Elden Ring

I finally did it. I beat Elden Ring.

It wasn’t easy.

This was my first time ever playing a Souls-like RPG game, drawn to it through its supurb marketing around George R. R. Martin and its supposedly ease-of-entry compared to past Souls games. But it’s difficult on two levels: first, of course, are the mechanics of the game. There’s simply so many ways to build a character. Want a melee build? Pile those runes into strength and use this hammer. Want to rely on magic? Better up that int. Going after a hybrid faith-dex build? Be ready to figure out how to how to min-max those stats.

And, of course, the combat itself. Most of the enemies you meet in the world are not all that exceedingly difficult (except those hands and knights), but the bosses require a different approach. It’s a game almost designed to get you to rage quit. It’s a feature. But when you start the game, you’re simply introduced to the world (a deceptively huge world) with nary a tutorial or any guidance at all to the storyline. You learn quickly that you’re underleveled for certain areas, but what takes time to learn as a new Soulsborne player is there isn’t another tutorial coming your way. You have to figure out the attacks, what each weapon type does, and just how to spend those runes. Oh, and if you die? You might lose all those runes.

Your first entry into the Lands Between is greeted with a huge enemy on a horse. Don’t try and fight him, even though this thing called Grace is pointing you that direction.

In fact, at this point, you’re not learning much at all about the game or the world. The options, as you quickly discover, appear endless. And as you encounter enemies, you begin to quickly see they have attributes and movesets that you simply don’t understand. You don’t know the tells. You don’t have the muscle memory. You’re underleveled. You will die. A lot. Figuring out the game takes work. Figuring out the plot takes work.

Welcome to Elden Ring.

But the other thing to know about this game is it’s huge. Huge. I accidentally took a teleporter trap to a place much, much further north than I had any business being at. Which a golem quickly taught me. (Bye, runes.)

But this game’s landscape is beautiful. The various places of the world you visit are not mere reskinning of assets (here’s a snow zone, here’s a swamp zone, here’s the plains, here’s a floating city made of dragon bones). As you proceed through the Lands Between, with plenty of vigor checks along the way, you realize there’s so much to explore. This is, after all, one of my favorite things to do in video games: to experience and explore a landscape (there’s a reason why Red Dead Redemption 2 is still one of my favorite all-time games).

But that sense of exploration, of knowing what’s ahead over a hill, or near that shining tree, or behind those cliffs, or deep in these catacombs – you want to keep driving forward. It’s all interconnected. It all feels unknowable.

It’s stunning, and given time, planning, and deliberate choices, the game rewards you.

Truth be told, I had to start following a walkthrough to really get into the game. I can highly recommend this one by FightinCowboy on YouTube. But that said, he’s going to skip through storyline and dialogue moments. So take your time and soak in the story. It’ll take a while; there’s a lot of lore behind the story. But it’s incredibly rich.