The eagerly awaited video game "Elden Ring," from FromSoftware, has been hyped beyond belief thanks to the studio's past successes, the director's prowess and the fact that it boasts an intricate world crafted in collaboration with George R.R. Martin, the author of the "Game of Thrones." The game debuted on Friday to a crisis-hit world looking for high-level escapism.
Online forums were awash with comments by fans itching to get into the game, a wide-open virtual realm that reviews hinting that the players could keep exploring more than 80 hours without completing all the missions.
The gorgeous graphics and daunting battles were developed by Tokyo-based FromSoftware with the help of George R.R. Martin, whose book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" was the basis for the hit HBO program "Game of Thrones."
"Review scores have it up there with some of the best games in history," said analyst Mat Piscatella, waiting for an unlock code to start playing, "that's amazing."
Versions of the game for PlayStation, Xbox or Windows-powered computers are priced at $60.
The dark fantasy role-playing adventure builds on know-how gained throughout the "Dark Souls" series and other titles by FromSoftware, according to Japan-based video game publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment.
"Dark Souls" games have become a genre in themselves, with a defining characteristic being brutally difficult battles that can last hours as players figure out tactics and weapons needed to triumph.
"The unknown; the threats; the mystery; the encounters," the game's publisher said, adding that the idea is for players to feel a "sense of fulfillment that comes with tackling difficulties in their own ways and surmounting them."
Martin helped infuse the game's characters with humanity and drama while director Hidetaka Miyazaki sculpted the style of play and storytelling, according to the publisher.
The game lands in a heavy atmosphere for an audience that has been living in the coronavirus pandemic for about two years, and just days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
While the litany of high-stakes drama in the real world can leave people feeling helpless or frightened, players can overcome challenges in a video game with no one being harmed in the process.
"There is something really helpful about that for a lot of people," Piscatella said. "I'm in that boat too."
Video game makers are well aware that the more challenging the adversary, the greater the pull for players.
"The satisfaction comes from actually getting through it; like running a marathon. It's just a different mindset than a lot of games," Piscatella added, referring to the "Souls" games.
While "Souls" games have a fervent following eager to get their hands on the "Elden Ring," the franchise has yet to generate a mainstream hit.
Reviews by critics with early access have raved about "Elden Ring," giving it perfect scores.
"Maybe this is the one that breaks out," Piscatella said.
"But it is still, at its core, an experience that requires a lot of dedicated time and effort that doesn't handhold too much."
Players who have tried out the game have been largely positive.
"The atmosphere is deeply enchanting, the world is utterly enormous, and there is a varying difficulty-level to encounters that should satisfy more players," tweeted @VaatiVidya, a YouTube streamer known for specializing in Dark Souls.
"This is going to be big."
Bandai Namco would not disclose how many players have downloaded the game ahead of its official launch.
Players talked about setting aside the weekend and beyond to immerse themselves in "Elden Ring," disconnecting from real-world woes including war and pandemic.
"It would be our deepest pleasure if 'Elden Ring' can help relieve players of stress and anxiety," Bandai Namco told Agence France-Presse (AFP).