The eagerly awaited Elden Ring is getting new gameplay from a special hands-on session that we were incredibly lucky to participate in. We were allowed to explore the first hours of the Full Game, giving us a clear idea of what to expect with the full release.
The Elden Ring Gameplay hands-on session didn’t allow capture, but all participants were given associated footage to use and distribute. This footage should be new and separate from the previous b-roll published at the start of the month, so watch on to catch all the new reveals!
Elden Ring Full Game: New Gameplay Reveal and Hands-On Preview
Before we begin, I would like to clarify that this is, by its nature, a very spoiler-heavy piece. Describing the experiences without mentioning names or describing happenings results in a shallow explanation, so for those of you wanting to go spoiler-free, we have a short summary that should give you the highlights of what’s new, without going into names or more.
Spoiler Free Summary:
- Everyone could play the game for a limited amount of hours, and without leaving some specific boundaries.
- We were allowed to explore lots of areas beyond what was in the network test: so we could see all of Limgrave, the island to the south of it, the expanding plains to the East and the previously inaccessible northern area of the map that was shown in official trailers.
- Items and NPCs are not necessarily where they were during the Network Test, that had crammed a lot of tools for players to try out into one small area.
- An entirely new map was revealed
- The game’s hub and many NPCs were revealed
- The game seems to have a lot more quests than previous games, and they are accessed earlier on
- There seem to be a lot more NPCs to find and interact with than you would expect from a souls title
- Each location had a theme that matched the overall world but with its unique characteristics
- The enemy design varied greatly from some areas to others, and there are plenty of creatures and monsters, all with their own movesets.
- There is a fantastic amount of mini-boss type enemies, with really varied designs, movesets and even music.
- We found +12 weapon upgrades and what seemed to be the equivalent of twinkling titanite
- You may be able to craft “Faux Spells” that are either consumables or buffs
- The game has so many secrets and discoverables that you will be spending a lot of time just figuring them out
- Exploration is key and the world is designed around subtle but effective hints to guide you along without holding your hand
- Combat and feel are extremely souls-like
- Many dungeons feel like you’re playing Souls but with a completely new set of tools at your disposal
From here, this article will cover everything we found including the names of locations, bosses, npcs and some notable items. If you are trying to avoid spoilers, we suggest you jump to the final chapter for the summary overview of how everything felt! Or… you can just give in to temptation and save yourself 2 weeks of trying and failing to avoid all the spoilers online! Heh, heh, heh…
Let’s get started: Classes, Gifts & Character Creation
Launching the game will bring you to the same character class selection screen as you saw in the Network Test. There are 10 classes available, which have already been revealed but we can also add some details to their stats and equipment (details on the wiki for you to check out):
- Vagabond: High Vigor, Strength and Dexterity – starts with a sword, shield and halberd so possibly comparable to the Knight class in previous games
- Warrior: High Dex, medium physical stats with two scimitars and a light shield
- Hero: Strength / Vigor with Some arcane, has an axe and shield
- Bandit: High Arcane and Dexterity, has a dagger, parrying shield, bow and arrows
- Astrologer: High Intelligence and Mind, some Dexterity, uses a Staff, sword and small shield
- Prophet: High Faith and mind, some arcane and strength. Starts with a spear, finger seal and a small shield
- Samurai: High Dexterity, Medium strength, endurance mind and vigor. Begins with a Katana, bow, arrows (flaming arrows too!) and a shield
- Prisoner: High Intelligence and Dexterity, medium physical stats, has a Greatsword and staff plus a shield
- Confessor: High Faith, medium physical stats, has a broadsword, kite shield and finger seal
- Wretch: The “deprived” of the game, is level 1 with 10 on all stats and just a club for weapons.
“Keepsake”, the new Gifts for Character Creation:
- Crimson Amber Medallion (hp talisman)
- Land Between Rune (gain runes)
- Golden Seed (upgrade Flask)
- Fanged Imp Ashes (spirit ash)
- Cracked Pot (craft throwing pots)
- Stonesword Key (Opens Imp Gargoyles Locks)
- Bewitching Branch (no idea)
- Boiled Prawn (negates damage)
- Shabriri’s Woe (increases madness buildup)
From here, we faced the typical first boss of any rpg… Character Customization! Selecting your appearance is more detailed than in any previous souls game, and you actually stand a good chance of making a reasonably human-looking character for one. You can adjust your age, body type, hair and facial structure alongside tinkering with the typical eyebrows, eyes and cosmetics or tattoos. A tip that is useful to know for later is that you can edit your appearance in-game after a certain point, so you don’t need to spend forever on this screen before you get going.
Elden Ring opens with a new cinematic story recap made by panning some gorgeous artwork. All of these are previously unseen and further setup the plot of the game. We won’t go into spoilers here about what was said, but the art style looks markedly different than previous FromSoftware titles, and it becomes quite obvious rather quickly that players will have a much better understanding of what their goals and objectives are, even if it isn’t clear just “how” to achieve them.
Spawning into the world, you will have a chance to pick up some items and learn “The Ring” gesture (assuming you have the right edition) before being made to face a high level boss, likely resulting in your untimely demise, as intended. This Boss looks like the key keeper in Stormveil that we fought during the Closed Network Test. You are supposed to die here and we did, but from my exploration later on I have the strong suspicion that if you prevail against this enemy, you will be able to unlock a significant shortcut to a much later area.
After a short cutscene with Torrent and Melina that was hinted at in previous trailers, players appear exactly where the Network Test began, in Fringefolk Hero’s Grave, where things remain largely the same. There is however a new NPC that makes it clear the tutorial area is down below, just to ease new players in a bit. I’d also like to mention that the UI has gotten a small facelift, with some textures being added to the HP, FP and Stamina bars. And while better than the Closed Network Test, they may still land in the “too clean” or simplistic side that some users didn’t like.
We briefly explored the area next to “The First Step” by using our Stonesword Key. The large ramps heading down are patrolled by a large chariot enemy whose wheels will one-shot you. This felt very, very souls, and I was immediately reminded of The Chariot in Dark Souls 2, with the skeletons hiding on the spaces you try to take refuge in. I was surprised by several twists and turns so I didn’t finish exploring the area, but it gave me that distinct determination of “I’ll be back!” that you get when playing souls.
Limgrave is more or less the same. What’s really different are the items scattered about, such as the new “Lordsworn’s Greatsword” now in Gatefront Ruins. There are new NPCs to be found and talked to, new quests to be gained from them, and of particular note the Scavenger’s Shack in Stormhill now has a red-hooded woman npc who teaches you a gesture. She tells you about the “grafting” going on in Stormveil Castle, revealing a convoluted situation and sharing her personal quest. She then gives you The Jellyfish Spirit Ash that was previously found by all the Jellyfish in the Closed Network Test.
Something also new is the addition of map fragment tips on the world map, before you even acquire them. You can see them on your map as a bright spot even when you are at a distance, which allows players to b-line to these fragments easily. This is a handy feature, because we probably picked up 8 or so in our play session, and that wasn’t likely even half of the total in the game.
Exploring Limgrave East: Welcome to Mistwood
We headed Northeast from Limgrave into a forest area, filled with wildlife such as: wolves, deer and Giant Bears. The bears make their dens within ancient ruins and caves, which hide special equipment and minibosses. Sometimes you can sneak around them to get to your target, as they are often asleep. Other times you may find that they engage other enemies such as wolves and have fights between themselves, giving you a chance to pick them off smartly from afar.
We found new ashes of war, including a “Sacred” one and a Bow ash of war that generates a penetrating shot which pierces defenses. On this I want to point out that the artwork for ashes has changed, and each seems to have their own icon like spells do. We also saw a loading tip that spirit ashes can be improved or enhanced, but it’s not quite clear just how to do it yet.
This area’s highlight moment was in a place called Summonwater, where a phantom boatman reminiscent of greek’s mythical Charon rows about a massive grave, reviving skeletons to fight you. This fight is best done mounted, as the “Tibia Mariner” field boss moves about swiftly and generates large AoE attacks of spirit water. This was a very unique encounter and I felt like FromSoftware has invested significant time creating innovative bosses and movesets to keep things interesting throughout the game, with this being a small tease of whats to come.
But our curiosity eventually took us toward the Erdtrees. Now, as you explore the landscape, you will notice golden branches of the tree around. These usually have Golden Seeds, used to upgrade your flask uses. You may also find “Sacred Tear” items in churches or shrines about the landscape that will upgrade the potency of your flask, much like Shards and Bone Shards in Dark Souls 3. The “Minor Erdtree” that we approached had Flask of Wondrous Physique components: the Spiked Cracked Tear, and Greenspill Crystal tear, that when mixed into the flask increases your max stamina. You may remember these being in the cave in Limgrave during the Network Test.
But what lay underneath this area was the real surprise…
Mystical Siofra River
Back in August of last year, when we first saw gameplay of Elden Ring, a “labyrinth” option was shown below the map. And though we were not shown exactly what this was, we speculated it would be some underground area that players could explore. Well now we know exactly what it is, and it has us incredibly excited.
Our journey begins by stepping on a very familiar elevator platform in an unassuming domed building by the tree, you may have seen this in the footage revealed earlier this month. The ride became suspiciously long, think Dark Souls 2 “castle in the sky” Iron Keep Trip. After about 30 seconds of it, cracks in the walls began to show me glimpses of a beautiful, fantastical underground world, but it still took us no less than 60 seconds to get all the way down.
This underground location isn’t a cave, or a building. It’s an actual world with checkpoints and ITS OWN MAP called “underground“. You can actually toggle the maps back and forth once you’ve reached this location, and you might think of this as something like the “upside down” from Stranger Things or D&D. There’s even a sky (that seemed to be cracked), a Parthenon-looking flying castle, and a myriad of giant ruins and buildings that cover the area. You even need to collect Map Fragments to reveal this map, just like the normal map.
What this means is that if you thought the expansive map that you have seen for Elden Ring was big, the amount of playable game world could be potentially double the size that you are thinking.
Of course it’s likely the underground won’t be as large as that of the overland map all said and done, but it’s still amazing to think that as large as the regular map is, there is still even more beneath that will extend playtimes even further.
We explored this area and encountered new materials, such as “Dewkissed Herba”, in addition to higher level upgrade materials for your weapon (one in particular said upgrades up to +12 so it’s possible the max upgrade will be +15 much like Dark Souls 1), as well an upgrade material that seems to be the equivalent of Twinkling Titanite, and is used to upgrade “unique” weapons. The whole area had a “moonlight” feel to it, and its denizens varied greatly from humanoid spear-wielders to lightning-infused whisps.
The Phantom Stag Boss
Still in Siofra River, we noticed a set of pillars lining up the path to the “Hallowborne Grounds“, where the corpse of a stag rests within some temple ruins. Nearby, the base of one of the pillars held the map for the area, and we spotted a special altar that allowed us to light a flame. Doing so also lit up one of the pillars on the stairs to the stag, so naturally we went on a hunt to find them all and light them. This wasn’t an easy task, and we had to traverse the rocky landscape and the many ambushes by giant horn-helmed spirits. These challenging foes wear barbarian furs and attack with large axes and enormous, powerful bows, but their most deadly quality is their speed and the fact they can vanish and appear when you’re nearby.
Thankfully we discovered Teleporting! The game has these special “gates” that allow you to traverse to another location. Unlike the sites of grace, this is simply a skip on the map, and using these gateways will simply teleport you to a new location. You are directed to them by bright white-light wind, and they can be taken back and forth.
Exploring the mountains, forest and ruins of the underground Siofra River revealed my arch-nemesis: giant crabs, giant rats and REALLY giant rats. Other fauna in the area was the same as overland: deer, boars, eagles, and even sheep.
Once we had all the pillars lit, we approached the Hallowborne Grounds again, and now there was a faint glow on the corpse. Interacting with it teleported us to a cave, and begun the boss fight with “Ancestor Spirit“, that you have previously seen glimpses of in reveal trailers. The moveset of this boss is floaty and magical, a fresh and new experience for souls veterans. However he proceeded to quickly kill us as, clearly, we weren’t ready for this fight.
Back overground we headed further northeast. The landscape dries up and you enter a desert-like area, that you’ve like seen bits of in gameplay trailers, though you likely didn’t know that’s what you were looking at. This biome is called Caelid, and the first thing to greet you will be an NPC invasion by “Anastacia“, who is wearing the queen armor seen in previous screenshots, and using a Greatsword with a moveset reminiscent of the Meat Cleaver. NPC invasions are much improved from other titles, and the AI will dodge your magic and use Weapon Skills smartly to take you on.
Further past this encounter, a Minor Erdtree is surrounded by broken pots… that seem to be the discarded carcasses of “potboy”. The area is guarded by a fearsome mini-boss wielding a large pole weapon, the Erdtree Avatar. This enemy looked like a broken, rotting tree and used physical and magical attacks. One of the magic spells looked a lot like homing soul arrow, but yellow. The area is also riddled with other enemies so managing your aggro and movement is important as you explore.
This dried and deserted area has large, deformed animals such as dogs and crows with enormous heads. Vegetation is scarce, trees are dead, and large reddish mushroom growths seem to be taking over the area. On the northern area of Caelid, an area called “Greyoll’s Dragonbarrow” perked me up, as the Closed Network test featured the “Greyoll’s Roar” spell near the Church of Dragon Communion.
As expected, there was a dragon nearby… well, actually there were two dragons. As much as I wanted to sit there and try to take them on, time constrictions meant I had to run away, only to run into another dragon further up the slopes of the zone. As I hurried my steed to flee the increasing trail of dragons chasing me, I sped up the hills trying to lose them, only to end up face to face what I presume is Greyroll, a REALLY ENORMOUS dragon whose roar awoke about six other dragons around him. As comical as this sounds retelling it, I am very grateful for Torrent’s unmatched speed in getting me the hell out of there.
A large tower dominates the area and can be climbed and explored to reach great heights. The enemies in this area are advanced and we weren’t able to proceed further in due to limited time and level, so we headed toward another minor Erdtree and were summarily killed by another tree guardian mini boss, the “Putrid Avatar“.
To the south, there’s an Evergaol location that presumably works as a teleport to a boss fight, a diseased dragon boss fight, and a large decaying area with some truly horrifying skittering bug-like enemies.
As we discovered another site of grace, a dialogue with Melina triggered, taking us to the Roundtable Hold. This condition is not location-dependent, but rather part of your natural progress of discovery, so it will trigger differently for others as you find more and more sites of Lost Grace. The northern area of Caelid (Bestial Sanctum) is well-guarded by large monsters and beyond our level so we transported with Melina to explore the new hub.
The Roundtable Hold
Some information about this area was revealed early on with the initial gameplay screenshots, showing a table with large chairs and beaming grace in the middle. As you enter this location, you are informed that you may travel here from the map, but that it is outside of the world’s physical containment. A pact of non-aggression forbids all within from engaging in combat, meaning you won’t be accidentally pressing R2 and aggroing the smith. Yay.
There are many NPCs in this area, as was revealed before, but many more than you would usually find in a typical From Software game. Corhyn is a priest who teaches incantations, and there are books that you can bring him and other trainers to increase the spells that they sell. Nearby sits, “D” (yes, just “D”) who wears a unique gold and silver armor, claiming to hunt “those who live dead”, and warning you of their danger. Further along Diallos greets you and asks you about a servant that has gone missing. More interestingly, an elder tarnished nearby wearing what I can only describe as the Witch King’s helmet gives you some shade for being the newest tarnished around.
There are other silent NPCs, one of which gives you a new gesture, and the “Twin Maiden Husks”, who give multiplayer items for what seems to be the equivalent of the Blue Sentinels multiplayer. It’s possible this has some interaction with marks for turn-in.
The Blacksmith, Smithing Master Hewg, is a monstrous humanoid creature with stony scales and large clawed feet that you will also see around as a regular enemy in other areas. He reveals that he’s a prisoner, but it’s impossible to find out more about this early on. The services offered had the interesting option of “Ash of War Duplication” so that you can have the same ash on multiple weapons without having to change them at a bonfire.
And then there’s Fia, sitting on a dirty bed and surrounded by ancient books, who wants a hug in exchange for a “blessing” consumable that will temporarily boost your Poise at the cost of FP. This is a decidedly awkward interaction, and we speculate doing this multiple times may have repercussions on her quest or others. But the item she gives you is sure to see use in PvP, where Poise can make all the difference.
Locked doors and an arena full of bloodstains hint to many secrets to be revealed, and good luck as you fight the frost-magic wielding Mad Tongue, as the skills on his scythe make for some significant range and getting frostbitten will increase all your damage taken. Interestingly, his Scythe deals both bleeding and frost damage, confirming both frost magic and a magical property overlap on weapon upgrades.
The most surprising aspect of the Roundtable Hold wasn’t the hub feel or multiple NPCs to talk to right away, but the Clouded Mirror that allows you to redo your entire character’s appearance including its name. This is a fantastic and welcome change, as you can fight the character creator “first boss” over and over again. Note this doesn’t allow you to change your starting class or gift, just your total appearance.
The Weeping Peninsula
Back from the hub, we decided to take a look at the southern area adjacent to Limgrave, which is technically part of Limgrave as well. This place is called Weeping Peninsula, and has a similar landscape to that of the Network Test. Here, you will meet the blind noble Irina, from Castle Mourne, who asks you to bring a letter to her father in the castle that has been overrun by rebellious servants.
This area is a natural progression from Limgrave, so we were able to explore and defeat many enemies, get a unique demi-human queen staff, find a spirit candelabra and discover some secrets, fall through some trapped floors, and get mobbed by giant rats.
After defeating a giant golem and getting the area map, we explored the Minor Erdtree of the area and then headed into Castle Morne, that had a very distinct “souls” feeling down to the mobs of dogs chasing you around. Notable points on this area was finding a different Torch with a different skill that allows you to blow fire onto enemies.
Heading North to Liurnia of the Lakes
The previously inaccessible areas of Stormhill were now available so we could explore the broken bridge leading to Stormveil Castle, and received a prophecy from an old woman holding a staff with lots of bells. She told us to head to Raya Lucaria, so we continued east and north to unlock the next area of the map. This is a very large section and your entry has an impressive vista that was previously shown only in trailers.
You will soon meet a novice mage trainer, who wants runes to teach you some basic sorceries that only have relevance if you didn’t choose a mage type Class to begin with. This area also has a vendor for the Astrologer set and a lantern, which hooks onto your belt and provides light as you move.
As we progressed into the flooded ruins, we found several new cookbooks, and upon reading the recipes discovered they are used to craft “faux sorceries” used for temporary spells such as “Freezing Grease“. This likely means weapon buffs or consumable spell-like effects are craftable and usable by non-mages.
The area’s enemies include centipede-like humanoid grafted and fire-summoning mages in the more habitable areas. However it eventually extends into a dreadfully large poison swamp infested by aggressive giant crabs. Thankfully, it seems Torrent is IMMUNE TO POISON so you can ride around the swamp without having to deal with the effect.
The western portion of Liurnia looks like Limgrave but at a higher altitude, has a Minor Erdtree, and some humanoid enemies with a tree growth on their bodies. I did notice the area also had one of those pointing statues that we saw in the network test that seemed to direct you toward the Church of Dragon Communion.
It was the northern portion that was the most interesting, as a climb past some spectral jellyfish and after clever dodges of a group of large spirit “headless” enemies, we found several imp pillars requesting the “imbued sword key”. This area is called “The Four Belfries” and fortunately one of the treasure chests has a key, so we could pick one portal to open and explore. The one we selected took us to the tutorial area boss fight which is in an island just west of Stormveil Castle. This gives you a chance at redemption vs the Grafted Scion boss that killed you when you started, but we got greedy during the fight and died a typical souls death.
The central portion of this area has the Raya Lucarian Academy. The surrounding town is destroyed and flooded, and the whole area is overrun by large-headed goblin creatures, giant magical flowers and other threats, and is by far one of, if not the most magical area we’ve seen. Access to the academy is blocked by the procurement of a specific key, but by this point we were at the time limit of our session.
Elden Ring Hands-On Experience Summary
When I first heard of Elden Ring and saw the few screenshots and early footage, I thought it would be Dark Souls 4. When I first saw official Elden Ring gameplay last year, I thought it would be a take on open world like Dragons Dogma, but still be Dark Souls.
When I first played Elden Ring during the network test, I thought it would be less souls and more about traversing large landscapes and popping into dungeons. 50 hours into the demo I thought I knew the game’s tempo and knew how the whole game would turn out.
My first hours with the full game have taught me otherwise: this is a game that will shatter your expectations and you can’t even imagine the actual scale and depth of it. Every time you think you have it figured out some new thing pops around the corner to surprise you.
Elden Ring is poised to be a generation-defining game by combining FromSoftware’s creative ingenuity with tried and true Souls concepts, taking the excellent combat of the series and giving it incredible room to grow in this expansive and fantastical world that is a pleasure to explore.