would very well see again in this game, from the level-up system and the distribution of health and magic flasks to the approach on enemies and its clear inspirations from past games. Heck, even the use of the jump button, something that people can argue is a long time coming, was most likely inspired by Sekiro. All of these, along with the inspiration of having an open-world playground that gamers can play around with, felt right at home.

And while we are on the subject of inspiration, two games came to mind that really fit my initial impressions of the game thus far, besides the obvious Breath of the Wild comparisons. One is, unexpectedly, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. And yes, that might be a very unexpected comparison, but consider that both MGS V and Elden Ring took two very different gameplay styles, stealth action and Souls-like, respectively, and brought these concepts in an open world setting with so much freedom for the players to do as they please. In that sense, they may be amalgamations that some may think to be a bad idea, but works so well in practice.

And the other game I had to make a comparison to is the Demon’s Souls remake for the PS5. In the past, I have made comments that putting all resources of a game to one dedicated console generation, or at least to a dedicated console, can result in truly realized gaming experiences, such as with Returnal and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. The Demon’s Souls remake, making full use of the PS5’s hardware capabilities, resulted in a fantastic and smooth gameplay experience with a very minimal loading time thanks to its SSD. And in all honesty, seeing how Demon’s Souls worked on the PS5 made me excited for the future of Souls-likes because of how beautiful the game ended up. My only worry coming into Elden Ring is that because it had to cater to the previous generation as well, there may be times when the game would have to contend with long loading times and, as I’ve encountered during gameplay, some notable skipping as if the game bugged out a bit. While I did encounter these skipping issues three times during my experience, I’m sure that FromSoftware would be able to iron out the issues in time for launch (hoping that there won’t be any delays). And as for loading times, while the PS5 loading time is not necessarily bad, because of the aforementioned accommodations to the previous generation, it is a shame that it could not reach the same fast loading times as the Demon’s Souls remake.

But at the end of the day, these are but minor hindrances that did not deter the enjoyment I had during the testing period. It really feels like this is the next evolution of how these games should be moving forward, games that bring about the challenging but fair mechanics these games are known for while being able to freely explore a world full of wonder, or despair, depending on where you are. It really feels like they were able to scratch that itch for their respective fanbases, which can only be a good thing in the grand scheme of things for an industry that demands new and exciting ways to entice the customer base.

Honestly, February 2022 cannot come soon enough.

 

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