Elden Ring - Squashbert

Every once in a while, a game comes along that feels important. From the moment you enter its world, you know you’re playing something special, something that will leave a mark on you as a person and on the games industry at large. You begin to feel the ground move beneath your feet and you know there’s no turning back — the way you think about what a video game can do has changed forever.

The first game I think I could say that about is Final Fantasy VII. Minecraft was the same way (I came across it while it was still in alpha), and more recently, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

I just played Elden Ring for three hours, and it feels like it’s one of those games. So here’s my story…

When asked to pick a character class, I was struggling between a classic sword user and a spellcaster, so I eventually settled into the Prisoner class, which, by default, wields a sword in one hand and a staff in the other. He’s a wretched little man with a frail body, decked out in rags and wearing a horrible iron mask. I named him Squashbert, and I love him.

Elden Ring - Squashbert

I tend to play Dark Souls (and similar games) really slowly. At first, I’ll stay close to a campfire, methodically getting the lay of the land and killing just a few enemies before heading back to the campfire and spending my souls. For me, these games are about learning, and I won’t leave an area before I’ve pretty much mastered it, knowing every enemy location and plotting a quick path through where I know I have the upper hand in every encounter.

So I didn’t get very far in three hours. I didn’t explore any dungeons or take down any of the game’s intimidating bosses. I mostly hung out around the Church of Elleh, slowly venturing further and further into the woods to the north as I started stockpiling runes (Elden Ring‘s version of souls). But there’s so much to see and do just in this early section that it would be a shame to just blast through it without taking in the sights, sounds, and secrets it offers.

One thing I was worried about with Elden Ring is that it would just be a Dark Souls game stretched out across a bigger world — but that’s not the case, as every area here feels just as lovingly crafted as any area in a Dark Souls game, just bigger. It feels like no matter where you go, even places far off the beaten path, there are wonders to behold, secrets to uncover, and odd little details to marvel at.

So I spent a ton of time in the woods north of the Church of Elleh. There are soldiers patrolling these woods, so I got my first real taste of the game’s combat here. These guys walk slowly, so they’re approachable from behind, and they carry torches, so they’re easy to spot from a distance, especially at night.

Elden Ring - Stealth

Elden Ring‘s stealth system feels incredible. There are bushes to hide in while you wait for an enemy to get into position, then you can slowly make your way behind them and go for an easy stealth kill. But if you don’t quite manage to pull off the stealth kill, you’ll have to engage these guys in combat. And I have to say, the combat here feels really good. It’s snappy and responsive, faster and cleaner than combat in Dark Souls (though perhaps my character class has something to do with that). This still has that weighty feeling to it, but Squashbert is a lot more nimble than I was expecting, especially coming off of Dark Souls III.

And then there’s the magic side of my repertoire. I started out with a spell called Magic Glintblade, which took me a little bit to get used to, but once I had it mastered, I was really cleaning house with it. The spell summons a magical sword that takes a little bit to materialize, then it hovers in the air for a moment before flinging itself directly into the heart of whichever enemy I’ve locked onto. I think there might be a way to speed up the process — because this takes a bit of time — but I haven’t figured that out yet. Even so, Magic Glintblade is fast becoming a critical piece in my arsenal.

Elden Ring - Magic Glintblade

One thing to know about this first set of guards is that if you have the patience to grind here for a bit, you can eventually get them to drop an entire set of armor, piece by piece. I do have the patience for that, and I did manage to acquire the full set — minus the headpiece, but that’s okay, because I don’t know if I’m ready to ditch Squashbert’s creepy iron mask just yet.

Once I finally decided to move beyond this patch of woods, I came upon Gatefront Ruins. Here, there are more of those soldiers, only they’re clustered together more tightly, and some of them have shields and spears. One of them has two wolves at his side, and another has a horn to alert his fellow soldiers. They made short work of me the first time I encountered them, because I was anticipating the slow, mindless fighting style of the guys in the woods. But after taking my time and using the crumbling walls as cover, I managed to clear out the whole ruins and claim the treasure beneath them, the Whetstone Knife. This is a tool for applying battle arts and affinities to weapons, so I definitely recommend picking this up.

I also managed to acquire the Godrick Knight Armor, which is a step up from the Tree-and-Beast Surcoat that the guards in the woods drop. It also has a cape, so it looks awesome.

Just beyond Gatefront Ruins is another campfire. Here, I met Melina, a mysterious woman who gave me a ring that summons Torrent, a spectral horned horse. She’s also the one I need to talk to if I want to level up (instead of just spending all my runes at the vendor in the Church of Elleh).

Elden Ring - Torrent

I monkeyed around with mounted combat for a bit, and it’s thrilling. Torrent has a double jump and a dash, so you can dart around and over your opponents at lightning speed. Tough brutes on horseback don’t stand a chance against the sheer speed of your mounted moves (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration — you can still get trounced if you’re not being careful).

Now, just past Melina’s campfire is an arch, and once I stepped through it, I was spotted by a couple archers. I rushed in, hoping to take them down before they whittled my health down to nothing, but a massive troll dropped down from above. I lured it back through the archway so I could fight it one-on-one instead of getting pelted with arrows the whole time, but even then, this thing was out of my league.

At that point, I realized it was almost 2 a.m., so I shut down the game and went to bed, anticipating the adventures to follow. Perhaps I’ll find a way past that troll, or maybe I’ll circle back and explore the eastern path, which wraps around a lake and heads back south of the Stranded Graveyard, where I first started.

Either way, I can already tell there are wonderous adventures to be had in Elden Ring, and I am falling head-over-heels for this game. I don’t think I’ve felt this way about a game world since Breath of the Wild. It’s hard to even put my finger on what it is that feels so magical about this place, but it’s just so well-realized, so lovingly constructed, that I anticipate spending 100 or more hours getting lost in it.

Onward, Torrent!

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