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What The Early Previews Are Saying About Elden Ring

At Summer Game Fest 2021 in June, after months of speculation, the internet finally got the news it'd been waiting for when FromSoftware announced the official release date for "Elden Ring." The brief trailer at that event gave fans their first look at the game's actual mechanics while revealing that, if everything went according to plan, fans would enter the world of "Elden RIng" on January 21, 2022.

While finding out the release date was certainly a major milestone for dedicated FromSoftware fans, there is still a lot that fans don't know about the long-awaited action RPG. Gamers had to rely on searching for small details they missed in the "Elden Ring" trailer to try and fill in some of those gaps, but in many cases, those observations created just as many questions as they answered. Specifics on novel elements of the game such as the open-world environment, new combat systems, and character builds remained frustratingly vague.

However, as the January 2022 release date for "Elden Ring" inches closer and closer, FromSoftware has begun to offer some in-depth looks as to what will set this gothic fantasy RPG apart from its predecessors. The studio even hosted an extended gameplay demo while answering questions from various media outlets, offering some of the most concrete information on the game yet. Here is what the critics are saying about the previews of "Elden Ring."

Elden Ring will offer players unprecedented freedom

Nearly every early look at "Elden Ring" available highlights one aspect of the game that marks it as a striking departure from the studio's previous efforts — unprecedented freedom.

The Washington Post opened their preview by noting that "freedom of choice" gave the player a "powerful weapon." Similarly, IGN observed that "'Elden Ring' offers more options and flexibility" in a game than the studio has ever delivered before, while Polygon speculated that "Elden Ring" could be FromSoftware's "Breath of the Wild."

The freedom to explore the game world in the way the players prefer is present in many aspects of "Elden Ring" but is on full display from the start in the Lands Between, a sprawling open fantasy world that players travel across throughout the game. Polygon noted that as player characters, known as Tarnished, enter the Lands Between, they are free to strike out in any direction they choose and can enter or avoid encounters as they prefer.

Players can also use stealth to skirt the edges of battles, utilize the environment to gain a tactical advantage, and even deploy a new ability called Spirit Summon to pit enemies against ghostly minions. After watching the demo's player character sneak up on a caravan under the cover of tall grass and summon phantoms from the ashes of dispatched foes, Polygon observed "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."

FromSoftware fans may discover some familiar settings

Traversal of the Lands Between looks to be a prominent element of "Elden Rings," but that larger world also serves to direct players towards dense encounters in dungeons. There will be at least two types of dungeons for players to discover while exploring the Lands Between: Smaller areas that contain less challenging bosses but yield fewer rewards and massive Legacy Dungeons.

After seeing these Legacy Dungeons, Eurogamer described them as "much larger multi-tiered castles and other huge dungeon areas, which are perhaps more akin to what you find in the 'Dark Souls' series." While the complexity and challenge of these Legacy Dungeons might evoke the design approach of "Dark Souls," their uniqueness remains distinct. Eurogamer noted that both the Lands Between and Legacy Dungeons were much more vibrant than those in "Dark Souls" or "Bloodborne," often adorned with velvet, gold, and mahogany, creating a world that felt "heavy and rich where 'Dark Souls' was, understandably, hollowed."

However, the effort put in by FromSoftware to make these environments different from their predecessors went beyond simple aesthetics. In their preview, Gamespot described an exploration through Stormvale Castle, a barricaded fortress that the player must make their way through. However, even the opening moments of this Legacy Dungeon set itself apart from previous FromSoftware games as, Gamespot writes, "the player is presented with a choice." Gamers can either fight through the main gates or sneak through a secret passage, fundamentally altering the player's experience as they breach the castle.

Storytelling in Elden Ring will be more cohesive

FromSoftware's games have always been heavy on atmosphere and lore, but they often presented stories that were highly fragmented, leaving many aspects of the world open for players to work out on their own. However, The Verge notes that "'Elden Ring' looks to be a little more like a conventional fantasy story."

The Verge's article included some commentary provided by FromSoftware's Yasuhiro Kitao regarding how the narrative of "Elden Ring" would differ from the studio's previous titles. Kitao explained that while players often found themselves "caught up in something preexisting" in earlier games, "This time they have more agency, they have more ambition, and an overarching objective within that fantasy." Players enter the Lands Between with a goal, to uncover the power of the Elden Ring, instead of simply fighting for survival in an unforgiving world.

Eurogamer observed that the approach to storytelling felt more "character-based" than previous efforts, and that the characters involved would include more than just the player's Tarnished hero. Early in the demonstration, FromSoftware introduced Melina, the equivalent of the Maiden in Black from "Demon's Souls," who assists the player in leveling up. However, unlike previous instances of a "level-up lady," Melina has a critical part to play in the narrative of "Elden Ring."

Overall, previews of "Elden Ring" seem optimistic that the game will preserve the challenge of FromSoftware's signature experiences while offering a greatly expanded world. All that fans have left to do is to wait to see if the legendary studio can stick the landing when "Elden Ring" arrives in January 2022.