Elden Ring made me a fan of From Software

Elden Ring is the latest game in developer From Software’s storied tradition of punishing and mysterious titles, following fiercely beloved hits like the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne. I wanted to like these games for a long time. I’ve tracked builds, watched precision speedruns, and read treatises on their intricate level design. But something didn’t click.

Not for lack of trying, a combination of dark aesthetics, boring, elite community (enjoying a popular video game franchise isn’t personality!), and a relatively on-track gaming experience. discouraged. I hoped that Elden Ring would be different, that its unique blend of traveling exploration and seductive esotericism would finally catch my eye.

So far it is delivered and more.

Note: Possible minor spoilers follow for the first two or three areas of the game.

Since Elden Ring launched a few weeks ago, I’ve slowly made my way through its spooky hills and swamps, advancing the story here and there. Because I wasn’t convinced that I would end up sticking with the game beyond the first few hours, I uncharacteristically crushed the character creator instead of agonizing for hours over which class to choose, settling on the Confessor, a kind of sinister nun with a penchant for pyromancy.

More than forty hours later, I alternately resist my deranged urge to unveil the dark secrets of the Elden Ring and savor the game’s long, slow journey. It’s awesome.

Many ways to play

As a longtime JRPG and MMO player, my favorite games tend to have large, colorful environments. Life is pretty dreary as it is, and I’m generally reluctant to spend too much time in dark, colorless worlds. Elden Ring doesn’t break continuity with the visual style of From’s other games, but the world is beautiful, expansive, and big more often than it’s oppressive (giant ants notwithstanding, fuck those ants).

The game is littered with moldy medieval dungeons and cramped mines, but at any time you can step back into the overworld and watch the sunset. The juxtaposition between the vast and often evocative open world and the game’s tense interior parts makes the latter digestible for someone like me who tends to get a little nervous when I spend too much time indoors in games. Double inside – this is not good!

If you’ve thought about playing Elden Ring but are hesitant, or if the game’s reputation for being difficult puts you off, know that there are plenty of ways to lessen the challenge. For one, you can just walk away, kill small enemies, and level up enough to make the next dragon-handed monstrosity you encounter a little more manageable.

If you hit the wall, you can also change your playstyle, firing magic beams from a distance instead of stalking away up close with whatever massive, rusty destruction tool you’ve been swinging around. There’s also stealth, archery, agility-focused builds, weapons that inflict status effects, and faith – sort of a parallel path to traditional magic that unlocks stuff like incantations. spells, healing spells and lots of cool utility options. If all else fails, you can go old school and pick up a big ass sword and shield and make it work.

Despite my less than stellar initial build (dex/faith/mistakes), finding a playstyle is a lot of fun, even if you’ll be trampled, gored, and magicked to death many, many times in the process. The combat system is so deep and varied that I keep experimenting with new weapons rather than getting good at just one thing. This process is a game in itself.

Elden Ring with From Software

Picture credits: Bandai Namco/from software

I started the game with a one-handed sword, faith-based magic, and an old-fashioned looking armor set. Several hours later, I mostly find myself playing more like a religiously fervent version of X-Men’s Wolverine, gruesome claws lit. At some point, I picked up a katana, a pick I recommend to anyone in any setting, and a Frost Ax that lets me freeze enemies around me with ice crystals. And that’s only scratching the surface.

Much like Monster Hunter, a series I’ve really been into for the past two years, switching between one of these weapons totally changes the feel of the game. It’s a lot of fun! Elden Ring is actually many, many games in one and it’s a godsend for anyone hesitant to dive into their first From Software title. You don’t have to be a die-hard fan of this game’s developer and its infamous combat to click for yourself, especially if you’re willing to experiment.

Personally, I don’t have enough game time to git gud. I prefer git gud enough – life is short and I have many other interests! Luckily, Elden Ring gives unskilled players like me a full toolkit to enable easy mode when we don’t care enough. This includes everything from arcane upgrade shortcuts like slaying a drowsy dragon in cold blood (Thanks, YouTube! Sorry, dragon!) to summoning AI-powered ghost buddies to bail you out or relying on magic attacks to distance instead of punching things in the face.

When all else fails, you can summon another human player and hope they don’t just come into your game to give you a hard lesson in autonomy. Of course, no matter how many useful difficulty hacks you activate, it’s still a tough game and playing it will be a time commitment that many casual gamers simply can’t afford. Its good!

Elden Ring with From Software

Elden Ring with From Software

Credit: Bandai Namco/From Software

A very open world

If you haven’t played it yet, Elden Ring is a Very Big Game that has all the makings of the next Skyrim, an epic experience detailed enough to keep people digging into it for a decade. Elden Ring is also as open-ended a game as you might hope, but that’s not quite what makes it special. Once a novelty, open-world games are a business formula at this point, allowing companies like Ubisoft to release massive cookie-cutter games one after another. As a longtime Assassin’s Creed player, these games are like sweatpants to me – insane, never particularly difficult but with fun, comfortable combat and enough exploration to be interesting. Elden Ring is a very different experience and both types of games have their place.

By law, any conversation about open-world games must devote at least one paragraph to Breath of the Wild, the 2017 Zelda mega-hit that raised the bar for large, carefully crafted worlds. And by law, any player must spend over 100 hours exploring Hyrule and loving every minute of it – as I dutifully did. As unbelievable as it sounds, Breath of the Wild’s siren song waned a bit once I traveled to the farthest corners of the map and realized there were no exciting secrets in the world. top of every top (most often it was just another korok seed).

Elden Ring with From Software

Elden Ring with From Software

Picture credits: Bandai Namco/from software

For as big, interactive, and delightful as this game is, exploring the haunted landscape of Elden Ring is on a whole new level. From Software generously rewards exploration, dishing out a wonderful variety of weird interactions, hidden treasures, secret areas, power-ups, and completely optional boss fights for the explorer intrepid enough to go beyond. Software’s human touch is on full display here and every little secret sprinkled in feels like a human engineered exactly how this moment would play out rather than just projecting waypoints onto a map from a cannon at t-shirt, à la Ubisoft.

Over 40 hours later, Elden Ring is just beginning to reveal its true reach. The map expands outward, but I keep remembering weird little mysteries I want to investigate and areas I wanted to sneak into below the level, so I go back as often as I go forward. Because the game is so open and the save points are so generous, you can easily spend your hours in Elden Ring doing whatever you want, whether it’s taking down previously impossible bosses or scavenging secrets at the edges of the map.

Or I could just ride my spectral horse across the plains and watch the sun slip below the horizon, the clouds looming like such a beautiful, menacing sherbet. I can be blown to dust by a mechanized giant wielding a fire sword the size of a school bus, but that’s okay. I can just bounce back and start all over again – or do something else.