FromSoftware’s previous works successfully combined a challenging combat system with an exciting sense of exploration, so that something more important was realized, not just a “difficult game.” In the instinctive battle scene, every mistake marks the difference between life and death, which is why winning in soul-system works sometimes feels like you have done the impossible. This motivation is driven by the urge to explore, combined with the surprises that people feel when they discover the mysterious world (and its dangers), creating a very charming feeling that many people are overwhelmed by.
For the team’s next game “The Circle of Eldon”, FromSoftware builds on these two core aspects. The incisive and profound combat mechanics in “Dark Souls” and “Curse of Blood” are enhanced through tactical options, so players can overcome danger in many different ways. According to the developers, the player’s experience will be significantly affected by their own game style. To achieve this, the team ventured into uncharted territory. FromSoftware created a frame story and open world, shifting the focus of their familiar formulas to the direction of role-playing games. During this time at Gamescom, we were able to carefully study how this change might work.
As you would expect from the soul game, the plot is open and free to interpret: the faded light of the lost grace guides the defiled people (that is, us) through the so-called “Lands Between” (Lands Between). There, we found that the ancient demigods were responsible for destroying the Eldon Circle. If we successfully overcome them, we may become the Elden Lord ourselves. At least because of this promise, we were lured to this place from “outside the fog.”
This “complex and multi-layered narrative” is based on George RR Martin, who left the legendary foundation of “The Ring of Elden” to Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team a few years ago. According to public relations spokesperson Yasuhiro Kitao, FromSoftware did not encounter any restrictions when interpreting the original material, so they were free to create their own game world from Martin’s preparations.
Confirm to us that the fate of the NPC in the latest soul series will be communicated more clearly than in the past. At the same time, the developer obviously wants to create a loose framework that allows players to interpret it freely. This means that based on your own experience during at least 30 hours of adventure, everyone should be able to draw different conclusions about the overall story.
It is said that “The Circle of Eldon” is many times larger than the past games of the developers. In order to prevent us from getting lost in the “land of gaps”, the studio introduced navigation methods for the first time. At the top of the screen, we can see a compass that allows you to access an accurate map of the entire area. We need special map fragments to discover unknown areas, but once you find them, you can mark dangerous monster lairs, important resources or treasures, similar to those in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
From a distance we can see a lax defensive convoy, simply guarded by a few soldiers. However, just as our character decided to approach the car, suddenly-certainly not entirely accidentally-a dragon fell from the sky and wiped out the guard for us. It is up to us whether we withdraw for another day or try to snatch the new treasure in front of the eyes of this flying giant lizard.
We ride a trustworthy “spiritual steed” through the “space of gaps”, and we can summon it at any time (except during dungeons and multiplayer games). Together with your four-legged horse partner, you can quickly traverse the vast game world. This animal can also immediately take you to the high plateau, and you don’t even need to worry about falling injuries-because this effect does not exist in this game. We will be able to fight on horseback, even against other horse-riding enemies.
We haven’t seen many game worlds yet, but it is clear that the “Gap Land” will be composed of different areas. We can catch a glimpse of snow-capped mountains, forests of different colors, vast grasslands and swamps covered with large mushrooms and mist. The primary task of this area is to lead us to various “Inheritance Dungeons”: these areas feel like the levels we have learned from “Dark Souls” and other works, and because each area is controlled by a powerful Eldon Lord Closely guarded. Stormvale Castle-as you can see in the trailer for E3-2021-will be one of the more traditional challenges.
In this level, we can decide whether to take the direct route and let ourselves be shot down by the ballista (while repelling the opponent), or prefer to choose the secret path on the edge of the castle. According to FromSoftware, these areas are reminiscent of the complex and multi-layered level design known to the studio. However, this formula was expanded with a new movement option in Eldon’s Circle, because we can now jump freely, just like the wolves in Sekiro: Shadows Twice. Kitao explained that this is a small thing, but it will change a lot of things because these areas are designed with this ability in mind.
A variety of tactical options is the difference between “Eldon’s Circle” and other soul games. Just like in the previous game of the same developer, you will be able to design characters according to your wishes to develop melee warriors, wizards or archers. However, in this game, we are encouraged to consider all the gameplay available to us. For example, you can see this in the art of weapons, which are no longer associated with fixed weapons, but can be equipped and replaced at checkpoints. The choice of spells, weapons, and abilities is designed to make Eldon’s Circle feel like an “old school RPG”, which has a great impact on how you deal with the challenges of this adventure.
To make it clearer, FromSoftware showed us an infiltration operation in a small camp. Before we went in, we observed the situation with binoculars in order to find a suitable route to the heavily guarded treasure. Our character dives into the tall grass, numbs a guard with an arrow, and then destroys him with one attack (I am not sure whether it is a fatal blow or a backstab). After a while, as the alarm went off and the battle broke out, the developers gathered a small group of ghosts to keep the remaining soldiers busy and buy us time. We have learned many of these elements from the series, but combining all these tools together in a soul game is unimaginable before.
With the help of stealth, direct confrontations can be delayed, but the systematic gameplay of the series cannot be completely bypassed. If you find yourself stuck, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask NPC companions or other human players for help. On the stele, you can specify the type of summon to be executed (if you have the necessary statistics), but you still have to think about it, because NPC summons are limited to only one time per pause.
If you are still stuck, your last chance may be to ask for help in a cooperative game. Up to two allies can join your team to conquer the “Gap Land” with you, find hidden treasures in the dungeon, or provide assistance in the next boss battle. Just like in other games of the developer, the more players that join your game, the more health the boss opponent gets. According to FromSoftware, the restrictions on online games have been greatly reduced, so players can now try such options more easily. In the past, you had to collect rare consumables to connect to the online mode, but it shouldn’t be so strenuous in “The Circle of Eldon”. Online items that do not exist at the same time are of course included.
In some ways, the Gamescom demo of Eldon’s Circle was eye-opening, but I was still not completely convinced. The developers hope to create an open-world role-playing game that combines their iconic combat system with the diverse character development that has long been part of the series. The so-called “Dungeon Inheritance” may satisfy the expectations of many players, but what about the rest? Exploring obviously restricted indoor and outdoor areas is a very different task from traveling through the open world. Whether FromSoftware has successfully awakened our urge to explore again, this may be a very important detail. It determines how much fun we can enjoy after players come into contact with The Ring of Eldon on January 21st.