Elden Ring: the Network Test proven on all platforms - technical analysis

Elden Ring: the Network Test proven on all platforms - technical analysis

Elden Ring

The recent Elden Ring Closed Network Test gave us the invaluable opportunity to spend some time with From Software's next game (albeit in a limited way due to tight test times). Without a doubt, this is one of the most anticipated games of all of 2022, and the testing ground has proved to be quite generous. From Software is trying to evolve its concept of "Soulsborne" with a still punitive title but with a more linear design than previous works, despite the transition to the open world structure of decadent lands called "The Lands Between". Every inch of its story, every creature that populates its environments, everything is sumptuously rendered on a scale unlike anything we've seen from this studio in the past. The vegetation appears dense and luxuriant, up to the farthest point on the horizon; there is a day / night cycle and also weather conditions which include rain and storms. To help the player navigate this expansive game world, of course, a steed has been introduced to ride from the start, complete with a very useful double jump. This freedom of exploration in any direction, the ability to go anywhere, is the key to the charm of Elden Ring.

The Closed Network Test restricts the player to Limgrave, the first region of Elden Ring, so while restrictive in some respects, it's still gigantic compared to most demos. There was so much meat in the fire that only a few have really managed to thoroughly examine all the contents of this beta. In summary: you choose one of the five classes to start and then you are simply free to choose where you want to go, free to discover the dungeons or fight the many bosses at your leisure. All in all a pretty impressive feat for a 9GB install file. Somehow, despite the limited time available to play, we were able to test Elden Ring on all consoles: seven platforms for a total of 11 different gameplay segments.

Our first Network Test-based Elden Ring video covers the basics of the game, its accessibility and operation on PS5 and Xbox Series X | S consoles

Watch on YouTube. From Software is venturing into entirely new territory with its world-building but, in general, the situation is quite familiar on last generation machines. You can consider PlayStation 4 as the primary model for evaluating the experience on last-gen consoles: foliage density, shadows and texture quality are nearly identical on PS4 Pro as well as Xbox One X. In other words, although resolutions may differ between these three consoles, most of the other elements are the same even on the improved machines. The difference? PS4 renders at native 1080p, while the two upgraded machines aim for 1800p instead, with the PS4 Pro using checkerboard rendering to achieve this. Xbox One X, for its part, aims for 1800p but, similar to what happens with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, uses dynamic resolution scaling (with a window between 1512p and 1800p, apparently). Xbox One is the exception. Not only is the lens resolution just 900p but foliage density, texture filtering, depth of field effect, shadow quality and ambient occlusion also appear to be reduced, overshadowing this version from direct. competition. Even the animations of the enemies in the Xbox One build occasionally drop to half speed in some situations (15fps, very strange indeed).

As for the performance, however, it is good to make a clarification. Since this is beta code, we hope to see improvements across the board at launch even if typically From's network tests have always been pretty similar to the final code. From what we have seen so far, even in this case, there are several parallels with Sekiro. Both the standard PS4 and Xbox One aim for 30fps but the illusion of smooth gameplay is compromised by an eternal flaw in From Software's proprietary engine: inconsistent frame-pacing. The game simply aims to deliver 30 single frames per second but does nothing to match the display's refresh rate. Lance McDonald's work in producing his unofficial 60fps patch for Bloodborne clearly highlights the problem that, amazingly, after years, still hasn't been addressed. The situation on Xbox One is further problematic due to more regular performance drops. Not even PS4 can guarantee perfect performance but there are scenarios where Xbox One can hit the bottom of the 20fps threshold.

Elden Ring, like almost all major titles right now, is cross-gen in nature so if you don't own a PS5 or Xbox Series X | S yet, what should you expect from the game?

Watch on YouTube. The upgraded One X and PS4 Pro machines also follow Sekiro's path, simply by removing the frame-rate limiter and leaving more room for the engine to maneuver. This effectively means that the frame-rate hovers in a window between 30 and 40fps, although the results depend a lot on the situation and you can easily go above or below this threshold. PS4 Pro can sometimes show a performance advantage over Xbox One X, likely thanks to its checkerboarding solution. The problem here is that it doesn't have the consistency that could deliver a locked 30fps frame-rate with proper frame-pacing. Barring a drastic optimization, it's unlikely we'll see 60fps on either of these machines anytime soon.

Based on the Network Test, it's fair to say that there is a definite benefit to running Elden Ring on a machine from current generation. You often die in this game, and depending on the platform, loading times are 2 to 3 times faster on PS5 or Series X | S, compared to the last generation, thanks to the use of the infamous SSDs. This figure is particularly pronounced on the PS5 which also has a tangible advantage over its direct Xbox competitors.

The second key advantage is the improved graphics, distinctly visible in both 'quality' and 'performance' display modes . We talked about the "standard" graphics level for PS4, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but both modes on the new consoles offer richer graphics that include much improved foliage density, more precise shadow quality, and better ambient occlusion. . Performance mode sees both PS5 and Series X consoles aim for a dynamic range between 1512p and 2160p (but more often with a maximum of 1800p), while the Series S lowers the DRS window to a range of 1008p to 1440p. Meanwhile, 'quality' modes on the more powerful Series X and PS5 strictly stick to native 4K, with the S Series stopping at 1440p. There isn't much to distinguish between the two modes, apart from a slight difference in shadow reproduction. We also noticed something that we suspect is a bug: motion blur is disabled in performance mode on Xbox Series X | S but remains active on PS5 equivalent.

Resolutions differ between latest generation machines. PS4 runs at 1080p, Xbox One renders at 900p, while PS4 Pro and One X aim for 1800p (although Pro uses a rebuild technique). Ambient shadow quality takes a visible hit on Xbox One, while PS4 and PS4 Pro have the same quality (with One X's shadows a bit sharper in this case). An example of the image quality on different machines, with this shot taken right after a camera cut. Checkerboard artifacts reveal a form of reconstruction on PS4 Pro, not present on One X. Vegetation density scales on all last-gen systems, with the lowest preset on Xbox One while the other three share a similar setting. The detail of the character models is the same for all four platforms. The standard Xbox One, however, loses a depth of field effect in the background (although motion blur in gameplay is retained). A final shot of the boss fight against Margit the Relentless Omen, showing that visual distances over a small area are equal across all four systems. Also notice a subtle change in ambient occlusion through tufts of grass (left) on standard PS4 and Xbox One. So, is there a platform capable of running Elden Ring at 60fps? Yes, but there is a hitch. Unfortunately, even in 'performance' mode on current-gen machines we are still below 60fps. Both display modes turn unlocked, leaving the 'quality' preset in a kind of no-man's land between 30 and 40fps on PS5 and Series X and more towards 30fps on Series S. We'd really like to see a steady 30fps lock in. this case, perhaps with consistent frame-pacing, but since this doesn't seem to be a feature of the engine, if we were you we wouldn't be hoping too much for the final code.

Meanwhile, the 'performance' mode fails to achieve a fixed 60fps on any system: it is between 45 and 60fps on PS5, typically slightly lower on Series X, and even lower on Series S. Based on at least the Network Test, we can say that the Sony platform offers mostly levels higher performance, a little more resolution and faster load times. It will be interesting to see if From Software can improve performance across the board, as constant 60fps would make a big difference. Of course, if you have a Series X connected to a VRR display, the 'performance' mode issues should automatically disappear.

However, there is an interesting detail to note about performance. Running the PS4 Pro version of the Network Test on a PlayStation 5 results in the coveted locked 60fps that the native app doesn't currently offer. Graphics are obviously downgraded to the settings seen on Pro - worse foliage and a reconstructed image at 1800p are the two main weaknesses. This is the most stable way to get 60fps on consoles based on this build. However, this forces the player to make a choice - it is highly unlikely that the saves are interchangeable between the PS4 and PS5 app. Losing so many next-gen features (including slower loading speeds than the PS5's native app) to regain 60fps performance is a big trade-off, though some would probably gladly accept it. We're confident in frame-rate improvements in time for launch but at the crowded spots we've seen so far, that might be too much to ask (in which case, all eyes will be on the PC version of the game).

Elden Ring: comparison between generations! PS4 runs at 1080, PS4 Pro at 1800p rebuilt, and PS5 at 4K with DRS enabled. On PlayStation consoles we also see that the PS5 enjoys a higher quality foliage preset than the Pro and base PS4. Shadow quality on PS5 and foliage settings mark a huge improvement. Also note the higher quality of ambient occlusion on vegetation on PS4 Pro compared to the base PS4. Moving on to the Xbox platforms, in terms of image quality, the Series X is way ahead with dynamic 4K in its Quality mode, while the Series S renders at 1440p. We see Xbox One running with a low grass density preset, One X at medium, while Series S and X use the highest on display in the beta. Impressive to note how the Series S uses visual settings on par with the Series X. However, the Series S resolution peaks at 1440p (less than the 1512p to 1800p dynamic range noted on the One X). We repeat: although the Network Test has given us the opportunity to preview much of Elden Ring, there is still a lot to do and see. The official communications anticipate the inclusion of ray tracing, an element that we have not had the opportunity to see in the Network Test. What we can say with certainty is that, from a gameplay point of view, Elden Ring works both as a starting point for those who have not yet tried a game from the Souls series, either as a welcome surprise for veterans. Unlike Dark Souls, there is no mystery as to where to go next. The landmarks are always set thanks to the rays of light that guide the players to the final destination and there is also a useful map. There's also fast travel right from the start, while the open design means you can venture out at your own pace within the six regions - Limgrave is just the first. This freedom means that you can level up, upgrade your weapons, and detour around a difficult boss until you are ready to take on him. So in terms of simply exploring the huge realm of Elden Ring, From Software has made every effort to simplify its design for everyone. But that doesn't mean it's easy.

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Either way, however, Elden Ring remains close in its DNA to Dark Souls, in challenge and combat. In the heat of battle, the controls are mostly unchanged from Dark Souls 3, with a hint of Sekiro in the form of a jump button (and the ability to crouch to stealth). For the rest, the lock-on system, invincibility frames on side dodges, careful resistance measurement for light or heavy attacks, guarding and dodging - it's all there. Bonfires also return, in the form of Sites of Grace, to allow you to respawn after death. And yes, there are a lot of deaths. From the tree sentry to the flying swamp dragon, Elden Ring requires a keen eye to spot opponents' attack patterns. Practice, anticipation and reaction are required. Expect a very demanding challenge. Current Souls fans will find a comforting familiarity in its difficulty but, for newbies, there is no escape. You will need to learn the Elden Ring commands and the pace of the Souls combat, to be up to the challenge.

Network Test worked perfectly as a teaser of the final product, with access to its wealth of content limited only by the access times, strictly bound for the whole weekend. The stage is now ready for February release, and of course we will be back to check out the final code on all platforms.

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