Elden Ring – A Game of Two Parts
Elden Ring is a difficult game to talk about. Not least of which, because there is a very heightened sense of concern for spoilers for any content so much as breathing the game’s name. So to set the scene for this post quickly — for the most part I’m going to avoid specifics entirely. By which I mean, I won’t detail which bosses belong to which area. I won’t talk about puzzles or their solutions. NPCs I’ve found. Any of that. Even my broader sweeping examples of gameplay experience, I’ll constrain to referencing from the opening Limgrave region.
As much as I do generally believe sensitivity to spoilers has reached some fairly insane heights in some quarters1, Elden Ring in many ways justifies a degree of paranoid protection from unwanted information. So much of the experience is wrapped in discovering the world for yourself and finding what’s out there and how to survive in the Lands Between. Well… For most of us, perhaps. There is a whole other school of thought that will involve consuming every bit of ‘Get Overpowered Early!!1!!’ content that gets produced. And that’s certainly valid too, but not what I’ll be covering here.
As for myself, my opening hours of Elden Ring were steeped in terror. I was jumping at my own shadow just about. There was an enticing mix of anticipation and worry at what lurked around the next corner. I was still rusty with the controls and the simple, seemingly innocent enough addition of a jump button (displacing interact from its usual place as a result) all contributed to losing the perhaps necessary mindset of casting the fear of death aside. To embrace the knowledge that runes (or souls, in previous game’s parlance) are an infinite resource. Losing them — even a significant number of them — is merely a temporary setback.
So while the jumpiness has, for the most part, passed now some 30 odd hours in… The sense of wonder and discovery is still very much alive.
Part One: The Open World
After a brief (optional) tutorial sequence, you’re let loose on the world. There is some minimal guidance given which you’re free to follow or ignore as you see fit.
It is the open world that received the most concern ahead of Elden Ring’s launch. FromSoftware’s game design relied so much on closed but interconnected spaces that it was difficult to imagine how this might even translate.
UltrViolet has already written on his displeasure for the open-world segment of the game. For myself, I’ve found enough in it to keep it enjoyable. There is a wide range of content strewn around it from the miniature, small encampments of enemies or ruins for example, through to smaller dungeons capped with a boss, up to entire forts that can take some time to work your way through.
Elden Ring’s rendition of the open world isn’t, thankfully, a list of highlighted points to be ticked off like a list. Even once you find the map fragment for an area, at most you’ll see the outlines of certain ruins or the circle where an Evergaol may possibly be. It’s up to you to venture forth and see what is actually there and what rewards you might earn for the discovery.
Even with all this though, it is undeniable that this part of the game is different from the Souls games we’ve had to date.
It’s… easier, for a start. It is designed to keep you exploring almost as long as you wish to, without having to stop and rest at a Grace point if you don’t want to. Largely this is achieved by way of restoring your health and focus (mana) flasks when you eliminate a pack of enemies while you’re out in the open world.
As much as I do enjoy all this — if this was the sum total of the game… Well; no doubt something would feel off. Missing. I might even hazard going far enough to say it would be a disappointment. If this was all there was. Thankfully though, that isn’t the case.
Part Two: The Dungeon Experience
Entering a dungeon in many ways is restoring the classic Dark Souls experience. Or at least this is certainly the case where the moderate to large (the largest of all being referred to as Legacy Dungeons) are concerned.
Even from the smallest of dungeons though, the open-world safety rails are turned off. You need to make it through without the benefit of replenishing flasks. If you use too many flask charges getting to the boss… Well; that’s it. Do better next time! … Or perhaps, find a better path… And do it without the benefit of your trusty steed.
As I noted earlier, From is known for making their spaces interconnect. One of the ways this is often achieved is by way of having new routes and shortcuts open as you work your way through. You might find a door that opens only from the far side. A ladder you can kick down for future use. An elevator that requires activation from the distant position or even with a key.
The smaller dungeons scattered with surprising density around the landscape offer but a taste of this, the more moderate to large areas though are classic Dark Souls at its finest. The secret spice which ties Elden Ring together into a complete feeling package.
The addition of a normal jump, seemingly such a small thing, adds to the exploration options as well. Getting up on the rooftops and navigating from up high is often a valid and exciting way of getting where you want to be.
Is Elden Ring the Most Accessible FromSoftware Souls Game?
It has been said — in some quarters coming across as an accusation — that Elden Ring is the most accessible FromSoftware Souls game.
I’m… not entirely convinced this is true.
The logic goes that there are now more options than ever to adjust the difficulty for yourself. You can choose to use NPC Ash Summons in many difficult areas, for example. Plus the mini-dungeon bosses are typically some of the easiest From has put forward to date. And heck, if something is too hard you can almost always just go around it and come back later when you’ve powered up through levels and/or new gear.
All of that is true, I don’t dispute any of it.
But equally, Elden Ring’s scope is just so vast it could be daunting to a newcomer. I can’t help but wonder if a more tightly controlled and curated experience like Dark Souls 1 might be an easier launching point. Not to mention — even though, yes, sure, you can go around them — that the opening major boss of the game at the first legacy dungeon is probably one of the most difficult starter bosses From has ever offered.
If you are coming to Elden Ring new, the one piece of advice I’d give unsolicited is not to beeline straight there. Take a look around the rest of Limgrave first. Maybe even take a wander South to the Weeping Peninsula. Just… Look around a while before you give the first major dungeon a serious go. :)
Want a bit more of a feel for how it is to play? Then UltrViolet again has you covered, starting here with Part 1, chronicling his journey from the start of the game, followed up by Part 2 and Part 3, currently ending with a journey past the Stormgate.