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Elden Ring gameplay breakdown: 6 ways FromSoftware is going beyond Dark Souls

Elden Ring
(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

We've finally seen Elden Ring gameplay, and it's the most FromSoftware video game of all time. The new Elden Ring trailer, released at the Summer Game Fest kickoff show, confirmed this beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it also gave us our best look yet at the next action-RPG to carry the torch of Dark Souls.  

Alongside the Elden Ring gameplay reveal, publisher Bandai Namco finally ripped the veil off heaps of additional gameplay and story details that help fill in the setting and setup of FromSoftware's latest dark fantasy epic. There's a lot to sift through, from nitty-gritty combat facets to the overarching lore to new-school multiplayer. The game isn't even out until January, so it'll be months (if not years) before we learn all of Elden Ring's secrets. But for now, here's our Elden Ring gameplay breakdown with six key details we were able to pick out of this first look.  

This is FromSoftware's biggest and most dynamic world yet  

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Elden Ring chronicles the journey of the Tarnished, one of the "dead who yet live," through the Lands Between, and what glorious lands they are. It's clear from one look at this is far and away the biggest game world FromSoftware has ever made. Indeed, as Bandai Namco clarified, we're in for "grandeur on a scale never seen before in a FromSoftware title." 

The Lands Between is more than just big, too. In the Elden Ring gameplay we spotted a staggering array of environments – windswept plains, burbling swamps, mountainside castles, and crumbling keeps, just to name a few. The world itself also supports "natural weather and time-of-day progression," which means we'll see different sides of familiar areas as conditions change. 

Your horse is key to exploration and combat  

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

We've known for years that Elden Ring will let us ride a horse, but it wasn't until today's trailer that we understood the real importance of our horse-ox-thing – who's named Reima, by the way, according to a slide of translated lore. 

Beyond ferrying us over the vast landscape, Reima can carry us up cliffs, lending a sense of verticality to the world. The Elden Ring gameplay also shows that we can unleash horseback attacks cavalry-style while riding Reima, or leave the saddle for devastating leaping attacks. It looks like we can summon or dismiss Reima at will, too, and our trusty steed can even join us in some boss fights, including the fight against the steely dragon shown in the new trailer. 

Combat is more open-ended than ever 

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

The Elden Ring gameplay trailer is a heady mix of magic and melee combat – swords and shields, lasers and summons. This is all pretty standard FromSoftware material so far, but what's more surprising is Elden Ring's taste for non-magical ranged attacks and stealth. 

We've had bows since Demon's Souls, but they've always been a niche and often vestigial option. Likewise, the stealthiest thing you could do in games like Dark Souls was backstab one lad before the other 99 noticed you. However, it seems Elden Ring has opened up combat and leaned more into the RPG side of the action-RPG. 

"Define your playstyle by experimenting with a wide variety of weapons, magical abilities, and skills found throughout the world," the EU website reads. "Charge into battle, pick off enemies one-by-one using stealth, or even call upon allies for aid. Many options are at your disposal as you decide how to approach exploration and combat."  

The open world hides a true-blue dungeon-crawler underground  

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

The Lands Between are described as a wild mix of environments, and while many of these are bathed in the sunlight filtered through the Yggdrasil-like tree on the surface, it's clear that many locales are underground and attached to good old-fashioned dungeons. Proper dungeons, too, with locked gates, hidden rooms, and dark stone hallways. Remember the Catacombs from the original Dark Souls? We're getting a lot of that same energy here, and judging from Bandai Namco's promise of "shadowy, complex dungeons that are connected seamlessly," there's more where that came from. 

Multiplayer looks co-op only (so far)  

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

FromSoftware has experimented with different forms of multiplayer over the years, but it's always come down to phantoms – friendly phantoms to fight alongside, or invading phantoms to repel. Elden Ring will continue this style of online play, but compared to previous games, its system sounds a bit more cooperative-friendly. 

The Elden Ring gameplay trailer shows two friendly phantoms fighting alongside a host Tarnished, and what's interesting is that these phantoms don't pop up in a boss fight, but rather in the middle of some unassuming valley. Bandai Namco also assured fans that they can explore "alone or online with other players," which suggests that co-op in Elden Ring may be more lenient in terms of where you can play with friends and how you can join up. A fact sheet from Bandai confirms that up to four players can join one world, so prepare for yet more jolly cooperation. 

Legends written by George R.R. Martin are baked into the mythos 

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

One of the most surprising bits in the original 2019 Elden Ring's reveal was the news that Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin was contributing to the project. However, his role was always a little unclear; we just knew that he'd helped write the game's universe. Thankfully, new comments from game director Hidetaka Miyazaki have shed a little light on Elden Ring's story, and Martin's role in it. 

"We've crafted a rich world with a staggering sense of scale, based off of legends written for the game by George R. R. Martin," Miyazaki says. "Elden Ring is a world full of mystery and peril, ready to be explored and discovered; a drama in which various characters flaunt their own mystique and ulterior motives."  

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.