I Played - Elden Ring - My First Souls Game
I hate Souls Games, always have and yet somehow, Elden Ring might be one of my favourite video game releases this year. In this little article I will do my best to explain how a player like me, one who still doesn’t know how to successfully parry attacks and never reads item descriptions for the lore, got drawn into his first SoulsBorne.
We start with a prologue though, with statements like:
How does a new entry in this subgenre entice me, the hater, to sink over 100 hours of gameplay into it?
It was certainly not as straight forward as it may seem. As a matter of fact, I bounced off of Elden Ring the very first time I played it. I was awed by its majestic scale and lavish visual design. The opening area of Limgrave is awash in spring vegetation and its eye-catching centerpiece, the golden Erdtree, is always in eyeshot in the horizon, occasionally shedding its golden leaves upon the player. The visual design is of great importance to me because I have famously failed to play or get into some universally critically acclaimed games simply because they looked too dark (I See you Bioshock). I had similar issues with Bloodborne, the other fan favourite entry in the FromSoftware catalogue. Anyhow, Limgrave was different from Blighttown or any of the other iconic Souls games’ locations because it was so pretty to behold. It awoke my impulse to explore…and explore I did.
I started by taking my Astrologer (Elden Rings version of the mage class) to the Eastern side of the map and found myself in a tunnel, opened the treasure chest which trapped and transported me to a cave that sent me to another cave with even tougher enemies. These guys were absolutely 1 shotting me with their attacks and after hours of struggling I managed to escape the cave to an absolutely horrifying rotting landscape with a blood red sky and haunting ambient music. This at level 1, with no new items! I unwittingly found myself……. in Caelid.
I unwittingly found myself........in Caelid.
After bashing my head against that wall I ALT- F4’d out of the game and decided that the game was not meant for me. I gave it a fair shot, I played a good 4 hours of it, I died hundreds of times! I even learnt how to dodge roll through attacks and for what? All to no avail.
This next point is the most important thing that players like me and new players must realise about playing a “Souls game”; the games are decidedly obtuse by design, the creators and its fans seem to adore this aspect of the game so much that it seeps into every single mechanic of the game. The only way to get to know how to do stuff in this game or to know where to go or what to do (for players like me) is to consult a guide or ask someone. I did both of those things and rerolled my character, this time opting for something that I figured suited my playstyle a lot more. A dual wielding sword fighter with a bow and arrow.
I don’t think it would be controversial to say Torrent is probably the second best horse ever designed for a video game
With my new character, some experience under my belt and a guide to consult, I managed to finally find Melina, the fairy like guide of the game that acts as your maiden and gives you the ability to level up and to summon a horse. The horse named Torrent is arguably the best mechanical and game design decision of the entirety of this open world game. It feels wonderful to control, has a double jump and can be summoned from anywhere as long as it’s not an instanced area. As a matter of fact Torrent is very much an equalizer in some open world Boss fight encounters and tough enemy scenarios. I don’t think it would be controversial to say Torrent is probably the second best horse ever designed for a video game (Shadow of the Collosus’ Agro is clearly number one cmon now, CMON NOW).
With the ability to level up understood and a trusty steed at my beck and call, the game suddenly opened up, and for the first time I actually felt like I was progressing. I was gradually beating tougher enemies, I managed to complete some optional side dungeons and beat a few bosses, I even held my own against the dreaded gatekeeper of the realm, The Tree Sentinel. I got into the groove of things and somehow for the first time in my life, I was enjoying a Souls game.
I got into the groove of things and somehow for the first time in my life, I was enjoying a Souls game.
THERE IS NO QUEST LOG
There are a few things that I still found frustrating about my slow progression through the game which I feel new players who may have similar preferences to mine should understand.
The game has no quest log at all and the game gives you zero direction.
This is my biggest gripe with the game after 100 hours of play. The game has no quest log at all and gives you zero direction. There are hints in the environment and some NPC’s, which if you can decipher their somber dialogue and cryptic fantasy lingo will direct you to the right paths, but other than that you are left to you own devices all the time. This has led me to find myself beating my head against multiple walls in areas that are way too difficult for me at times. The game will not tell you this, you just have to sort of guess or give up and go elsewhere.
There are some instances where I felt like I had completed an area or completed an NPC’s side quest only to find out online via twitter or by exploring in the world that I was wrong. I understand that this lack of information is a major selling point for most FromSoft fans but it is still a major point of frustration for a gamer like myself.
I think a good middle ground would be a quest log similar to Divinity: Original Sin 2’s quest log system. The game only logs what your party does after they do it. This way you can refer back to the log incase you forget the quest or you quadruple dip on questlines which is a common occurrence in open world RPGs. The quest log also does not tell you where to go or put markers on the map. It does however give the vaguest of directions like “leave the island.” In my humble opinion, I do not think having a quest log of this nature would ruin the free exploration and discovery aspect of Elden Ring, I actually believe it would enhance the game somewhat. And for die hard fans who believe its making the game easier, you can always opt to just not open that menu in the game..
POSSIBILITY TO HAVE COMPLETELY USELSS CHARACTER OPTIMISATION
The ability to Min-Max character attributes and morph certain classes into funky hybrids like SpellSwords or Strength based Mages is absolutely fascinating.
Elden Ring allows the player to completely customize the players attributes anyway they like. This is great and one of the main reasons I enjoy the game. The ability to Min-Max character attributes and morph certain classes into funky hybrids like SpellSwords or Strength based Mages is absolutely fascinating. However, it is very possible and more likely than not for newer players to place attribute points and create a mid game or late game character that is completely useless because of this freedom and lack of guidance.
THE USER INTERFACE AND USER EXPERIENCE THING
The developers are listening and they are improving the game.
A lot of this will be conjecture so bear with me. I am going to assume that the weird choices made by the designers on what buttons exit maps, and how to summon, how to use the inventory, telling the player what the new big item they just got from that boss actually is, where it is in the inventory and what it does… sigh. This game plays by its own rules and I respect that. However, there is no harm in going by industry conventions for some tried and tested universal things. There was an update a few weeks after launch that highlighted important NPC’s on the map (seeing as they move and are sometimes needed to complete vital quests) which was very welcome. So the developers are listening and they are improving the game. I will say though, I find it funny now that it took me a good 10 hours to figure out how to equip and fire the secondary arrows for my bow smh.
DYING MULTIPLE TIMES IS A FEATURE
Failure sucks and for most of us death or being stuck on a puzzle for hours is an infinitely frustrating ordeal that usually means we missed something fundamental in the game. Not in Elden Ring, you have to train yourself to understand that dying is a core part of the game. Sometimes the game even sets up ambushes and traps that are in hindsight kind of hilarious. For new players like myself, this took a lot of getting used to. Death is also a core part of the lore of the game and in previous entries was even tied to some core mechanics. My advice, try to switch your mindset to understand that you will die multiple times and that’s okay.
Understand that you will die multiple times and that’s okay.
With all these caveats out of the way I can say almost anyone can enjoy this weird little subgenre of video game. There is a lot to discover in this game and while its little intricacies and tendencies can take a lot to get used to the fun to be had at the end of it all is in my opinion worth it. I have found that I am enjoying the game much less as I progress to the end game, possibly because I have no idea what is going on story wise and it does feel like a bloated 3rd act. However, the first 20 or 30 hours of the opening area are so good especially now that I know exactly what to do and how to play.
The first 20 or 30 hours of the opening area are so good!
I still would not recommend it to everyone, it is infinitely frustrating to get a hang of the game. But if you can get past the games’ insistence on obscurity and obtuse systems, you could potentially have one of the greatest experiences you have ever had playing a video game.
The toxic community of try-hards has done a major disservice to the game over the years because for a long time the main reason I didn’t give these games a go was because they sold it falsely as a game whose only merits are its difficulty. This I can tell you now is false. These games are hard yes but they are no harder than most platformers and once you get the hang of their weird systems and rules you get to cheese it and bend it to your will.
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