By the time I got an Elden Ring review code, it was release day. I was at work and couldn’t download it until Friday night. Which meant I couldn’t play it until Saturday night, time and TV access permitting (which is not always a thing). Life is busy, full of commitments that don’t align with a From Software title. Notorious as they are for not allowing the game to be paused.
THIS REVIEW APPROACHES ELDEN RING DIFFERENTLY
Basically, eschewing the ‘review’ part of the process as deftly as the game itself allows you bounce off strident moments for unguided exploration. I don’t need to tell you what the game is about, because all the other reviews have done that. I don’t need to tell you it is difficult or vast. Nor do I need to make obligatory references to Breath of the Wild. I don’t need to tell you that I’ve only ‘scratched the surface’. What I want to tell you is whether this is worth playing from my point of view, as someone who loved Dark Souls, liked Dark Souls II, gave up on Dark Souls III and found Sekiro far beyond any possible ability given the lack of time available to commit to it. Oh, I loved Bloodborne!
If you are like me and have maybe 40 minutes at a time to play, every odd day, with the rare, glorious span of perhaps two hours (gasp!) unfettered gaming time, then the prospect of a From Software title is both daunting and bittersweet. After all, how can you dive back into such a game when you prefer to choose sleep over bleary-eyed late nights and when the marital friction is not worth gunning for TV time? My muted interest was perked to hear that Elden Ring is a bit different, a bit more open to shorter sessions. More respectful of your time, and – most interestingly – more accommodating to players who just want to circumvent choke points.
NOPE NOPE NOPE
Please know that I am in this for a long haul. I do not plan to get halfway through Elden Ring in six months. I’ll likely be playing it years from now, slowly working my way, terrified at every step but also loving it, such is the awful mix of dread and pleasure that these games provide. This therefore is not a review from the other side, but from the inside.
Inside the pleasant ten-minute dip of exploration, when Elden Ring becomes almost relaxing. Inside the mic drop as a terrifying nightmare creature spots you. Or some weird Imp Goblin thing jumps out from behind a rock with 20 of his yipping buddies. Inside the wondrous ebb and lull of this masterful weave of difficulty and discovery.
I do not know what anything is, what anything does, why I’ve missed things other people are discussing, or where I’m meant to be, if indeed there is any defined path to be taken. I think there . . . is? At least the bonfires, sorry Grace Sites, seem to indicate there is. Yet I managed to avoid my first proper boss encounter by discovering a passage around and past its location, stumbling across more weird creatures and a swampland as vast as Hyrule Field. Then I got vaporised by a tank flamethrower.
HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE
The ability to teleport to any discovered location directly from the map screen means that Elden Ring soon becomes a striated experience as you push and pull at various personal goals. Will I gather enough runes to level up, or should I buy that thing from that weirdo instead? Do I need more arrows? How can I craft them? Perhaps I should be killing those summersaulting sheep for materials to make some. And then there’s that cave dungeon thing I found that was too hard for me a few hours ago. Maybe I’m ready for it now. What – there’s a whole section to the southeast?!
And the best thing is – you can play this for five or ten minutes and then leave it. Sure, three-hour sessions are great, but so is knowing that I can quickly find something amazing and feel sated with that small taste while my wife waters the garden. For so long I have felt left behind, accepting that From Software caters to hardcore gamers who don’t need to answer the door. Yet here, it seems, is a game that can at last cater to both, and I am loving that.
In one fell swoop, From Software has redefined how to provide accessible difficulty, allowing easier summoning of NPC helpers and other players, as well as weaker spirit summons that can provide essential distractions for encounters. This is combined with design that allows you to creep the heck out of the world, bypassing enemy encampments completely.
ELDEN RING, A WORLD OF HOPE
What I am feeling with Elden Ring is something I thought I had long lost with From Software games – hope. I am hopeful that I will stick with it, and gain slow competence, perhaps even mastery of some small slice of this world. Hopeful that I can push through the game, bypassing a lot of it, yes, but still making my own way. I am hopeful that I will stick with it when it is difficult, finding ways to cheese bosses or utilise new builds. And I am hopeful that after some time, things will become familiar, and I will lean into this beautifully dangerous place rather than cut hesitantly. After all, one of the greatest pleasures of these games is to plough through sections of them in moments when such progress previously took hours.
I think I’m down with Elden Ring, and that is just as exciting as playing it. Will I beat every boss? Nope. Will I understand even half of the requirements for its hidden questlines? No way. But what I will do is be present. I will be there, witnessing, searching, looking, gathering, and farming.
And yes, hiding in the bushes.