At the risk of offending equestrian enthusiasts, I have to say that most mounts in video games suck.
Now I have to admit that my real life experience with any horse is basically limited to the ponies you used to ride at the school fair with some minor changes at the Grand National a long time ago. But in video games, I’ve ridden a lot, and they always fall short.
If you’re a ’90s kid like me, your first memory of riding a digital stallion might be Epona from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Isn’t Carrot’s stamina management and the way she stops annoying if you try to approach an obstacle at a slightly wrong angle?
Having said that, the practicality of riding an odd-toed hard-hoofed mammal is perfect for getting around Hyrule, so it’s no surprise that as the game moves toward the open world, having a mount becomes an integral part of getting from A to B. I just wish it felt more pleasant.
Take The Witcher 3’s cockroaches, for example. Can’t fucking take him anywhere. I had a lot of issues with CD Projekt Red’s overrated RPG (don’t get me started fighting), but it was a pain to ride in that game. It may have more to do with its setting, but my memories of traveling through Velen and Novigrad are mostly of Roach getting caught in trees or stopping on rocky slopes. Unless you’re willing to let the system automatically guide you down a given but long and twisty route – you’re better off just hoofing or using fast travel, the latter usually a sign of your open world failing.
Remember all the talk Rockstar had in Red Dead Redemption 2 about lifelike horse testicles? I didn’t really spend much time checking these details myself, instead I remember trying to use its cine camera, designed to make you feel like you’re in an epic western, only to turn into a farce because you can’t control yours The mount makes you fall or fall on the dirt.
It might be a blasphemy to try this horse in Shadow of the Colossus That The ending, but even with all the supposed realism thrown into its behavior, there’s probably a reason Fumito Ueda named your steed Agro.
In the end, the most enjoyable virtual riding experience comes down to those parts in Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us (as Naughty Dog games, you’re just pushing high anyway) or the mounts you can unlock in Final Fantasy 14, ie more A stretch of yourself, almost faster than a sprint.
So, what got me so excited about riding the Elden Ring after hours in closed network testing last November? While that beta only allowed me to run wild in a small portion of Limgrave’s open world, the player’s steed — dubbed the Torrent — was not only a huge highlight, but it’s clearly going to be a big part of the core gameplay.
Of course, FromSoftware has included horses in their past games, like Bloodborne and Sekiro – but only as part of the enemy design. It’s the first time you’ll be riding a ride in their game, and it really makes sense for getting around easily in Elden Ring’s sprawling open world, rather than the tighter, more labyrinthine Dark Souls map.
Of course, there are reasons to be wary of how horseback riding works. After all, movement in FromSoft games has a typical, intentional, clunky feel to it – so isn’t that the case with triple mounts too? Don’t worry though, because the developers seem to have looked into horse riding in other open-world games and went, “No, fuck it, let’s have some fun.”
Torrent is a good horse because he is not a simulation of a real horse at all. Dude, he’s a scary ghost horse with horns, and as soon as you hear the whistle and you’re in the saddle, he’ll appear out of nowhere. No need to wait to find him trapped in the landscape, he’ll appear instantly and you can jump off quickly without messing around. Take that, Roach.
For that, the game needs a lot of permissions that you can do.Motion feels responsive because torrents are only Controlled by the player – you don’t have to wrestle with the reins or anything more finicky or advanced. Ghost steeds don’t have to be as down-to-earth as real horses, I mean literally. Sure, using airflow to make Torrent jump off a cliff looks cool, but what’s really special is that he can jump. There’s no nonsense about whether the fence can dash, but you can jump and bind using the same dedicated jump button as your character.
What’s better than a horse that can jump? A horse that can double jump.
This is a steed that laughs (hiss?) in the face of obstacles. It accelerates deftly over terrain without stalling, while other video game horses fail at the first obstacle. The Elden Ring might not fit the level of Breath of the Wild where you can go absolutely anywhere, but this double jump is a statement of intent. It’s just there to allow you to get to places that would otherwise be impossible. The developers may have hidden rare items that only horses can reach, or even smuggled in by skipping the sequence using torrents. That alone can make traversal fun; when you’re galloping over Lands Between, trying to reach the top of its massive ruins or finding a way to climb a seemingly insurmountable face, you know the torrent is always there. Helpful.
But maybe what’s really special is that Torrents will also be a huge help in battle. My memory of mounted combat in any game isn’t particularly memorable, but in Elden Ring it’s certainly one of the ways to make some tough challenges more accessible. This became clear when, in closed network testing, I had the chance to travel to Lake Argyle and come face-to-face with a giant fire-breathing dragon.
Walk and I’ll be toasted in seconds. But with Torrent, I can easily get in and out of the fight, avoid its fiery breath, get half the lake on fire, and catch up to the dragon when it decides to take off. An optional boss that feels like one you shouldn’t mess around with until you’ve been grinding for about 10 hours, and suddenly you can resolve with confidence, in your hands.
Of course, you still need to time your attacks. As with the rest of the game, there’s still this clunkiness in horseback fighting that requires you to get into the action, but when the attacks connect — like when you’re dashing at a group of enemies or crying on a troll’s lap — they feel pretty good. Great. One of my favorite things is riding a horse while doing a sword attack with the blade running along the ground (DualSense support please) and releasing the trigger to swing it straight up into the enemy’s face.
Torrents are also your escape route if everything goes wrong. Overwhelmed by terrifying enemies? You can tie it up. This is another important difference for Elden Ring compared to Dark Souls’ unforgiving environment. In a place where you’re often forced to fight everything that tries to kill you, the open world of Lands Between means you can really choose your fight, so if you’re traversing into some god-forsaken hellscape, just keep going , no stress (at least for the open world part – Torrents can’t accompany you into the game’s dungeons, which is a shame, it’s more of a traditional Dark Souls experience).
I look forward to learning more about the world of Elden Ring, its lore, battles, and the unquestioned source of secrets that FromSoft is so famous for. But on torrent alone, I could see that the game was worth paying for at launch.