My first moments with Elden Ring are probably the perfect analogy for the game as a whole. I stumbled out of a chamber and in front of me was a cliff leading to a deep chasm. I hit the Y button to read a note left behind by another player. "Try jumping," it read. So I did, only to be greeted by that classic Dark Souls "You Died" message. That's right – it took me probably less than two minutes to get myself killed in Elden Ring. And yet, I just kind of shook my head and smirked.
I need to tell you that while I totally admire From Software, it's always been from a distance. I find their games fascinating and I respect everything they do. And yet, I've never really been able to get into their games. Mostly because frankly, I'm just not that good at video games I guess? Or probably more accurately, I don't always seem to have the patience to stick with such obtuse games. I did try banging my head against the wall in Dark Souls some years back – and I thought it was really a cool and interesting game. But I just couldn't make much progress in it. I also picked up Dark Souls III on launch for some reason, but found the experience even more off-putting. And yet, I'm glad these games exist because there should be a game for every kind of gamer out there to love.
But my goodness, the hype for Elden Ring has been hard to escape. As a dude who's had trouble making a dent in the Souls games, and as someone who never watched Game Of Thrones, I can't say that the teaming of From and Martin meant all that much to me. But as the reviews starting rolling out and the game was getting near universal acclaim and comparisons to Breath Of The Wild, it became hard to resist this one. The concept is certainly enough to make me perk up – what if the Souls style of gameplay was pushed into a Breath Of The Wild open world? What if instead of hitting a wall you could just turn around and walk in another direction and explore at your own pace? And so I figured why not? Maybe, just maybe this could be the From Software game that finally gets its hooks in me.
My first few hours with Elden Ring were reminiscent of Dark Souls, yet the experience was miles away. I mean, I always knew I was playing the game that might as well be called Dark Souls IV. It had the same style of play, same cryptic systems, same tone. And yet, the actual game was so different in execution. Whereas my attempts at playing Dark Souls I & III were punishing affairs that found me push forward for as long as I could stand it (and that was never very long), Elden Ring just offers some reprice. The difficulty never lets up, mind. Instead, it offers you a whole ridiculously huge world to explore. I mean really big. And any time I feel like I'm in over my head, I have a short list of other threads I can go tug at.
It helps that everyone's talking about Elden Ring right now. So there's always juicy little tidbits that send me off to do something else. Thanks to various podcasts and websites I've kept a document in One Note reminding me of little things I want to do or explore. Case in point, I was a couple hours in before I realized I had missed (the very easy to miss) tutorial section of the game. So I went back to the start and played through it twice, easily farming enough extra Ruins to bump me up a couple levels.
Sometimes I'd boot the game to with some explicit goal in mind – find the witch that gives you summons for instance. Or grind until I could afford a crafting kit and torch to open other things up to me. Other time I'd take note of little areas I wanted to check out, and then I'd just go off exploring hoping for the best. I scraped beaches and jumped into caves with a mix of excitement and trepidation. But one thing is for sure – no Souls game ever hit me like this before. I found myself thinking about Elden Ring while driving home from work. I'd think about what it was I wanted to accomplish tonight after my daughter went to bed and the chores were done. Few games hit me hard enough that I'm constantly mapping out a mental To Do List like this.
Something the game has also offered to me unexpectedly is a social component. While I certainly spend a lot of my free time reading about games, I don't often get to talk about them. My wife is pretty casual in her gaming. Since my daughter was born, I've kind of lost touch with my online gaming buds. And since I don't do the whole social media thing, there's no option for gaming discussion there. I do have one gaming buddy I keep in touch with as best I can, but he's not really into a lot of the games that I am. Maybe that's why I keep this blog in the first place. If I can't talk to anyone about games, at least I can talk to myself.
But something funny happened recently. We were visiting with my family, and my youngest sister's husband was there. He does play games, but he's about a decade younger than me and in all the years that I've known him, I don't think we've ever been into the same game at the same time. Off the cuff, I asked, "have you played Elden Ring yet?" His eyes lit up. His smile widened. "Oh yeah," he said. He went on to tell me that he's never played a From Software game before and he's like twelve or fifteen hours in already, and has barely figured out what he's doing. He told me that it had taken him hours before he even figured out how to level.
We then traded war stories and anecdotes, and it was awesome. He told me about being ripped apart by a bunch of wolves. I recommended that he look out for summon ashes. All I know is that in this day and age of Reddit and whatever – which I'm not a part of – this exchange took me back to a far more innocent time. It reminded me of the playground in elementary school and talking about secrets that we'd all discovered in the original Legend Of Zelda.
Later on that same night, I combed through an IGN article on farming Runes and fought my way to the Bestial Sanctum so I could try my hand at sneaking up on humanoids that give out 1,000+ Runes each. They proved harder than I expected, but instead of giving up I started experimenting with new weapons, and then this became its own little mini-game to me. A place to hang out, and work on my skills and possibly level up quickly. As long as I have a clear goal in mind, each sitting with Elden Ring feels totally productive, even if in actuality I'm making the tiniest bit of progress as possible.
I was able to spend time grinding near the Bestial Sanctum and then going off to explore other areas and then coming back to grind more, striking an excellent balance between just seeing things, and feeling like I'm being productive with leveling. It's a great feeling to return to my rune-farming spot and realize I'm way more powerful, and way more experienced as time goes on. And time goes on quickly in this one. Hours melt away, and I'm bummed when I have to call it a night. It's an honest to goodness breath of fresh air considering my previous experience with From Software titles.
One weird thing that happened during my time playing was a rather large update patch to the game. The bigger things of note were some bug-fixes and expanded quests. But there were also rebalances to certain weapons and skills. This is the norm for online games – think Overwatch or whatever. But because I've treated Elden Ring like an entirely single-player affair up until this point, it was jarring. I say this because the patched nerfed the Hoarfrost Stomp by around 50% of its damage, and increased how long it took to cast. And I had spent the past few hours in the game finding an axe that had that ash attached to it, and leveling up enough to use it effectively. Anyone addicted to the game had read about Hoarfrost Stomp somewhere (for me it was Game Informer) because it was a widely known overpowered skill that could help you wreck some big bosses quickly. And yet the day after I finally obtained this thing... it was gone. Bummer.
The weird thing was that once the whole idea of an "easy mode" was stripped away from me via patch, I realized that truly I was enjoying playing the game far more without it anyway. I mean, sure, I'd love to have a safety net load-out that I could just plow through the game with. But is that what the game is really about? Probably not. Although... I'd be lying if I said that wouldn't be fun for a noob like me. But still – I had been playing with this cool sword I found that allows you to strike pretty fast, and got accustomed to using a shield in my combat. So, whatever.
And after about a dozen hours – which is lot for me and my current dad routine – I've decided I'm probably ready to take a bit of a break from Elden Ring. But honestly, twelve hours is only scraping the surface. I've not even tackled the first Legacy Dungeon yet. Though I have circumvented it and explored all kinds of stuff beyond it. But here's where the Breath Of The Wild comparison comes back into effect. See, I played Breath Of The Wild at launch for exactly twelve hours. I was enamored. And then, I found myself revisiting the game again between other games in 2017. And then I found myself revisiting it further year after year. I expect that to be exactly how I treat Elden Ring from here on out.
I kind of hate comparing it to Breath Of The Wild, because it seems obvious and trite. But still. I can't help it. At this point, I genuinely think that Elden Ring is the better game. And I think it'll go into my pile of favorite open worlds along with the aforementioned Zelda title and Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, and so on. All of these games were ones that I stuck with for years, gradually exploring more over time and ultimately beating at some point. Or in the case of Breath Of The Wild (or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), I've never beaten. But that's okay. They become comfort games that I can spend time with in bits over years and feel fine with never seeing the end because – well, why would I want such an amazing game to end anyway?
Of course, my so-called hiatus from the game lasted about a week or so. Unexpectedly, I ended up finally getting myself an Xbox Series X as a sort of early birthday present. Basically, I got an email that Gamestop finally had some in stock, and I had to act quick. My wife urged me to just get it so that I'd have a birthday present that I really wanted. I mean, it's expensive. Much more expensive that anything I'd normally ask for for my birthday. But I mean... it's an Xbox Series X!
And what was the first thing I installed? Elden Ring! I had to see how good it looked with the 48GB XBX patch installed. Well, I'll tell you - it looks glorious! And so I went off exploring more. I found realized I was cursed because I hugged that spirit in the Roundtable Hold and rectified that. I found a few caves and cleared them out. Found some new spirit summons. I bought a bow so that I have some ranged attacks. Then I stumbled upon a sleeping (or dying?) dragon and ruthlessly killed him for 75,000 runes and then leveled up a bunch to LVL 40. I killed that ghostly riverman in the lake and felt like a boss. My wife asked me how the XSX was, and I showed her some of the vistas in Elden Ring to which she exclaimed, "wow, that looks so real!"
Elden Ring is a special sort of game. Progress comes slow, sure. But it is so immensely gratifying. I honestly see a pattern developing here where I play the game for a week or so, then play something else and then return to this again. Like I said, that's much the way I treated Breath Of The Wild for the years following its release. And this, well, I can't help but feel is probably the better and more perfected game.
What really blows my mind about Elden Ring is that this is a game released in 2022. Which means that I've been playing games for like 35 years now. It's insane to me to even think that a game can come out that impresses me this much. I mean, don't get me wrong - I find games I love all that time. But my point is, it's very rare that I get a game that makes me feel the same thrill and joy that I had playing Super Mario Bros for the first time, or Tetris for the first time, or Super Mario World World or Sonic The Hedgehog for the first time.
Elden Ring is one of those rare games. It is an important game. It's a defining game. I think about it all the time when I'm not gaming. I spend time researching things and making little notes about what I plan to do next or what I should be exploring. I love so many games, but very few do that to me. Very few.
I had unlocked a fair amount of the map before I finally decided I was brave enough to even take on the first real boss of the game. I was level 42 I believe. I was rocking a katana with bleed that I had also added Hoarfrost Stomp to. I brought along my jellyfish spirit, and summoned an AI helper. On my first attempt, I whittled him down to maybe a fifth of his health or so. I felt really good about that. I then banged my head against the wall while attempting to defeat him a few more times. So I went off and did something else. Again, the Dark Souls games have long been games that I gave up on after a couple of hours. But here we are. I'm now twenty-something hours into Elden Ring and just completely obsessed.
I'd also say at this point that Elden Ring is probably the most difficult game I've ever stuck with this long. I mean, sure you can say that stuff like Spelunky or Slay The Spire are difficult games, but in a different way. I've beaten both (multiple times), but they seem to take a different kind of patience and tenacity. From Software titles are usually ones where I can't wrap my head around most of the systems and just bail. But Elden Ring is a truly different beast.
I was about 27 hours in when I finally tackled Margit The Fell Omen, who is basically the first "real" boss in the game. I mean, that's kind of absurd. He's accessible within the first hour of the game. Maybe the first thirty minutes. But it took me a long time to find the courage to actually give him a go. And then it took me probably upwards of ten attempts to figure him out and take him down.
That victory was certainly sweet, though. I tried all kinds of things - mostly using my jellyfish as a decoy while I laid on Hoarfrost Stomp. Eventually I started to see the patterns in his attacks, and my victory only came when I stepped up and decided that I'd just get up close, and actually block, dodge, and hack the hell out of him. I cannot tell you how triumphant I felt to watch him go down. My heart was beating and I felt like I wanted to shout my victory from the mountaintops. And again, he's an "early" boss. But the game is just that intense.