BBefore Hidetaka Miyazaki was tasked with rescuing the beleaguered medieval fantasy game Demon’s Souls (2009) from his company, he was just another base designer. For a boy who grew up a voracious reader of sword and sorcery genre fiction, directing a grimy fantasy game was a dream. I find a great sense of poetic satisfaction in the fact that Miyazaki, now in his 40s and president of developer FromSoftware, having propelled the company to global success with his demanding, distinctive, haunting, and unforgettable games Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro – has been working with George RR Martin on a fantasy game. It feels like a full-circle moment for the kid who, when he couldn’t understand parts of the fantasy novels he brought home from his local library, used his own imagination to bridge the gaps.
Martin’s role in Elden Ring was completed some time ago – he studied the characters and their relationships, which then Miyazaki and his team integrated into the game. Other than all the swords, Elden Ring hardly looks like Game of Thrones (it has dragons, but if there is any complex politicking, skull hoaxes, or mass murder at the weddings found here, it is later in the game that the five hours I played). This game is more fantastic: your character can summon ethereal swords and lightning bolts, the characters speak in reverent jargon about “graceful places” and “tarnished ones”, and your horse is a corporeal ghost. After learning the basics of attacking and defending yourself, you emerge into a world called Lands Between, where mysteriously glowing trees stretch skyward like mountains, bathing the wooded land below in golden light.
From there, the map is yours. A few steps out of the tutorial cave, I found a condescending monk sitting on top of a hill. Seeing an intimidating-looking knight riding down the obvious path in front of me, I loaded up a broadsword and made my way around him, crawling through a forest where knights roamed with burning torches. I was taken to another cave full of wolves, at the end of which I found my first boss, a beastman: a tangle of skins and swords that screeched and spun. Miraculously, I finished with him on my first try, but then with success I thought I was going to try that great guy riding with the shining armor outside and was quickly trampled to death. Ah! This it is a FromSoftware game, after all. The fight is brutal and strategic – you don’t have to press a button and hope for the best here. You have to be alert and ready for a watch or a stop.
What surprised me about Elden Ring is that it doesn’t feel intimidating. As much as I like the other games from Miyazaki and FromSoftware, I find them extremely stressful to play, at least the first time. You never know what’s in the next decrepit castle corridor or the bottom of the next collapsing staircase, but you can be pretty sure it will be horrible and will likely kill you, leaving you with a daunting run back to where you were. At the Elden Ring, the sense of open space negates this in some way. I was more intrigued than scared by what I might find if I followed the light of a campfire, or opened the door of a long-closed dungeon, or called for my steed and rode into an area of the world that I had yet to explore. Being able to navigate the map also made a huge difference: there was no heartbreaking journey to repeat over and over again after meeting each of my inevitable deaths.
Maybe this is 12 years of Souls experience speaking, but it wasn’t unpleasantly difficult for me either. Or at least not in the same way as FromSoftware’s newest game, the gruesome and tough samurai-horror Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The Elden Ring bosses are formidable, and I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t get anywhere with the show’s last guardian, Margit, a hideous giant with tree stumps growing out of her face, who doesn’t just have a giant sword. and a scorpion tail to crush you, but also a magic dagger that he summons out of nowhere, which really seems like an exaggeration. But I was never ambushed by the challenge. I always knew when I was in a dangerous area or about to face a particularly difficult opponent and more importantly, I could run away if I wanted to. This is more like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in that you can get in and out of trouble with delightful ease, escaping tough situations and coming back later when you’re feeling braver.
Breath of the Wild kept popping up in my memory as I played Elden Ring, along with the 10-year-old Bethesda fantasy classic, Skyrim. At least in the preview sections, this has a high-fantasy aesthetic vibe, with color and light and a golden sun shining instead of the oppressive, relentless darkness of other Miyazaki games. And the way the world is laid out, with attractive structures barely visible in the distance, and caves and catacombs and hidden little corners of land that provide ideal hiding places for interesting creatures or treasures, encourages adventure and curiosity rather than hesitation. and terror. . Elden Ring has multiplayer: as in Dark Souls, you can summon other players to help you or invade their worlds to take on them. I couldn’t get it to work for the few days that I had access to this demo, but since I didn’t end up stuck in a particular boss or area, I was more than happy to try things out on my own.
There is also a minimalism to what is displayed on screen that makes the imaginary world evoked here feel larger and more absorbing. Your health and stamina bars and the icons showing your weapons and equipped items disappear when they are not needed, allowing you to focus on what you can see in front of you, whether you’re traversing the landscape on your horned spectral steed or crouched down. in the tall grass, crawling over a camp of soldiers. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of overwhelming information on the menus, there is only So many statistics and different elements, all accompanied by opaque text descriptions that players will enjoy putting together in an understandable tradition. But while you play, you are not bombarded with visual information.
Margit, the castle keeper at the edge of this section of the Elden Ring map, hides atop a windswept hill. To get to it, you must go through barricades, pass giants and go through terrible atmospheric weather. I found a lake that was home to a dragon and catacombs that scared me too much to go too deep. These sound like fantasy tropes, but there is nothing generic about Elden Ring’s seductive and subversive art direction, or the way it makes you feel when fighting its creatures, sword in hand and heart in mouth. Exploring the Midlands, I was amazed at how much this felt like an adventure rather than a glove. It’s like a collision between two of my favorite games of the last decade, Dark Souls and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that’s a comparison that should get anyone excited.
Elden Ring comes out February 25, 2022 on Xbox, Playstation 4/5 and PC; a network test version will be playable for selected players from November 12 to 15.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism