Elden Ring

FromSoftware has a dedicated fanbase. Love ’em or hate ’em — or simply just tolerate them when a new game comes around until the general temperature of the room returns to normal levels of insufferability — it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a market for their particular brand of games. I personally never saw the appeal. Or rather, I never heard the calling to invest any meaningful amount of time into the Dark Souls series, or the Soulslike genre at large.

And although the classic chorus of “git gud” is often the first thing hurled at anyone who balks at these games, I never really considered the difficulty the be-all and end-all factor behind my decision to avoid these games outright. Lord knows I’ve belabored over my fair share of tedious or trivial tasks within the games I do enjoy.

Though, to be forthright, I typically don’t turn to games for a grueling challenge. I mean, life is already challenging enough. Truth be told, if I wanted to bang my head against a wall while trying to master the skills needed to perform well at something, I would much rather take up an instrument or a foreign language, something with real-world applications rather than simply mastering a boss battle in a video game. 

For me, in addition to the demands of subservience before triumph, the general art style and opaque narratives of FromSoft’s games have always kept me at arm’s length. And really, I’m just not into melee-combat games set in Medieval fantasy worlds. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is pretty much the only game of this sort to land with me, and that’s mostly because it’s just Fallout with swords. But even then, I spend a lot of my time with Skyrim just wishing I were playing Fallout.

Elden Ring - Pumpkin Head

When Elden Ring came rolling around and the video-game community whipped itself into a flutter over it, I hesitated for a bit before finally deciding to give it a try. The main factors that persuaded me were that Half-Glass Gaming’s owner Josh, as well as a buddy at my 9-to-5 (let’s call him Daniel, mostly because that’s his name), both of whom were super hyped about it. Add to that the fact that the collective internet was acting as if it had never played a game this good before, bless their hearts. But the main deciding factor was the talk that Elden Ring was seemingly both the hardest and also the easiest — or most newcomer-friendly — FromSoft game to date. 

And after getting a Skyrim hankering late last year (with the release of the Anniversary Edition), I was itching for more Medieval melee combat — which is a very rare itch for me. So I figured, what the hey? Let’s give it a shot. And give it a shot I did.

I’ve spent about nine hours with Elden Ring so far. Although I would not consider this the best game ever made, nor would I consider this game perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I have mostly enjoyed what I have experienced. There is a definite draw to this game world, though I’m not sure it will hold me long enough to reach whatever the endpoint might be.

With all that said, allow me to unpack my initial impressions of Elder Scrolls as someone who has not spent any quantifiable amount of time with the Soulslike genre.

Elden Ring

First, let me just say that, yes, Elden Ring is pretty difficult. I’m not gonna lie or dance around it. Especially for someone who isn’t used to the razor-thin line between success and defeat that Soulslike games make you walk. Enemies can run roughshod over you in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful. And the difficulty stretches far beyond just how tough the local denizens are. As someone who doesn’t play really a lot of melee-focused RPGs, or games with deep stat systems that play tug of war with min/maxing, there’s a lot to take in here. I’m still wrapping my head around the basics, like what does this stat mean, or how does this other stat affect my ability to use this weapon? 

And considering Elden Ring doesn’t really concern itself with being a gracious host, it’s all mostly left to the player to parse through, either through mindful trial and error or digging into supplementary content or wikis. I admit that I’ve been blowing up Josh’s messenger at all hours of the night.

Now, this isn’t a deal-breaker, nor is it insurmountable in and of itself. Hell, I’ve made quite a bit of headway in these beginning hours. Even though there’s a steep learning curve, the things you learn in the game factor greatly into your success or lack therof.

Elden Ring

Once I started to get past that initial barrier, I was finding a little more success. And since Elden Ring, by all accounts, does offer a lot of options to allow people to find a playstyle more to their liking, being able to actually understand the inner workings of how it all comes together makes “gitting gud” a lot more achievable.

But this doesn’t mean there won’t be blood — there will be blood, copious amounts of it. And most of it is mine. 

But even though this game can be tough as nails and about as transparent as a concrete wall that’s been painted black for good measure, it does at least offer some downright cool enemy designs to distract you while it effectively spanks you for thinking you could play with the big boys. From massive, intricately modeled dragons to outright nightmare-fueling abominations, the detail in most of the larger enemies is quite impressive. Some of the more common grunts can come across as par for the course, but most of the hulking beasts really are sights to behold. 

Elden Ring

And even though there is some polish missing from the environments (at least compared with other contemporary open-world games), I’ve had some real moments of awe. Sometimes I just have to pause, staring out over a valley from atop a ridge and snapping a few screenshots.

The lighting can be rather gorgeous at times, especially when looking out across a landscape at an enormous iridescent tree off in the distance. The sheer level of scaling is quite insane at times also. Some of the enemies you encounter are just massive, and some of the locations can be staggering to behold as well. Seeing a mind-boggling enormous castle resting precariously on a mountainside, or going into what at first seemed like a random cavern only to discover an entire biome unto itself, really sells the impression that you are but a speck in this giant world.

There isn’t a ton of life outside of the enemies other than herds of animals — boars and deer and colossal bears, things of this nature — so I guess that’s how this game can pull off a game space of this size with little to no loading, other than in some instances when you are teleported to smaller arenas or the hub area (Roundtable Hold). There are no towns that are filled with complicated NPC scripting or daily routines like you’d find in, say, Red Dead Redemption 2. That being said, there are a ton of the aforementioned creatures running around, so it isn’t as if this world is barren or lifeless — I just wouldn’t expect to come across anything comparable to Whiterun here.

Elden Ring - Siofra River

As impressive as the world is, you will eventually need to come to terms with the game’s combat system if you want to make any meaningful progress. I normally don’t start a game expecting to not finish it — even though that’s the way those things end up going more often than not. But Elden Ring might be the exception.

As much as I am enjoying my time with it, and even with some small victories piling up, I’m not sure I have the physical dexterity to make any meaningful dent in Elden Ring‘s campaign. I simply don’t have the hand/eye coordination it takes to read enemy movements and attack patterns and respond accordingly. I also lack the patience and fortitude required to get stomped repeatedly, just to find the split-second edge for a perfect dodge-and-attack combo, and then do that repeatedly for however long it takes to chip away at a boss’s generous life bar.

I am by no means throwing in the towel here; I just know that, once the scales are tipped and I find myself just wanting to relax or zone out, I will seek the comfort of something else, like Cyberpunk 2077 or Horizon Forbidden West (both of which I’m also playing right now). I can see myself putting Elden Ring aside to fall back on something a little more forgiving and a little less taxing to unwind with at the end of the day. 

Elden Ring - Stormveil Castle

I will say that if you are curious to see what all of the hubbub is about, but this isn’t normally a game you would play, maybe wait for a sale if you don’t think your level of interest quite justifies a full-price purchase. As it stands, it sounds like the PC version isn’t in the best of shape, so if that was the platform you were thinking of trying Elden Ring on, it’s probably best to wait for a better-quality build anyways.

For what it lacks, Elden Ring does present a compelling world to explore and engage with. The visuals aren’t going to melt your brain, but they’re no slob either. Overall, the color palette does feel sort of faded or muted, but that’s a deliberate choice here. There are some real sights to behold in this world, and the creature designs alone are worth a gander.

Even though I doubt I’ll see Elden Ring to the end, I at least will know that I gave it my all. Even if I never “git gud,” I did my best, and that is gud enough for me.

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