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Elden Ring Is Exactly What I Expected, And That’s A Good Thing

The internet can finally shut the fuck up about Elden Ring. I feel that’s enough reason to rejoice on its own, but we’re fortunate enough that the game itself also looks pretty good. More than good – the gameplay trailer FromSoftware and Geoff Keighley unleashed upon us earlier this week looks phenomenal. Elden Ring is seemingly everything I wanted it to be.

It looks to combine the best elements of Dark Souls, Sekiro, and Bloodborne before throwing them into an open-world setting, one where the player is free to explore and uncover the dark, uncompromising horrors that await them. It was an extensive reveal, coming alongside a January 2022 release date and oodles of footage that hardcore fans are going to spend weeks, if not months, fawning over as they uncover every meticulous little detail.

Personally, I cannot wait to play Elden Ring, partly because I know exactly what to expect, and this familiar nature is absolutely a positive thing. FromSoftware wasn’t really on the global gaming map before Demon’s Souls, having crafted a number of underrated classics in the ‘90s and early ‘00s before finally striking gold with a formula that would go on to influence an entire industry. As evidenced by its PS5 remake, Demon’s Souls is a timeless classic, so I can’t blame its creators for seldom venturing far from the fundamentals that first helped define it.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Bloodborne took that formula and morphed it into something new, something more aggressive and experimental with worlds and characters that weren’t underpinned by classic depictions of western fantasy and Berserk-inspired imagery. Medieval castles were replaced by gothic cathedrals and fire-drenched pagodas, while swords and shields were thrown away in exchange for samurai blades and kirkhammers. Despite so many bold aesthetic changes, the core gameplay tenets remained. Combat was a melodic affair, each new entry in the Soulsborne mythos simply altering the tempo and forcing you to learn a new dance, but many of the skills learned across each game were immediately transferable.

These games are punishing by nature, but after spending the better part of a decade learning how they work and the ways in which to master them, there’s a comfort to be found in a new adventure that seeks to revisit these ideas all over again. Elden Ring is throwing away the linear settings of its predecessors in favour of a sprawling open world, one complete with a day-night cycle, horseback traversal and more to discover than many of FromSoftwares’ previous games combined. It’s the studio’s biggest undertaking yet, but one that is strongly aware of where it came from, and the legacy it needs to abide by while simultaneously pushing itself forward.

I also don’t think fans are necessarily seeking something new by FromSoftware and Hidetaka Miyazaki, the now legendary director who was elevated to stardom alongside the release of Demon’s Souls. Soulsborne games are renowned for cryptic worldbuilding, uncompromising combat, and exploration that puts player agency at the forefront. If you took any of these away, Elden Ring would suffer, which explains why the upcoming title is simply doubling down on such factors, ensuring that those familiar with Dark Souls and its ilk can jump in and feel right at home.

Part of me remains sceptical about the open world aspect of Elden Ring, and how the obscenely detailed worlds and lore that FromSoftware so masterfully executed will be strewn across a much larger landmass. It will need to make some major changes, ensuring that the mysterious narrative remains engaging despite never providing the audience with enough clues to form a single cohesive vision. I want to feel confused, taken aback by the hostile land in which I find myself in. Such changes will also apply to combat encounters. Enemy placement in Soulsborne games have always bordered on perfection, with threats positioned in a way that constantly surprise and delight. When you’re exploring an open world, this design needs to be revisited and refined, ensuring it belongs in the new blueprint.

I might have reservations about Elden Ring, but all of these small niggles are buried underneath mountains of anticipation that I’m confident FromSoftware will more than deliver on. It has bonfires, horses, wolves, and lots of weird and creepy monsters. But it all comes down to familiarity, a sense of quiet comfort that Soulsborne experiences so seamlessly provide. It feels weird to describe stories about lost worlds, blood curses, and the unending apocalypse as relaxing, but I love losing myself in the unease of these places, learning their fractured histories and mastering their mechanics before walking away a stronger person than I was before. If Elden Ring can even partly achieve this, it’s already won.

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