Elden Ring makes summoning NPC battle helpers more accessible than Dark Souls

When someone says ‘Dark Souls’, the first thing you’re likely to think is ‘really freaking difficult’ – or some variation of that, anyway. Historically, players have had the option in the series to summon Phantoms – AI or player-controlled characters that could swoop in to help you survive particularly menacing boss fights – and Elden Ring’s take on this idea makes it even more helpful and convenient.

While you can still call on other players for aid, Elden Ring adds ‘spirit ashes’ – ghostly versions of certain enemies – which you can recruit to stand at your side in battle. We heard this was going to be a thing a while ago, but now that we’ve played the Elden Ring tech test, we know more about how it’ll work.

All it’ll cost to summon a spirit ash is FP (the same, easily replenished currency you’ll use to cast spells and so on) rather than limited-use items like humanities, and as they’re AI-controlled, they don’t depend on other players putting down a summon sign, or expose you to griefing or networking issues. Moreover, you can summon backup in any area that’s marked with a little blue arch, which in our experience included not only boss fights but some tricky encounters in the open world.

While previous Souls games have offered AI-controlled summons, they were rare, and not available for the majority of bosses. They were also a bit rubbish (apart from Tarkus in the Iron Golem fight, obviously). This all means that, in Elden Ring, you can summon help far more affordably, readily, and in far more places.

Excitingly for fans of this feature, Elden Ring features a variety of different types of summonable monsters to help you out, reflecting what’s sure to be a vast number of different monster types in the game. This means you not only have a choice about the best ally for a particular scrimmage, but you can get creative, too.

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For example, if you’re charged by a horde of undead in the open world, you can summon a squad of five wandering nobles. They’re not the best combatants, but are perfect bait so can distract enemies while you pick them off, one by one. Or, for tough boss fights you can bring in someone like the Northern Mercenary, who’s a badass single entity with plenty of health and damage-dealing powers. In his playthrough of the Elden Ring tech test, our editor Rich Scott-Jones found that this made a significant difference to the difficulty of the fight – his character and the NPC recruit were able to trade the boss’s attacks between them, and he ended up beating them in no time.

It’s not tricky to see how this will position the game in the eternal ‘difficulty’ debate around FromSoft games. This option will naturally help break down some of the difficulty barriers Souls fans might be expecting, and offer a greater level of accessibility for those less well-versed in – or less fond of – the series’ often gruelling combat, while those who enjoy it can continue to play without summons. Everybody wins!

The Elden Ring release date is February 25, 2022.

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