I'm happy to announce that rapper Rick Ross is richer than he's ever been. That's according to a song from his latest album: "Richer Than I Ever Been". He may be referring to his own pockets, but it can't be a coincidence that he's perfectly summed up yet another of my early hands-on sessions with FromSoftware's action-RPG Elden Ring.
That's because I've now been able to return to the starting area of Limgrave, this time on PC and with unfettered access to all the nooks and crannies we'll be exploring in just a couple of weeks time - and I found it to be richer and more vast than, well, it had ever been. FromSoftware have tweaked some things and removed some barriers from last year's closed network test, so in a single six-hour excavation, I discovered just how ambitious this game really is. Limgrave is way bigger than I first thought. Here's what I found.
Things kicked off much the same as last time. As character creation still wasn't available, I selected the Prisoner, one a few new preset classes. They had a funny helmet on and used a combination of magic and a pointy rapier to prod enemies, so I thought they'd be a perfect fit. In hindsight, I should've chosen the Samurai because they looked strong and noble and came armed with a katana. My dude just looked happy to be there by comparison, but the struggle was real. Elden Ring is difficult, and as much as Miyazaki and FromSoft say it's more accessible, I'd like to reiterate that it's by no means easy, or easier, than their previous Souls games. If anything, it felt tougher than last time.
Early on, I returned to Limgrave's catacombs. I'd scoured its dingy depths before in the closed network test, so I knew where the bastard goblins were hiding. I could visualise the glint of each loot drop. And yet I got floored repeatedly. The goblins had grown cojones in the intervening months, suddenly able to stack a Bleed debuff with their wild swings. This meant that if they landed only a few hits, I'd explode in squelch of red.
Yes, the goblins had torn me a new one, but in fairness their cruelty taught me something: this preview build was different. Whereas before I'd followed the main path, ascended the castle and tackled the first boss, this time I thought I'd bump up against Limgrave's map boundaries and see if some of that yellow tape would come down. And what do you know? Miyazaki had clearly come along with a pair of scissors and cut them into ribbons, probably in some eldritch ceremony lit by candles and attended by giant killer crabs.
Limgrave's outer edges expand further than you'd think. Where its central spine takes on a golden hue thanks to the Erdtree's shine, its borderlands can be cold and harsh.
The ability to wander off in any direction never gets old. Limgrave is sprawling, with plenty of horrors lurking over hills and nestled in ditches. Its outer edges expand further than you'd think. Where its central spine takes on a golden hue thanks to the Erdtree's shine, its borderlands can be cold and harsh. Small mobs and helpful messages disappear entirely if you take the path less travelled, although its pockets of danger are mercifully broken up by the occasional barren space, giving you a bit of room to breathe in between the nasties.
Torrent, your spectral steed, is essential in most cases, letting your traverse these wide open spaces with a hop and a clop. The terrain keeps you on your hooves too, with approaches to these fortresses funneling you down winding paths or encouraging you to sweep the landscape like a hawk. You never know what's ahead. One time I ducked behind boulders as an ancient titan bombarded me with arrows the size of cows. A fiver? No, entry could cost your life, mate.
NPCs were keen to avoid any cow-sized arrows, letting us do the legwork instead. One arrogant fellow wanted us to reclaim his keep, while a blind princess politely asked us if we could deliver a letter to her father, who she believed was trapped inside a nearby castle. As you'd expect, the dialogue was wonderfully written, and the voice-acting retained that delightful echo-in-a-cavern sound. And yet they felt surprisingly overt. Souls quests are often easy to miss, with finicky requirements you're expected to deduce from riddle and rhyme. At least in this early portion of Elden Ring, both NPCs made their requests very clear. You were to go here and do this thing, godspeed. Only time will tell if this early clarity continues later on in the game, but it's all rather refreshing.
Cut to a castle overrun with harpies sporting Attack On Titan flesh-monster faces. They kneel on a pile of corpses and raise their machetes to the sky in unison. They celebrate a victory of some sort, as one victim smoulders on a cross. Later, tight alleyways and deathly drops lead to an optional boss. Part lion, part man, he wields a massive greatsword. He reminds me of Artorias, in the way he pirouettes and leaps into the air with ease. And in much the same way, there's no room to think with this guy. No blocking! He'll blast through your shield. This is FromSoft doling out a lesson with a rub of the hands: "Let's see how they deal with this one, hehehe."
I also found a giant troll lurking in the depths of a mine, packs of monstrous canines tearing at flesh, while ballistas guard bridges. Stand still and risk impalement. Colossal bears scratch bark off trees, then they lunge at you. Not to mention that time I encountered some worms. Yes, worms constructed of rocky spheres and with purple eyes. They were docile too, a rarity in Limgrave. Some stood erect, while others slithered about doing their thing. Then I discovered that they'd surrounded a large basin with a mysterious crest in its centre. "Enter evergaol?" Errr, sure.
An environmental puzzle ensued, where I had to time my runs to outwit this machine, only to turn corners and lose my bearings. It's frightening, hearing that rumble grow closer.
Next thing I know, I'm standing in the same basin but the world has gone black. Walls of rushing air prevent my escape. There's this strange purple glow in a patch of grass, so I approach it cautiously. It seems out place in Limgrave. Then a Bloodhound Knight emerges from the undergrowth. Again, he's not friendly. He's got a curved sword and crawls along the ground on all fours, ready to pounce. A bit like the Dancer Of The Boreal Valley from Dark Souls 3, I think, before I die in seconds.
Other little discoveries await if you take the time to explore. A little goblin statue holding a book said, "Seek three wise beasts". Turns out you have to hunt three hidden animals to enter a nearby magic tower. Another time, I inserted a Stonesword Key into a nearby statue. This granted me access to a hero's grave, which it turned out, was a vast underground tomb made up of near identical slopes that rose and fell. A mechanised chariot with spiky wheels rumbled up and down them, always in pursuit of anyone silly enough to try and pillage the tomb's contents. An environmental puzzle ensued, where I had to time my runs to outwit this machine, only to turn corners and lose my bearings. It's frightening, hearing that rumble grow closer.
Oh, and there's a boss down there alright. A gigantic lizardy-thing, covered in boils and lesions. It writhes and hurls itself at you with real unpredictability. Nope, didn't so much as scratch it. One I said I'd come back to later.
I never did. Before long I'd entered the Roundtable Hold, Elden Ring's hub area and a place that looks like it will act as your Firelink Shrine equivalent. Knights and priests are gathered here, offering you conversation and aid. A blacksmith too. And someone who hugged me and gave me a buff? I'm intrigued to see how this place develops as you make allies, enemies, or whatever else in the full game.
And in the last few ticks of the clock, I fought a nun armed with a machete and entered an area of Limgrave overcome by fungi. A land ravaged by red and white spores, with residents that shuffled and exploded in flame. My last memories were picking some toxic mushrooms and getting squashed by a bloke controlling a face on wheels that belched fire.
Elden Ring is shaping up to be the perfect pub game. While everyone else chats about the footy results and Gaz being a mad lad, you and your mates can sit around your own little roundtable, talk Limgrave and share all of the different things you discovered. "Then...and THEN!" is what this game prompts. I can't wait to discover more.