MooseyMcMan

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My Journey in Elden Ring, and all the Lands Between.

If ever there was a game that was so hyped up that it felt like it could never possibly live up to those expectations, it'd be Elden Ring, right? Announced a decade after the release of the game that set From Software down the path to its current status as one of the most renowned studios out there (Demon's Souls), and ultimately released eleven years after Dark Souls, it had a lot to live up to. Dark Souls went on to be one of the most influential games of the last decade, and though its sequels didn't reinvent the wheel, they were still great games. Bloodborne is an all time favorite of mine, and even if the story stuff in Sekiro wasn't great, the thrilling duels certainly were.

So, they have this lineage, and combined with a “world created by Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R. R. Martin,” the expectations weren't just through the roof, they weren't even stratospheric. They'd gone past the Moon and about halfway to Mars! How could a game possibly live up to all this?

I've been told the reason there's so many dogs turtles in Elden Ring is because George R.R. Martin loves turtles, which I think is an adorable bit of trivia.
I've been told the reason there's so many dogs turtles in Elden Ring is because George R.R. Martin loves turtles, which I think is an adorable bit of trivia.

For me, my expectations were maybe a bit different that other people's. Probably because I'd never read anything of Martin's, or ever watched the Game of Thrones series, so I really had no idea what to expect from a collaboration between him and From. Game play wise, I was maybe a bit trepidatious, thinking the open world could be great, or it could just as easily feel like empty space, meant to be filler between what would be the equivalents of classic Souls style “levels.” Even so, it was hard to not get sucked into all the hype, all the potential of From setting a new standard, a new game to take up the mantle so things were no longer the “Dark Souls of,” but now the “Elden Ring of” in years to come. I couldn't help but feel that electric hype in the air when I first sat down to play it.

Which made my early hours in the game...interesting. When faced with the character creation menu, it took a bit of thinking before choosing a starting class. In the lead up to the game I'd already thought a lot about, broadly speaking, how I wanted to play Elden Ring. I'd done the Dark Souls trilogy as a “sword and board” character, dodging attacks when I could, but still relying on a shield for safety. And with a smidge of magic and bows and arrows for slightly longer range. Demon's Souls I cheesed through as a Royal and min-maxed for magic, so I ended up not really enjoying the game because I made it way too easy on myself.

But Bloodborne and Sekiro, I adored the combat in both, so it made me think that I should try to approach Elden Ring in the same way. Play as fast and agile a character as I could, one that couldn't fall back on a shield for safety, and one that needed to stay aggressive to succeed. So, the two starting classes that caught my eye were the dual-wielding Warrior, and the katana equipped Samurai. I'd never really dual-wielded in a From game before, so I went with Warrior, thinking it was the most different from how I'd play the Dark Souls games (without going the magic route), and hoping it'd give me what I was looking for.

In retrospect, this was kind of a funny choice. I used those starting dual scimitars for the bulk of the first twenty hours of the game, as I explored the opening Limgrave area, delved into a underground area, and finally stormed Stormveil Castle. But as I did, I kept feeling like I was running into trouble. Aside from when I cheesed Demon's Souls, all these games have been fairly challenging, but none of them felt like I was struggling the way I did in this first chunk of Elden Ring. Basic enemies weren't too bad, but any time I had to face something tougher, it just felt like I was getting worked over. Whether they were knights on horseback in the open world, ghost Vikings underground, or especially the wind magic using knights in Stormveil, it just felt like I had completely forgotten how to play this style of game.

I should've done more co-op with friends in this game.
I should've done more co-op with friends in this game.

To some extent, I may have, given the last one I played was Sekiro. For all its similarities in terms of level design, and enemy layouts, Sekiro really was a much different feeling game. Even simple things like jumping, which Elden Ring has too, just felt different there. The Sekiro man could jump higher, and felt so much more agile generally that going back to the more grounded feeling of Elden Ring, it was off putting for quite a while. It drove home that in terms of game play, Elden Ring is much more Dark Souls IV than it is any sort of follow up to Sekiro or Bloodborne.

Never mind that, as I remembered after writing the first draft of this, Sekiro was as much a game about parrying and blocking as it was pure agility, and you can't block at all whilst dual-wielding in Elden Ring.

But, I persevered, because for every moment of frustration, there were plenty more of awe and excitement at the world I was exploring, and learned more about the lore and story. I still can't say how much of it was from Martin, and how much from Miyazaki and the rest of From, but there is just an enormous amount going on in Elden Ring. The Goddess(?) Queen Marika, her Demigod descendents, the Golden Order, ancient dragons, Those Who Live in Death (just a great combination of words), so many different factions, different forces at play with each other, so many different ins and outs that at some point it stopped feeling like a video game world, and felt more like a full on mythology. There's even a turtle pope.

Yes, a turtle pope!!

What a masterclass in character design.
What a masterclass in character design.

I love the worlds of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, but Elden Ring may genuinely be the most interesting and fully fleshed out world in any game I've ever played? Even if “fully fleshed out” feels weird to say in a game that still teases out information bit by bit. From an NPC here, an item description there, and things inferred from the environments themselves.

That said, despite the teasing nature of the storytelling, and the grand scale of this being an open world game that took me just about 150 hours to finish, it still felt like I was learning more and more about the world, not only through to the end, but in a lot of ways still in greater amounts than the much shorter and more focused previous games from From. I do love the ambiguity of From's storytelling style, and I don't think I would want every question about the universe of Bloodborne answered, for instance, but Elden Ring does feel like it has the most to say about its world of the bunch. And, crucially, that everything it has to say feels important, and interesting to know.

But I can't really say too much about that, and the things that really compelled me about Elden Ring's lore without getting into spoilers, which I think I may save for a followup blog in the near future, rather than cramming it in at the end here. In short I'll just say that they absolutely nailed what they were going for, and no matter how much came from From and how much from Martin, in the end they came together like peanut butter and chocolate, and I loved it.

So the world-building works, but what about the open world itself? I'm very happy and relieved that of all the open world games that have released in the wake of Breath of the Wild five years ago, Elden Ring feels like the first one to really continue down the path BotW trod. The Lands Between (another great name) is worth exploring just for the sake of exploring. Just to see the sights, whether they be wondrous or horrifying. There's the unfathomably enormous Erdtree towering over the entire game, glowing so bright it bathes the Altus Plateau beside it in a golden hue. And marshy Liurnia, scattered with waterlogged ruins now inhabited the strange frog-ish Albinaurics. Caelid, so ravaged by war and the Scarlet Rot that it's one of the most hellish locations I can recall in any game. Even the somewhat idyllic pastures of Limgrave, where goats are free to roam and roll about as they please; they're all sights to behold. There's areas where for one reason or another, my jaw dropped because of what I saw, either from surprise, just how gorgeous it looked, or both. Especially that underground area, but I wouldn't want to say anything more than that, for fear of spoilers.

It's a beautiful game, especially in HDR. Which this screenshot isn't. I'm sorry. I think, I mean it was on when I played the game but it's just a screenshot, so I dunno.
It's a beautiful game, especially in HDR. Which this screenshot isn't. I'm sorry. I think, I mean it was on when I played the game but it's just a screenshot, so I dunno.

But it's not just the aesthetics of the world, lots of games like Ghost of Tsushima are beautiful to behold, but ultimately feel shallow. They're just cookie cutter copy and paste in terms of what is actually in the world, and what you do. I don't mean art assets, obviously any game of this scale would have to repeat a lot of that, it just wouldn't be feasible in any way to make everything bespoke. I mean that even if there are plenty of repeated things, like mini dungeons, or even little encampments of enemies, Elden Ring doesn't feel like most other open world games. It doesn't necessarily feel “naturalistic” because so much of it is so fantastical, but despite that, the only word that really feels right is that it feels real. In the same way that Breath of the Wild's world feels real in ways that clearly more “realistically” rendered games like Horizon or Tsushima (both games I like too (haven't played Forbidden West yet; will eventually)) feel like they're just video game worlds.

Elden Ring feels like there's a deep history to every little bit of its world, even after that world has been shattered and devastated by a war of unimaginable scale. So it's safe to say that despite the vastly increased scale of Elden Ring, the people at From still managed to instill it with that special From feel. That's not to say there aren't times when it feels like the game might be a little too big for its own good, but at least you can fast travel any time you aren't in combat or in the depths of a mini dungeon. That, and finally we have a From game with consistently fast load times, with them only about six or seven seconds each on PS5. Of course it came with one where you don't need to warp back to a place and talk to a lady to level up, but I'll never complain about fast loads.

Another thing I really love about Elden Ring's open world is that it is so big, and so open that in a weird way, it makes Elden Ring feel more approachable than their previous games. Like I said earlier, I was kind of struggling with some stuff early in Elden Ring, but there's so much freedom in where I could go that if something started to frustrate, I could just go somewhere else. And rather than bang my head against one thing, I could explore elsewhere, and naturally level up along the way, while finding new gear and upgrades, so that when I finally went back to whatever was giving me trouble, now I was better equipped to deal with it. Because of that, this was by far the least I ever spent grinding to level up.

Sadly I can't say I never did it, because I did do just a smidge of it late game, after spending hours banging my head against Malenia. Who, in my defense, does seem to be regarded as the hardest boss in the game. I know I could have summoned another player or two for help, or used one of the AI summon Spirit Ashes for help, but for a boss that was a one on one duel, I wanted to defeat her on my own. Eventually I did, and it felt incredible. Even if I spent some time being summoned into other people's worlds to get rune arcs to activate my Great Runes (for stat buffs), and regular Runes for leveling. At least it was fun and rewarding to help other players, so it didn't feel like time wasted.

Blaidd here was my favorite character in the game.
Blaidd here was my favorite character in the game.

Like much of my time with Elden Ring, I got a bit distracted from what I was saying, and went off on a wild side adventure. I had been writing about my first twenty or so hours with the game, and how I felt like I was struggling with the combat. Part of that may have been exploring into areas I was under-leveled for, like that underground one I found about five hours into the game. Ultimately though, I think it came down to those starting scimitars just weren't the weapons for me. They didn't really have the range, and at that stage of the game, dual-wielding just wasn't working out. Between L1 being the attack with both weapons button (only when using two of the same weapon type at once), and needing to spend double the Smithing Stones to upgrade both swords, it was causing more trouble than helping. Especially when I was trying to use Quick Step as my weapon art, and with that being L2, switching between that to dodge and L1 to attack felt awkward.

At some point in my early travels, I found an Uchigatana, which is the default katana. Between its longer reach, and the fact that it has blood loss buildup (which causes large bursts of damage), I ended up really liking it. It also ended up being the thing that pushed me over the edge to finally fell Godrick the Grafted, who is presented as the first major boss of Elden Ring. That fight was the moment when everything in the combat finally clicked into place for me. Using Quick Step in conjunction with the regular dodge to avoid attacks, and finding the right moments to swoop in and slash Godrick, it was thrilling. I finally found a way to play Elden Ring that felt right for me, and that was the moment when the up and down early hours of Elden Ring turned into a steady, upward climb.

It's safe to say that I truly, utterly love Elden Ring. While in my heart Bloodborne is still my favorite game from From, Elden Ring is maybe one of the best games I've ever played, and probably From's “best” game. I only use quotes because what does “best” even mean as opposed to “favorite?” I don't know, but Elden Ring is just excellent. Especially when, despite all the similarities, Bloodborne and Elden Ring are also so different that it doesn't even feel fair to be comparing them like that. I have room in my heart to love them both. And Elden Ring's certainly far from perfect, given that apparently the only easy way to play the game at a consistent 60 FPS is to play the PS4 version on a PS5 (I played the PS5 version on PS5), and it has other technical hiccups like very obvious pop-in for things like grass, or other shadow related visual oddities.

Even design wise, as fun as the mini dungeons usually are, they are extremely lacking in visual variety, I'd almost say even more so than the Chalice Dungeons in Bloodborne. It just didn't sink in until later in Elden Ring because each mini dungeon is only about the size of one floor of a Chalice Dungeon, and those were typically four or five floors each. On the flip side, some of the later ones have some truly mind bending layouts, even if they are using the same level pieces as the ones from early in the game.

Of course even if the aesthetic feels repetitious, at least it makes consistent sense in the lore, and I can't complain about that. I remember people making that same complaint about Bloodborne at the time, how all of Yharnam “looked the same,” but I think history has landed much more on the “Bloodborne is a modern classic” side of things, so a little samey-ness is far from the end of the world. And again, that's really only in those mini dungeons, the different areas in the over world all feel distinct, and I've written enough about that for now. All the main dungeons (weirdly officially called “Legacy Dungeons,” though I don't think that term actually appears in game) feel unique, and like the “legacy” of From's games over the last decade.

I love the jars so much.
I love the jars so much.

I do think it's worth noting, that for as awkward as I felt the dual-wielding was early in, by the end of the game...I was dual-wielding again. This time with the Nagakiba as my main (a katana that is no joke about as long as Sephiroth's from FF VII), and the old Uchigatana as my secondary. I still wish there was a way to remap the dual-wield attack button to R1 without also changing the regular right hand light attack button. Ultimately, I just got used to switching between L1 and L2 for attacking and dodging (later with the much more useful and cooler Bloodhound step). That, and giving each the “Cold” affinity so in addition to the blood loss, they also gave enemies frostbite, really helped. It gave me the edge to beat some of Elden Ring's toughest late game fights. And it felt fitting at the end for my Warrior to go back to their dual-wielding roots, as opposed to be bulk of the game where I thought I should have just started as a Samurai.

That does bring up the weapon arts again, which I have kind of mixed feelings on. Like Dark Souls III, weapons come with a weapon art, which is a special skill set to L2 that uses up a bit of the blue FP (Focus Points) meter, as a way to give non-spellcasters something to use that meter for. But unlike Dark Souls III, different arts can be equipped to most weapons, which allows for way more freedom in how to build out the weapons, and your fighting style. Problem being that I settled on dedicating it to a better dodge early in the game, so ultimately I missed out on almost all of the weapon arts. Now, is this more of a me problem than an Elden Ring problem? Yes. But also if the default dodge felt closer to Bloodborne or Sekiro, maybe I wouldn't have felt the need to do that in the first place!

Thankfully both weapon arts and affinities can be freely swapped in and out at any Site of Grace (the bonfire equivalent), at least after a certain point in the game. I think I had to find a specific item to enable that, but it's quick and easy. Same with reallocating flasks between HP and FP, which I didn't remember until re-reading my old blog on Dark Souls III that you had to go to Firelink and talk to Andre to change back then. Certainly have it easier now.

I spent a lot of the game with magic arrows equipped solely because I liked the way they glowed on my character. I only stopped because I started wearing armor with capes that covered the quiver.
I spent a lot of the game with magic arrows equipped solely because I liked the way they glowed on my character. I only stopped because I started wearing armor with capes that covered the quiver.

Then there's the magic, which I didn't really dabble in beyond a few spells to do things like cure status ailments or imbue my weapons with elemental damage, but just looking at the sheer breadth of spells, it really feels expanded upon from the earlier games. And different types of magic too, which all have their lore reasons for why they are the way they are. Even if I never used them, I did greatly enjoy acquiring the spells and reading the snippets of lore that came with each.

Aside from the music (which is very good), I think I've written about everything I can without just going deep on spoilers. I could write broadly about the NPCs and their quests, which overall I really liked the ones I found, and completed. Even if in true From fashion, most of them have rather sad endings. Even so, after thinking about it, I'd say Elden Ring has not only the most NPCs of any From game in the last decade, but also the best collection of them.

I'm going to be thinking about the likes of Blaidd, Iji, Roderika, Iron Fist Alexander, Jar Bairn, Millicent, Nepheli Loux, and Ranni for some time to come, just to name a handful. Or more than that. Even the boss characters are more interesting than previous games, to the point where several of them I wished there was some way to not kill them, so they could be real characters too. I'd just be remiss if I didn't include Malenia, Starscourge Radahn (again, I just love the word “starscourge”) and his beloved but scrawny horse Leonard in the characters I'll be thinking about for some time to come.

And also that guy that sells shrimp and crab because my friend Jay is obsessed with him and his line, “Marika's tits, you must be hongry!” By association now I can't get that out of my head, so thank you Jay, even though I know you probably won't read this, haha.

I think rather than write a whole novella, I'll keep this blog spoiler free (or light since I mentioned the names of NPCs and locations), and save the deep discussion of all the cool deep lore stuff that I can't get out of my brain, and the late game bosses that I think are super cool for reasons I don't want to spoil for people...until next time. For now, I'll say that Elden Ring is something special, and while I can't know how I'll feel about it in the years to come, but I have a distinct feeling it may end up another “all time favorite” for me.

I'm curious what the future holds for Elden Ring. With it selling twelve million copies so fast, this clearly won't be the end. I'm hoping there's DLC in the works, I've certainly heard some theories from friends about cut content being brought back for DLC, and that'd be cool.

Until then, thanks as always for reading! And if you've also played the game, I guess look forward to a followup blog of me rambling about the lore and stuff??

This pic of Alexander is for you, Tom.
This pic of Alexander is for you, Tom.
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