Look, I admit it. I thought Elder ring (opens in new tab) would be complete nonsense. In my defense, it was a fair stance to take: I hate soul likes, and since this was built up in pre-release to become the Ultimate Soulslike Ever, it was no trouble brushing it off. And when it came time to make New Year’s resolutions for 2022, it was an easy joke: I play Elden Ring (opens in new tab).
The time came, I jumped in, and boy, was I right: that was it completely nonsense. The tutorial was somewhat intriguing, but playing with a controller (which I also promised) was a sin against PC gaming. I quickly tossed aside the thumb-numbing device – only to discover that Elden Ring’s mouse and keyboard controls also suck bananas. What a surprise! A bullshit game with bullshit controls. Still, a promise was made. I fought on.
Limgrave’s opening areas were again a bit intriguing – promising, in fact – but clumsy and thin and pointless. And stupid! I died! Of course it’s not easy being a low ranking character in a rough world, but I got my ass handed by every garbage mob I came across. Falling back to backstabs and bows got me as far as the first enemy camp, but after half an hour poking around the edges I got sloppy – and once again I was back at the Site of Grace with zero runes in my pocket.
That’s as far as I got in two weeks, and that was enough. I was right all along: the whole thing was hot crap – an arena for masochists who think Diablo is too complicated. I was ready to quit.
Two timely interventions convinced me to get on the horse again. Senior editor Wes Fenlon took me on a tour of the Limgrave countryside showing me the soul-like ropes, and online editor Fraser Brown made the bold statement that magic is grossly overpowered in Elden Ring. I’m not generally a man who uses magic, but at the time “massively OP” was exactly what I was looking for. Mainly to spoil them (but also, fine, yes, I was curious), I rolled up a full-fledged mage and hardened myself for one more time.
Than, everything changed.
It was like a dam broke. I made more progress in my first night of spells than in weeks of daggers and arrows. I grew in strength, I gained confidence and I pushed outward to what I thought were the distant boundaries of the Lands Between. And that’s when I realized I’d grossly underestimated the sheer scale of Elden Ring: the map continued to stretch, ever-expanding into astonishing new realms that I insisted on excitedly describing to an online friend who found my sudden enthusiasm for the whole thing very tiring. found. (He hasn’t played Elden Ring yet, so he hasn’t seen the light yet.)
My romp through the twisted greenery of the Lands Between was, to quote the great Keanu Reeves, breathtaking. And then I discovered the Lands Between, below: A whole separate underground world that lay beneath my feet, massive and weird and filled with all kinds of new wonders. How come there’s so much real estate crammed into a single game – and how is it all so damn good?
Finding that world-within-a-world was, I think, the moment that convinced me that Elden Ring really was something special. It was the point where I finally completely let go of my expectations: I was lost in this vast, magnificent magical place that was absolutely packed with surprises, and I loved every moment of it. Not the battle, which I’d gladly skip if I could (sorry, “true” soulful fans) but the way the Lands Between felt alive in a truly fantastic sense. It was a place that I could believe was once “normal,” before being torn apart by divine madness into an eternally broken state, caught forever between life and death – decaying, but not dead.
I wish Elden Ring were more coherent. I wish it was more explicit about what the heck was going on and what part I was supposed to play in it. I still don’t quite understand what happened. But I also like the way it’s a big, beautiful one fuck you to the kind of RPG conventionality we see in games like The Elder Scrolls: Here’s the world, here’s your pointy stick, good luck. Because beneath all the strangeness and confusion, Elden Ring is really a tapestry, just one that commands your attention – or, as I often did, consults online guides. It may not make much sense, and frankly I think the suggestion that Elden Ring has a well-told story borders on ridiculous, but all the pieces fit – loosely in many places, but well enough to tell a story.
I didn’t encounter the famous Let Me Solo Her in my quest to take down Malenia, but I did encounter another equally great hero: Stand Back I Do. I stepped back, they did. Holy cow.July 23, 2022
I also found an unexpected level of respect and admiration for the Elden Ring community. I actually negotiated with most of the bosses on my own, but there were a few I had help with: Wes ruined Godrick the Grafted for me, and I called for help with Rennala, Radahn, and of course Malenia, a meeting that led me too the best call I’ve ever made. And as these heroes answered my call, did my dirty work, and then slowly faded away with nothing more than a friendly wave, I realized that the true genius of Elden Ring’s multiplayer is that it’s completely altruistic: there’s no reward (except maybe to show off a little bit), just a chance for strangers to help strangers. Boy, I like that a lot.
In the end, I didn’t just stick with Elden Ring, I obsessed with it and then I crushed it. I’ve put over 282 hours of my life into the game, getting 100% Steam Achievements along the way, and playing pretty much nothing else for months. And now, even with all that done, I want more. I think that’s perhaps the most impressive thing about Elden Ring: I dug deep, corner to corner and top to bottom, and I never got tired of it. For me that is a rarity. In games like Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout, the Divinity series, and the Grand Theft Auto games, I tend to run out of steam and then reluctantly push through to the finish line, or just walk away completely.
But that was never a problem with Elden Ring. Even though it’s mechanically unremarkable (and again, apologies to all the dodge-roll-slash types out there), the game world continued to serve up magic and surprises from start to finish. It’s remarkable, incredible design and execution.
So I included Elden Ring as a stupid joke, and ended up blowing up – quite literally – the first half of 2022. It’s the best I’ve played in years, and it captivates me in a way that no game has since perhaps as far back as Morrowind – a full 20 years ago. And perhaps, without a hint of irony, that’s the real magic: a reminder that even after all these years it’s possible for new games to be such a special experience, even if I expect them to be complete crap.
(For the record, Elden Ring – ours Game of the year 2022 (opens in new tab), by the way – is a unique case. I still think soul likes are hot crap. Sorry, Mr. Miyazaki.)