Elden Ring

 in which I am finally tempted to return to this site to get down some thoughts having recently rolled the credits on From Software's epic.


First up, as most of you know, I'm a massive Dark Souls fan. That is to say, I was a huge fan of the first one, but my engagement with the series dropped off with each successive attempt. To me, the sequels missed what made the first one so good. They were still excellent and, if anything, the combat mechanics only got better and better - smoother, less opaque. But the level design really suffered in my opinion. And don't get me started on the fast travel or the Ring of Life Protection.

Free Roam

The first and most important thing about Elden Ring is its structure. It's an open world adventure and boy, what a world. The vistas are stunning - from rolling grasslands to snowy mountaintops to the obligatory poisonous swamp...

And you really can go wherever the hell you'd like. Not since Oblivion have I felt that same sense of freedom to just fuck off into the distance and see what's over there*. You're pretty much free to pick and choose where to go right from the start and this is really cool, making this the most accessible Soulsborne game ever. Except this is where, I think, the problems start.

Dark Souls was all about mastery. Mastery of your character and their abilities. Mastery over the terrain and the acquisition of The Knowledge. Mastery of the denizens and their brutal attack patterns. You had to Git Gud before you could progress onto the next challenge - there was pretty much no other choice. Elden Ring does away with that. The freedom is a real double edged sword in that, faced with a proper challenge, you've always got the easy option to just... not do it. Go somewhere else instead. And as big as the world is, pretty soon you'll have filled it with a series of challenges that you've kicked down the road as being too hard and then you're screwed. Plus you'll have no idea of just where exactly you were supposed to be and what you were doing.

Again, I have to stress that the open world-ness is brilliant and it was a long time before I came to the above conclusion. Right up until that point, I was really enjoying it.

The challenge side of things still works too - it's filled with moments of triumph. Of "I did it!" - beating Margit. Escaping from that crystal tunnel having being teleported by an errant chest trap. Defeating all comers in the Great Pot challenge. Taking down your first Giant. Or Dragon. Or Giant Dragon.

So why am I so down on it? All of that was a lot of fun.

Too Big?

In short, I think fatigue is the answer here.

The game is fecking HUGE. Steam tells me I've clocked up 176 hours. That's one character, one playthrough. I'd guess that the first two thirds of that were awesome - I was exploring, I was dropping into every cavern, catacomb and ruined castle, trying to find each and every item. Smite every foe.

Bigger isn't always better. One of the large tradeoffs would be things like the caves and catacombs - modular locations that try to be creative with the building blocks they've been given, but, at the end of the day, once you've seen one, you've seen them all. The larger, set-piece locations were pretty good, mind. Not as tightly orchestrated and clever as Dark Souls, but still pretty good.

Funnily enough, I normally rail against Fast Travel - but it's handled very well here. Sidenote: Torrent is OP and I love him.

Then I was done with it. Burned out. There was just too much. It could have been about half as long and I'd have been fine. Now I was only interested in finishing the damn thing so I could get on with something else. It's like I had to complete it out of spite rather than because I was particularly invested in what happens.

Thinking about it, it's not just the environment. There's a breadth of mechanic here that defies belief. You've got runes and big runes and ashes and summons, and 3, 4 different types of upgrade resource? It's all just a bit overwhelming really. Case in point would be when you pick something up from the mid-game or later and you spend half an hour browsing through your inventory in a futile attempt to find it. Which cookbook did I just pick up? Was that thing a Key Item or a piece of Info?

Too. Many. Things.


But one of the biggest issues I think I had is because I just didn't give a damn about any of the characters.

Actually, that's not true - Alexander was awesome. And Blaidd and that lass with the one arm. I also very much enjoyed the opportunity to kill off Patches before he could invariably try to fuck me over. 

The others were just... I don't know. I think the problem I had was that I just couldn't pick them out of a line up - the obsession with starting them each with either a G, R or M made them just so hard to tell apart. Godfrey. Godrick. Gerald. Margit. Morgott. Malfred. Ranni. Radagon. Radahn. Rennanstimpy. Why was I looking for this person again? Wait - was he the one that was also his sister's husband?

Couple that with the method in which the series forwards the narrative - meeting a character in successive locations. This was a great vehicle in the more linear layout of the Souls games, but Elden Ring was just too sprawling to pull it off. In the end, I think the only character whose arc I completed was Alexander** - I lost track of Blaidd around the big crater and never finished Lady One-Arm as, by then, I just wanted to see the end.


By far, the most frustrating part of this entire thing were the invasions. And yes, I know it's part of the very DNA of the Soulsborne games and this is only really a problem to do with the way I was trying to experience the game - in co-op with a friend - but Elden Ring's mechanics seems to have leant themselves to a big divergence in PVP vs PVE builds.

Your average Host of Fingers is always going to be at a disadvantage. They're probably specced out for whatever environment they're in. They've probably used a good portion of their resources already. The invader is entirely rigged for PVP. Not just that, but the lion's share of them appear to be set up to PVP you in the most irritating or exploitative way possible. Layering on obscure status effects, or kiting you into mob-filled areas knowing that no harm will befall them.

(BTW I love the variety of builds and weapons. I love the fact that you're very unlikely to meet two players kitted out in the same way. I love the fact that this guy felt like My Guy who is very different from Your Guy***.)

If it felt in anyway like a fair fight - a contest of skill between two parties - I'd be fine with it. But no - these trolls always seemed to rock up with ridiculous gear in places where one-mistep and I lose everything but they lose nothing. Even the supposed advantage of us outnumbering the little red shit didn't seem to pay dividends at all.

I could play the game solo - or, at least, me and that big minotaur archer chap I'd drag out when the game would let me. But that's not how I played all of the other Souls games and the co-op side of things is really what we were interested in.

Doom and Gloom

I'm not painting a particularly rosy picture of this game and that does it a massive disservice. It's an amazing game, set in an amazing world with a really tight combat engine. 

Did I enjoy it? Hell yes. To a point. Should you play it? Absolutely. It's one of the most significant games to come out in the last decade and the minute-to-minute gameplay is super tight.

But it's too big and bloated and hella confusing.

* Spoiler alert: death. Lots and lots of death.

** Did I mention death?

*** I'm aware that this kinda sits at odds with the 'Too many things' missive from earlier, but kit is at least relatively easier to find due to being filtered quite effectively.


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