At this point, when FromSoftware has a game coming out, it’s an event. Fans and detractors alike can’t stop talking about them, and with From’s next game, Elden Ring, things are no different. Every single time From announces or shows off or releases a new game the same, tired argument, rears its ugly, obnoxious head that these games are exclusionary and not accessible to players who don’t want a challenge when they play a video game. Well, I have played the Network Test for 11 hours and I can safely say Elden Ring is the most accessible Soulsborne game to date.
Look. I get it. I avoided their games for years based on reputation alone – super hard, abstruse, and unforgiving. That never sounded like a good time to me. When Bloodborne released in 2015, I decided to give it a shot on a lark just to see how long I would stick with it. Well, I got the platinum and every trophy in the Old Hunters DLC and it wound up becoming my favorite game of all-time. After that, I went back and played Dark Souls II, Dark Souls, then Demon’s Souls. I bought Dark Souls III and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (also platinumed and did a no-deaths run) on day one and put countless hours into all of them since. I also loved BluePoint’s remake of Demon’s Souls (also platinumed — and you can read my review of the remake here) because it retained From’s gameplay and level design.
If the way things are presented in this technical test remains for the finished game, then Elden Ring is absolutely the most player-friendly game they have made. First of all, summoning is available right off the bat by having summoning items in the player’s inventory right away. Since this is an open world game, there are designated summoning pools that act like meet up spots for players that want to bring people together, and players can add their sign to the pool with an item. This means new players can ask for help and people can be called into their game right a away. There’s no barrier behind beating the tutorial boss or first area boss or having to find a vendor that sells you soap signs. So new players can call in willing help right away.
Then there is the fact that there are sections of the game that have tougher encounters where players will pass a Stake of Marika, which is a checkpoint of sorts for that area that should you die, you have the choice of respawning at the State of Marika or going back to the last Site of Grace (Elden Ring’s “bonfire” equivalent) that you rested at. This mitigates having to ride or run all the way back to the boss or area, and is a great quality of life solution. It also makes perfect sense for something like this in an open world version of From’s previous games. I used one in particular a few times because I died on a boss in the open world. I respawned at the Stake of Mariska, and I was back into the fight within seconds.
Another thing that makes this game much more approachable for players who have bumped up against these games is the Guard Counter. I will admit that for all my time in Souls games, I have never gotten “gud” at parrying. Sekiro was different because there was a sort of rhythm to it. But in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, I never felt I got the timing down to want to attempt it much. In Elden Ring parrying is still very much a thing but there is also the Guard Counter which is significantly easier to pull off. Instead of timing a parry in a small window, simply hold your shield up, take a hit from an enemy, and then immediately follow it up with a heavy attack. This will have the same effect as a successfully parry and stun the enemy leaving them open to a critical attack for massive damage. I’m not sure if it works on all enemies, but it definitely works on the regular soldiers, undead, etc.
From has also added the ability to fast travel from anywhere on the map. This seems like a no-brainer for anyone who plays other open world games, but it’s a significant change for From’s Soulsborne games. In Demon’s Souls you could only fast travel to Archstones from the Nexus, so that means you had to go back to the Nexus, approach the World stone you wanted to visit, then choose from there which Archstone you wanted to go to. In Dark Souls you couldn’t even fast travel until almost 2/3 of the way through the game. Prior to that you had to walk to and from every bonfire. And even with fast travel you had to still only do it while resting at a bonfire. Dark Souls II and III opened this up allowing you to travel between bonfires right away and Bloodborne had the same fast travel solution as Demon’s Souls: travel back to the main hub – in this case, Hunter’s Dream, and then go up to a tombstone and select which lantern you wanted to travel to. In case you can’t tell, this was not at all elegant or efficient. Having fast travel from anywhere in the world to a Site of Grace you’ve activated is a world of difference and takes a lot of the aggravation out of traveling all the way back to rest with thousands of Souls/Bloodechoes to spend.
Additionally, flask management has been made into its own risk reward system but can absolutely make the game easier if you’re willing to risk it. Beating a large group of enemies or a larger enemy will replenish your flasks. The larger the group or enemy, the more replenished it gets. This made staying alive in the open world exponentially easier.
Lastly, there are spirit ashes which are one time use per encounter summons on demand that allow you to summon a spirit (or spirits – depending on what’s equipped) to take the enemy’s attention away from you, allowing you to get hits in, backstab, or even heal. I tested this out on nearly every boss and it works insanely well, making many of the bosses trivial.
Not to mention things being added like the Spirit steed, Torrent that is summonable in the open world to escape nearly every encounter. Most of the bosses are optional so you don’t have to face them if you don’t want to, though beating them does offer rewards such as equipment, Ashes of War (skills that can be added to your weapon), etc.
When Elden Ring launches in February I fully expect it to be From’s most successful game to date with lots of new players that hopefully stick with it, at least enough to summon jolly cooperation if they feel overwhelmed. Will this game stop the obnoxious “easy mode” debates surrounding From’s games? Nope. But it is inarguably their most accessible game.
Elden Ring Network Test code provided by the publisher. Elden Ring arrives on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC this February 25, 2022