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Elden Ring Review


Quick note - I'm aware that Elden Ring is not a mobile game. You can play it on your phone via streaming, although I wouldn't recommend playing that way. So technically you can play on your phone, which means that Elden Ring CAN fit in your pocket. Sort of.


From someone who has never enjoyed a Dark Souls game

I have tried several previous games from developer From Software, and I have never lasted longer than an hour playing them. Their 2015 game Bloodborne received near unanimous praise upon its release, and I remember feeling tricked into spending money on it. These games always review well, so why wasn't I having fun with them? My issues with Bloodbourne (and the Dark Souls series overall) weren't even strictly limited to their notorious difficulty, although that certainly didn't help - From Software's games are historically unfriendly to the player in almost all aspects. From Demon's Souls on PS3 (2009) to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019) these games do not explain much, leaving you to either figure it out on your own or pour through online guides written by others who surely spent hours researching game mechanics. I mean why can't these games just call multiplayer "multiplayer"? Why do I need to use a "furled finger" to summon other players? I can tell you from playing those previous games and even playing Elden Ring now, you need to know what you're getting into if you're going to have any shot at enjoying the game. Weird finger stuff and all.


But Alex, why did you play Elden Ring if you never enjoyed any previous From Software titles? Well we have two things to blame. 1.) Elden Ring received nearly unanimous 10/10 reviews from all major video game review outlets. 2.) The game is being compared to one of the greatest of all time - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.


How could I not be interested in a "Breath of the Wild"esque full blown next generation game? Is Elden Ring a trap? Was this game going to fool me once again? In a word, no.

Welcome to the Thunderdo- I mean the Lands Between

Elden Ring, like those that came before it, is hard. I enjoy plenty of difficult games as long as they feel fair. I've beaten a few such as the original Punch Out on NES and recently Metroid Dread. So if Elden Ring can manage to be fun while making me feel like I only have myself to blame for dying, then maybe I'll enjoy it.


You start by creating your character, and I chose to roleplay an old man version of pink-haired Link from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past. We never saw pink-haired Link again after that game, so maybe this is what became of him. You can choose from 10 different classes, and I went with "confessor" because it seemed like a good mix of sword/shield gameplay with a bit of magic thrown in (mostly for healing). I had to do research outside of the game to decide which starting class I was going to pick, which might be the first warning sign for those that just want to jump in and have a good time. You've been warned, there are no good times ahead.

Elden Ring begins with an optional tutorial which, by the way, requires you to jump down a pit to see it. Like how could that not be a trick? The tutorial is fine but only serves to teach you the basic controls before you're thrown into the stunningly gorgeous open world. This might be the first "next gen" game that I've played where it actually feels "next gen" (despite running at 30 FPS). The opening area certainly leaves an impression. Once you're out in the open world of Elden Ring, known as the "Lands Between", you'll notice that there is a guy on a horse patrolling the path forward (otherwise known as a "tree sentinel"). This is where you'll either learn Elden Ring's first lesson or you won't.


I spent a solid 2 hours fighting that tree sentinel, dying repeatedly and trying to learn his attack patterns. You'll often hear that From Software's games require you to "get good", so I was determined to defeat this first enemy. I thought that I had to defeat that jerk so that I could become better at the game. If I can't defeat the first dude on a horse then how am I supposed to play the rest?


Nope, this first enemy is teaching the player that it's perfectly acceptable to simply walk around those that you're not ready to fight. Nobody is forcing you to defeat the tree sentinel. From there Elden Ring presents a path forward with fairly minimal story that leads through some beginner enemies. The main road will lead you along "sites of grace" which are essentially this game's save/warp points. You can use the sites of grace to level up, assuming you've collected enough runes by defeating enemies. You also lose your runes each time you fall in battle, although you can return to the last place you died and attempt to reclaim them.

My Elden Ring journey - From literally crawling to wielding a powerful magic sword

(The following is my own personal gameplay story and how I came to understand Elden Ring. Your experience might be totally different, and that's awesome.)


Tree sentinel aside, I wasn't even good at fighting foes wielding shields in those opening hours. Still I tried my best and I followed the main road forward. After just a few hours, the path that Elden Ring sets you out on leads straight into a battle with the first major story boss - Margit. And that guy? Well that guy whooped my ass (not in a good way).


I spent many more hours trying to learn Margit's patterns so that I could defeat him, but what I found was that my sword just wasn't dealing enough damage to do anything meaningful. And you need to defeat Margit so that you can enter Stormveil Castle. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried I was never going to do enough damage to defeat Margit. This is most likely the point where I would have dropped any other Dark Souls style game. Usually at this point, the player simply has to "get good". What separates Elden Ring from its predecessors however is that Elden Ring presents an open world where you can literally go anywhere. So when a boss gets frustrating, you are actually encouraged to walk away and try something else.


This is the second lesson in Elden Ring - If you're struggling, go do something else and come back later. By exploring the first area thoroughly you can find an item named "Margit's Shackle" which will help you defeat him when you return. The crazy thing is that my story didn't even lead me to Margit's Shackle. I didn't end up needing that useful tool when I eventually came back, but admittedly it would be many more in-game hours before I returned.


After realizing that my attempts to defeat Margit were pointless, I left and explored other parts of Elden Ring's starting area. Some of the things I did instead of fighting Margit were:

  • Wandered the Lands Between and found/defeated a few bosses.

  • Learned about "spirit ashes" which allow you to summon ghostly creatures to aide you in battle.

  • Randomly stumbled upon a portal in some bushes which warped me to the Bestial Sanctum in a far away corner of the world.

Dad-a-chum, dad-a-chick, I died to get this pic.

At the Bestial Sanctum, which I referred to as my "Jedi temple", I discovered relatively easy enemies (who could still kill me in 1 or 2 hits) that awarded 1,000 runes per kill. 1,000 runes is a lot in the early game. So I stayed at the Bestial Sanctum and I trained. I grinded those 1,000 rune enemies for 10 hours of gameplay time, often listening to audio books and podcasts while I did it. At some point during those 10 hours I randomly found a YouTube video about the "Sword of Night and Flame", which was apparently a high level sword that could be obtained without fighting any enemies. Only problem? This legendary sword was on the other side of the world. Good thing there was an online guide with a solution - I ended up finding a secret path to sneak past Margit and I set forward on a long journey leading to the sword. It was dangerous, I died a lot because I was severely underprepared, but I got that Sword of Night and Flame. Maybe that sword lit a flame in my heart.


After my ~10 hour journey of grinding, leveling up, and dodging high level enemies as I barely got my hands on the Sword of Night and Flame I returned to Margit. My newfound sword was a powerful one, requiring me to specifically level up stats in both faith and intelligence so that I could use its magic.


This was essentially me upon my return to fight Margit:

I absolutely wrecked Margit with just a few magical spells cast by my sword. Where I may have spent several hours fighting him during our original encounter, it now only took me a few attempts to exact revenge. Same goes for the tree sentinel, and any of Limgrave's bosses that stood in my way.


Those were my first steps into Stormveil Castle and the true beginning of my journey. It was here that I realized my time learning the game and grinding had all been worth it. Where once I had foolish ambitions, I was now ready to take on Elden Ring's challenge. Learning the language of the game, how it pushes you and teaches you so that you can later succeed, is a key factor in whether or not you will enjoy Elden Ring. You also have to want that challenge. Even though the box says George R. R. Martin worked on the game, Elden Ring cannot be played for the story alone.

Elden Ring constantly throws new curveballs at you... Sometimes literally.

Does George R. R. Martin even know what Elden Ring is?

Wrapping your head around Elden Ring's core gameplay is important, but the world around all that hacking and slashing is incredible. Exploring the Lands Between does feel similar to running around Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in that the game presents this vast open world with the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything. If you see something interesting in the distance, you are encouraged to go there. Elden Ring has a very minimal user interface, really only showing a compass most of the time to help direct you. So many video games litter your screen with question marks and points of interest (Ubisoft is notorious for this), but in Elden Ring you need to find those places yourself. Of course the menus are the exact opposite, basically presenting an Excel sheet of stats that you can tweak either with equipment or by leveling up.


There is so much lore in Elden Ring and a lot of it is completely optional. If you only want to run through the game wailing on bosses (I certainly did a lot of wailing) then you can do that, but if you take the time to talk with NPCs there's so much to learn. During Elden Ring's early development stages, From Software brought in George R. R. Martin to consult on the game's lore and story. However in my opinion putting GRRM's on the box takes away from the game director's influence. Hidetaka Miyazaki is the director of Elden Ring, having previously directed Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro. Obviously I'm joking when I say that I'm not sure George R. R. Martin even remembers what Elden Ring is, but you can feel Miyazaki's influence here based on previous From Software titles. The amount of world building on display is incredible and he should receive credit for that.

Just one example - In my own story, I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to meet Alexander the warrior jar (literally a jar with arms and legs). After talking to him, I was excited at the possibility of finding more pot friends along my journey. Later on I discovered a room in Stormveil Castle with a bunch of baby pots stumbling around. Adorable, right? All of a sudden a much larger pot comes spinning out of the corner and attacks me. Next thing I know I've defeated the big pot and I've slaughtered all of the younglings. Why did Elden Ring do this to me? Why did they make me fall in love with Iron Fist Alexander the warrior jar only to have his kind attack me? Why did I slaughter the youngling pots?! And that's not even the end of my story with Elden Ring's pot friends, but I'd rather you experience this type of story for yourself.


While Elden Ring does not explain much and the story itself is fairly minimal, the game does attempt to foster a community with its multiplayer options. If you need help, you can summon other players to your world. You can also be invaded by others, which I never seemed prepared for. I can't tell you how many times I have panicked in Elden Ring when I get surprised by an enemy or invading player.


One, let's call it "interesting feature", is that players can leave messages for others to find. You can only write messages using predetermined words, leading to one of two things. Either you'll find a.) useful information/warnings or b.) stuff like this:

There's also a lot of people leaving "Fortnite" messages for some reason:

The verdict & why you should play Elden Ring even if you disliked Dark Souls

Calling Elden Ring huge might be an understatement. If you can learn the game's lessons, most importantly to leave challenges you're not ready for and return later, then there's a lot to love. My biggest issue with From Software's previous games is addressed in Elden Ring. When I played Bloodborne in 2015, I quickly reached a few frustrating enemies and was turned off by the "get good" mentality. It was either spend hours banging my head against the wall or quit (back then I chose to quit). Now in 2022 with Elden Ring, if I hit a brick wall then I can go hit some other walls elsewhere knowing that I'll return stronger for it.


I feel like the first souls game that people get into is a religious experience. It certainly was for me. I do agree with the 10/10 reviews for Elden Ring, but I DO NOT think people should play it simply because they like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The Zelda games are among my favorites of all time, and I'd say that 70% Elden Ring is not similar. For the remaining 30%, both games share a similar style (at least in some areas) and they share the same sense of exploration. That's where the comparison should end however, as Elden Ring is a very different beast.

You should not necessarily pick up Elden Ring if you enjoyed Breath of the Wild. That said if you are open to a challenging experience, most likely requiring you to study online guides, then Elden Ring offers a rich and compelling world. For my part, Elden Ring is the From Software game to finally win me over. It will not win you over if you're coming in with the wrong mindset, but if you're open to the challenge then I hope to see you soon in the Lands Between.


Pros

  • Combat and dying repeatedly is actually fun

  • Vast open world to explore in any direction


Cons

  • Overwhelming difficulty might turn you away

  • Buzz words such as "George R. R. Martin" and "Breath of the Wild" won't give you a clear picture of what Elden Ring actually is


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