Elden Ring hands-on: Dark Souls goes open-world and doesn’t skip a beat

Lloyd Coombes
Elden Ring screenshot showing combat between two Knights

Elden Ring feels like a twisted homecoming for Dark Souls fans, and is poised to make a huge impact in 2022. Here are our thoughts after going hands-on.

It’s rare that a series comes to define an entire genre, but between progenitor Demon’s Souls and its successors in the Dark Souls franchise, From Software has carefully honed its methodical combat and exemplary worldbuilding.

While it would perhaps be unfair to call Bloodborne or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice dalliances away from the core ideals of Souls games, Elden Ring will feel immediately familiar to anyone that’s spent time in Boletaria or Lordran – along with some tricks learned along the way.

Elden Ring screenshot showing a huge dragon in a swamp

A huge world that’s anything but tarnished

Perhaps the first thing we should make clear is that Elden Ring, despite being arguably the most anticipated game of 2022 so far, won’t be for everyone. While many had feared that the switch to an open-world setting would dilute From Software’s core gameplay ideals, there are no compromises here.

That means Elden Ring remains as difficult, and at times, obtuse as its predecessors – but the open-world does make it feel less like you’re bashing your head against a wall when coming up against a tough combat scenario.

The other advantage of the scale of The Lands Between, the game’s setting, is that it allows for a break from the traditional Souls-like ruins and dungeons. Sure, they’re still here, but there’s also a whopping great tree in the middle of the world that reaches as far as you can see, and outdoor areas gain a newfound color pallette for the subgenre.

Elden Ring screenshot showing the Erdtree
The Erdtree is gorgeous and mysterious.

Coming out of the game’s initial dungeon area, the sights of The Lands Between make it feel almost incomparably big. We’ve played open-world games for decades, but this one is so full of detail (played on Xbox Series X) and so smooth, that it feels like a monolithic achievement. Each indoor area feels like a mini Dark Souls level in itself, with all of the intimacy and dodging you’d expect, but the rolling plains are a nice palette cleanser.

It’s not just the world, though, but the art style. Enemies in Elden Ring range from the fantastical to the grotesque, some seemingly having fallen from the tree and hitting every branch on the way down. From lurching soldiers roaming the outdoor areas, to the Tree Sentinel riding a horse the size of a house (more on him later), not a minute went by without something drawing my eye.

The fire still burns

While Elden Ring is gorgeous to look at, small touches from its health bars, item shortcuts, and walking animations will feel familiar – and that’s no bad thing. What might take some getting used to, particularly for those that have played Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or Bloodborne, is the deliberate combat.

Playing as a Warrior, I was able to jab at foes from further away with a sort of spear/pike, but while it offered a decent range, I still needed to be prepared to roll at an instant. That’s because enemies are mobile, and as you’d imagine from a From Software game, animations are locked. As soon as you start to feel cocky, you’ve already lost.

Elden Ring screenshot showing a battle on horseback
Elden Ring’s open areas have day/night cycles.

After eliminating a small group of humanoid enemies, I entered an underground crypt-like area. Here, I worked my way through goblin-like enemies that threw bombs, clung to walls like insects, and waited around corners for me to emerge. While Elden Ring brings back the long-standing tradition of leaving ghostly scrawls to help (or hinder) other players, you’ll still need to block, dodge, and use the new counter-attack technique to get out of trouble.

Factor in fireball-spewing traps, and I was pretty relieved to make it to the next bonfire, I mean, “Site of Grace” to recover and get directions to your next objective (via a faint smoke trail). Here, players can rest, pass the time, and upgrade weapons with Ash of War – a rare item that can imbue weapons with unique properties.

Finally, bosses are (as you’d expect) a key part of Elden Ring. While many are limited to predefined areas, some, like the Tree Sentinel, will roam the wild – and in his case, he’ll appear immediately outside of the starting area. With no exaggeration, I can tell you my first scrap with him ended with me dead in two hits, but I’m looking forward to a rematch when I brush up on my skills.

Until then, though, Elden Ring takes the Dark Souls template and applies it to an open-world title with aplomb. It’s no less mysterious, opaque, or moreish, but it adds a level of exploration I didn’t know I needed from the genre. Heading into the game’s Technical Test I had reservations about if pushing a square peg in a round hole, but if anyone is going to make it work, why wouldn’t it be From Software?

About The Author

Lloyd was formerly Dexerto's Games Editor. He can regularly be found playing Destiny 2 or any game that involves shiny loot.