Elden Ring has been one of the most anticipated releases in 2022, and today it continues to give something to talk about. And no wonder; the Soulsborne caused a revolution in the role to create its genre. Thus, Hidetaka Miyazaki has set a new standard for designing challenges in a video game. His works have become the main protagonists of the cyclical debate on the difficulty of video games. Elden Ring, how could it be otherwise, revived the question of whether Souls should have an access mode in favor of attracting new players who feel overwhelmed by a challenge whose fame precedes it. However, how difficult is Elden Ring? Is it possible to progress and enjoy it without prior Souls experience? To prove it, I have decided to become a Lightless.
Did curiosity kill the Sinluz?
My experience with the Souls has been relatively brief; I flirted with Bloodborne in a temporary session out of curiosity. I thought it was a beautiful game, but I decided to put it on hold because, at the time, it wasn’t the kind of game I was looking for. This is a feeling that I think all gamers have experienced: sometimes, we find ourselves with a title that we recognize as excellent but that we have not played at the right time. We end up leaning towards other titles on our shelf with which we connect better.
Pure curiosity brought me to Elden Ring. It is impossible to ignore Souls, even if you are clear that your profile as a player is to look for titles to relax and with a minimum challenge. And it should be said that there is a dark legend surrounding Souls about its devilish difficulty, grueling challenge, and elitist and toxic community. And, as in all legends, there is more hype than reality.
Of course, Elden Ring is not a walk in the country. But when we talk about Souls, we forget that complex titles have always existed on the market, along with much more affordable ones. Cuphead brought us a boss rush that was as difficult as it was aesthetically delicious, and let’s not forget the arcade era in which we left the savings on titles like Ghosts & Goblins. Thus, no player is oblivious to the difficulty of a game and can prepare his patience before spending hours and hours on Elden Ring.
However, is Elden Ring an impossible game for a Souls novice?
It is necessary to define what difficulty is. Our colleague Fran J. Brenda had already delved into this issue: In this way, for example, we can classify as ‘logical difficulty’ the need to assimilate and adequately apply the rules of the virtual world (graphic adventures revolve around it), as ‘tactical difficulty’ to the elaboration of optimal strategies(with medium-long term views in genres such as RPGs), as ‘spatial difficulty’ to the ability to orient and memorize in non-linear levels (hello, Metroidvania) and as ‘mechanical difficulty to the skill executing actions through of the control interface (which is not limited to combat and can focus on the motor aspect, see pinpoint-precision platforms such as Celeste).
After several sessions with Elden Ring, I discovered that it is not a game that requires exceptional skills from the player but rather that we reconfigure certain conventions learned from the role. When it came to character building, I was overwhelmed by the range of attributes. While some are very self-explanatory, others are not so. Finally, I decided to make a confessor armed with a sword and shield. Protecting myself with security was the advice given to me by a good friend.
My curious nature makes me investigate alternative paths to the one that the game suggests as the main one, and this is why I didn’t skip the tutorial where I learned the basic mechanics. And this is where I found the first boss, the one they put in the tutorial to remind you where you are and where you’ve gotten. A boss. One of those with a life bar occupies the screen’s bottom space. And, after three attempts applying the dodge, the attack from behind, I felt that own and addictive satisfaction of having overcome a challenge. Not one of those severe challenges, but a challenge nonetheless.
This tutorial reaffirmed what I already knew about Souls and what has become shared gaming wisdom. As a good work From Software, Elden Ring punishes mistakes a lot. In that sense, I compare it to a hyper-realistic experience: in real life, a warrior dies from one or two cuts, and in Elden Ring as well. Even the game is allowed to license magic and fast healing.
Learn to seek your light and guidance
Emerging from the Cave of Knowledge (more than appropriate name), you discover with some embarrassment that said boss is nothing more than a foot soldier empowered for the encounter. And you immerse yourself in the whole Elden Ring experience. Unlike other RPGs, you don’t have a guide that reveals everything you need to take into account in the game. You are alone with your resources, and you are the one who must know between the lines of each death to learn the lesson.
Like Bloodborne, Elden Ring seems to be an excellent game, with overwhelming imagery and preciousness that gives the game the personality that sets it apart from the classic medieval fantasy RPG. As we well know, the lore of Elden Ring does not follow a classic linear narrative but is presented as a puzzle in which the same player looks for and fits the pieces, and this way of unfolding the story of the game is becoming curious to me. Miyazaki himself has recounted in interviews that this is the type of experience that he wants to reflect as a designer, according to what he told him in the presentation of Déraciné: As a child, I read books intended for an older audience, and I had trouble understanding some words or concepts. Then I would fill in those gaps in the story with my imagination or pick up the reading years later. This process has influenced my narrative design, and I like to create in the player the satisfaction of understanding a complex universe.
And so, I have remained curious to learn more about the Elden Ring universe and the characters I meet along the way, and with whom the conversation varies with each interaction. I highlight literary English they speak at the sound level, with an exquisite diction that rounds off the set. And the unexpected encounters in certain routine activities are also surprising, such as sitting down to rest in a place in Gracia, and suddenly a cinematic is activated to meet someone extraordinary.
Elden Ring is a game as beautiful as it is challenging, but it’s the kind of compelling challenge that encourages you to try again instead of repelling you. And it is that dispensing with any guide is, at the same time, the door to almost absolute freedom to explore and experiment until you find the correct technique.
The wisdom of choosing fights
Another of the conventions that I was forced to give up in my game is to accept that not all combat is mandatory. Not out of pride. And this is a valuable lesson that you learn within minutes of starting to play. Also, you quickly get used to not underestimating any of the smaller enemies, especially if they are in a group. And, once you assimilate the combat system and are aware of your fragility, minor combats are much more bearable. You build a new routine where you are more alert than in the classic mechanical and boring farming of other RPGs.
After just a few sessions, Elden Ring has settled into my playroom as a background game. I cultivate patience as I explore new areas, try different strategies, and bump into a boss repeatedly. I almost unintentionally encountered Farum Azula’s Beastman and had a few attempts against him. And finally, the Beastman fell, and I jubilantly celebrated. I must say that having returned to fighting games in recent years has given me a borrowed experience of memorizing the opponent’s movements very well to know when to attack or start pressing the dodge button.
And what about the community?
There is always an unpleasant percentage in all fandom, which is the loudest on social networks. I have always seen elite players who have their dogma on how to pass a Souls. However, a large part of the community is not so loud and is much more positive. From the first moment I made it known in video game circles that I was playing Elden Ring, I did not lack proposals to help me, with respect and without paternalism. There are also endless guides with tips and strategies. And Elden Ring is a game that invites you to use all the available tools in your favor.
With Margit alone, I was always close. She almost defeated him, but my confessor finally fell as Margit spat at her and put those ambitions at rest. And failing to an enemy who is a couple of hits away always frustrates and encourages you for one more try.
But I decided to summon a partner, namely Salva. And it lasted two breaths. Accessing the online mode allowed me to see the messages of other Sinluz, among which there were words of encouragement and celebration before and after each boss. And after that victory, we set out to go to the castle that anticipated Godrick, who fell after about four attempts.
Elden Ring leaves you to your fate precisely because it expects another partner to guide you to where you want. Perhaps he will ask you to leave him alone against Melania or give you weapons that he will not use and fit you like a glove. But finally, the Midlands await you. If you have never played a Souls and they overwhelm you, from this side of Elden Ring, I confirm that it is more affordable than it seems. Don’t be shy about using summons or building your character according to your preferences. There is no rush to explore and learn, but it is a game that should and deserves to be taken in well-savored sips.