Elden Ring is real, and during the Summer Game Fest we finally got our first look at (aside from a leaked grainy clip filmed on a burner phone). Naturally, Elden Ring's three-minute trailer left us with a million more questions and a whole lot of thoughts, so our resident Soulsborne experts had to sit down and talk about them.
Here are our immediate impressions of the Elden Ring trailer.
This looks way more Dark Souls than I imagined
Steven: Maybe this seems obvious to some people, but I really wasn't sure what to expect with Elden Ring. FromSoftware wasn't going to alienate its massive fanbase by releasing a kart sim, but knowing Elden Ring was a big open-world RPG instead of being set in winding, claustrophobic corridors made me nervous that it'd end up feeling more generic.
But that Dark Souls vibe was immediately present. Hell, even the character models look the same (that's not a criticism). But this has me super excited, because it looks so much like Dark Souls and yet so unlike Dark Souls at the same time. What did you guys think?
Rich: It's a tough one isn't it, because those games are so awesome and obviously we all love them, so it's hard not to be excited that this definitely seems to share a lot with that lineage. We always knew that this was going to be a dark fantasy world of some kind so it's not like that was a huge surprise: I am slightly surprised though by just how similar lots of it seemed.
Miyazaki and FromSoft's classic themes are immediately obvious. Enemies call the player character 'tarnished', you're in pursuit of a mythical treasure, something called the 'Golden Order' has been broken and this is a fallen world. If Elden Ring had been announced as the future of the Souls franchise no-one would have batted an eyelid.
That sense of familiarity extends to the environments: twisted, floating cosmic architecture like Dark Souls 3; a looming cathedral that looked straight out of Bloodborne. But having outlined some of the similarities, the grandeur was what blew me away and what I think might make a big difference: this world seems to have a scale that goes far, far beyond what the Soulsborne games have done before. These places look absolutely enormous, and a world where the player is supposed to feel like a small presence in it.
James: I'm honestly a bit disappointed in the look of it, though far from surprised. From's games have had these themes and vibes since the first King's Field. I just remember reading rumors of Elden Ring as something ever so slightly more jubilant than the previous Souls games, and was curious to see what FromSoft could do with brighter colors.
Steven: I'm putting $20 down that the animation for opening big doors is still the same one from the previous games.
Rich: Your money is safe.
How do we feel about the mounted combat?
Steven: I think it looked great but I'm curious how robust it is. Dark Souls has always walked a very fine line of giving you powerful weapons and abilities that come with some very big downsides you have to account for. So I want to know how the horse plays into combat scenarios and what kind of advantages and disadvantages it gives me. Am I going to be doing Breath of the Wild-style trick shots where I can leap off my horse and shoot someone in the head with a bow and arrow?
Rich: I wasn't enormously impressed with the mounted duel at the start of the trailer, though the later clip where the character on horseback is riding around a dragon in a wide sweep looked great. One thing I was curious about is how big a boss element it will be: Shadow of the Colossus incorporated your horse into some of the boss battles in clever ways, and Elden Ring's trailer suggests some truly huge bosses. Using it to dodge flame breath is all well and good, but riding a phantom horse up the back of some giant monster as it tries to swat you off? Yes please.
Blue Phantoms return! Praise the Sun!
Rich: Yeeeees! I'm just going to go out on a limb and say that if there are blue phantoms then as sure as the sun is warm then there's got to be a PvP element here: there's a moment in the trailer actually where I wasn't sure if the player was fighting another player or an NPC. Anyway, the unique way that multiplayer is incorporated into FromSoft's games has always been one of the really special elements, and personally speaking is why I've ended up pouring thousands of hours into them. Long after finishing these games I played them for the co-op, for the PvP, and for the crazy and unexpected interactions between players those worlds deliver.
James: I'm super curious how PvP applies to the open world. Do I get a phantom horse? Can I bombard you while you're doing a Shadow of the Colossus impression with the big boulder turtle bell thing?
Steven: Sticking to the old Phantoms model is actually a curious decision for me, because how does that fit in presumably such an open world? Maybe the world only looks open, but it's actually still quite linear in that there's a very specific path you have to follow through each zone. Otherwise, what's stopping you from summoning some friends and then going off in a complete opposite direction entirely?
Which boss looked coolest to you?
Steven: A big part of what I love about Souls games is the enemy and boss design (duh), but I was very pleased with the snapshots we saw. It does feel like Elden Ring doesn't break the mould on any of the archetypes we've fought over the past few games. That knight lady impaling the soldier on her sword very much echoes the lone-wolf swordsman vibe we get from Artorias, while another boss clearly falls into the aesthetic of "normal-looking boss that suddenly reveals it's actually a grotesque monster."
If I had to choose, though, I gotta say that weird rock monster with the bell strapped to its belly is what made the biggest impression on me. It looks like there's a structure built on its back and I'm praying to god it's a dungeon we get to explore. How cool would that be?
James: The rock turtle bell thing, for sure. I'm always happy to fight another mad king or his deposed kids, but I kind of know what to expect with Souls melee combat. I'm a master dodgeroller now though, and when I look at Elden Ring's huge, roaming creatures, I have no clue how I'm supposed to even begin. That's a good feeling.
Rich: So many looked awesome! The red-haired knight lady you mention Steven, that looked so cool and of course my first thought was 'how many times will I fail to dodge that attack.' There were several 'classic' FromSoft-style designs, but also a glimpse of an awesome-looking spectral stag that seemed to be running through the sky, and a flying boss with angelic wings.
That said, you're both right. That massive turtle thing with the bell: what is the deal there?!? I desperately hope there's more of that kind of thing in the game.
Where the heck is George R. R. Martin's influence?
Steven: We already talked about how Elden Ring immediately hit the tones we'd expect of a Souls game, but one thing that strikes me is how little I felt George R. R. Martin's presence in that trailer? I'm so very curious to know what his contributions to this project ultimately are because, judging by this first look, I can't pick out anything that belongs to his aesthetic. It just felt like a whole lot more of the FromSoftware weirdness that we love.
Maybe the story will have an extra emphasis on characters—something previous FromSoftware games only really flesh out in scraps of flavor text and obtuse lore but that Martin excels at. Or maybe there'll be a big betrayal scene halfway through that makes us all sick to our stomachs or something. Did any of you notice anything that felt explicitly like a Martin idea or theme?
Rich: I have to say: not particularly. But this is a hype trailer and, to state the obvious, Martin's a writer: one thing it didn't really show is, beyond voice acting, how the game's story will be delivered. Will it be item descriptions as in the Souls games? If so, that's where I'd expect to find more of an indication of Martin's involvement. I really hope it doesn't lean too much into cutscenes though. Fromsoft has always been judicious about keeping them to a minimum and relatively short, beyond the absolute major story beats, and that's a rare quality.
James: The synopsis Bandai Namco shared makes me think George's involvement was in the details. It sounds like we're going to meet quite a few more distinct characters with deep histories and intertwining relationships, and George feels like the right guy to name all the pieces and bash 'em together in interesting ways.
Steven: I like ol' George quite a bit, but this partnership always seemed odd to me! But I think you're probably right. Hopefully there's some stuff in the full game that is unmistakably his work.
The open world stuff actually feels very natural
Steven: Like I said above, I worried a lot about how FromSoftware would adapt to making a truly open world RPG with great big spaces. It just feels so antithetical to Dark Souls design, which is still technically open world but uses tight corridors and very constricted design to help guide the player and its brutal combat encounters. But the open world stuff looks great. I'm imagining this is somewhat like Shadow of the Colossus or Breath of the Wild, where the open world seems quite empty and has a lot of open space that leads to the more labyrinthian areas we're used to from these games. I'm okay with that, actually. Dark Souls' quiet moments are some of my favorites, and if Elden Ring puts a much bigger emphasis on the loneliness of the open road, I think that'll be a great contrast to the nail-biting fights.
Rich: Yes the Shadow of the Colossus vibes were very real, and I can see that contrast between a kind of large desolate world studded with Fromsoft's detailed and winding interior locations working extremely well. We've seen time and again how imaginative this studio is with not just the nature but the structure of its locations, and how players have to navigate them.
On that note I'm betting—complete speculation—that a major element of the game is how the horse alters navigation at different points. We see it flying straight up a huge cliff, as well as taking the player into combat in various different styles and, oh yeah, it freaking materialises out of thin air. I'd be surprised if it starts the game able to do all those things, and FromSoft often pulls this trick of changing how you travel across their worlds at a certain point. So I'm thinking the horse starts as, well, a horse, then as you progress it acquires the more fantastical abilities.
Steven: That'd be neat. I also want to know how this bigger scale changes what's possible in bosses. I think a lot of Dark Souls' biggest bosses kind of suffer because it's really hard to design a fight around that without it becoming very scripted in the way that, say, God of War turned its colossal boss fights into an interactive cutscene.
Rich: Yeah I think what we saw today was awesome, but I also hope that FromSoft is doing what it did with Bloodborne. That game was marketed very much as some sort of werewolf horror game, but its true nature was kept secret until release. We got these tiny glimpses of other things: was that a player character howling at one point in the trailer, looking like a beast-man, or an enemy? So I really hope there's something to this world that will flip our perceptions, and no-one will know about it until the game's in our hands.