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Diary of an Elden Ring Player: Starting the Action

Join me as I document my journey through the Lands Between.

Maybe, maybe, maybe...
Maybe, maybe, maybe...
From Software

After a weekend of play, Elden Ring is meeting my lofty expectations. I've spent a lot of hours playing developer FromSoftware's latest game over the past three days. I sort of treated this weekend as a staycation: I made very few plans, ordered pizza and allowed myself to become completely immersed in the magically crafted world of Elden Ring. 

As a refresher, this is my diary as I play through the game. My goal is to reflect on the experience as it changes over time and to tell the stories that naturally arise from the many secrets and surprises of the world. Here is the first entry if you want to see my hopes and fears going into the experience. 

This entry will have spoilers as I start telling my own story, but I'll start that section with an indication of how far I've gotten so you can come back later if you haven't made it as far. First, I'll dive into some spoiler-free impressions of the game after my marathon weekend.

Shine gone

After rejoicing in the reviews on Wednesday, the shine faded a bit by the time I started on Friday due to reports of poor PC performance and a save bug on PS5. I was playing on PS5, but I knew the bug wouldn't apply to me, as it only occurred if you put your system into rest mode without saving and quitting, and I never do that. 

Despite knowing I wasn't going to experience the reported stuttering on PC, I was still hoping this would be a universally awesome adventure for all who dared to undertake it. I wanted it to be communal. It might still be. Developer FromSoftware has already released a patch to fix the PS5 save bug, and I'm sure they're working hard on the PC stuttering. 

Nevertheless, I'd say I was still sufficiently excited when I booted up the game on Friday afternoon. I danced around my apartment for a solid 10 minutes with the start screen on my TV. I'd been waiting years for this. It was finally here. It was glorious. 

I spent a solid hour creating my character. The customization options are many and detailed, and I still agonized over which class to pick. I ended up with the mostly naked Wretch -- the class designed to make the start of the game as hard as possible since you have no armor or skills at the outset. 

Elden Ring classes

There are 10 classes to choose from.

FromSoftware

Once I started the game, it felt familiar. The combat, controls and much of the basic structure bear similarities to the Dark Souls trilogy from the same studio. Dark Souls makes for a fine core to build upon but, at first, I thought I'd be a little disappointed in what seemed to be a fancier sequel instead of an entirely new experience.

After a brief tutorial, the game lets you into its open world and, even then, I was underwhelmed at first. You can see beautiful structures and landmarks in the distance, but following the main path, you're moving across seemingly ordinary grassy fields, fighting generic camps of soldiers. Even the first few dungeons I encountered were short and predictable. I was worried. The experience was solid, but not wonderful or surprising. Thankfully, that impression would not last long. 

While indulging in sour grapes, one complaint I had in the early game still holds true: The inventory is clunky and the crafting feels like an unnecessary addition. I don't think I'll change my opinion of the former, but my opinion of the latter could shift as I keep going. 

As it stands, crafting seems like the game's way of drip feeding rewards out over a larger space. That's understandable and not necessarily a bad thing, but I hope at some point in the future that craftable items have a more meaningful impact on my play. As it stands, when I venture into a deep, frightening area and find a rare crafting ingredient as my reward, I'm inevitably disappointed. Again, I'm looking forward to being proven wrong here as I continue and uncover the full impact of these rare ingredients.

Beautiful adventure

My worries about the rest of the game were quickly alleviated. At first, I thought it was Dark Souls combat mixed with a dumbed down open world, with FromSoftware's trademark level design broken up into smaller, underwhelming side dungeons to fill out the space. 

As it stands, it is what I hoped it was. Combat combines the best elements of Dark Souls with the studio's other great titles: the speed of Bloodborne and the urgency of Sekiro. The open world quickly becomes marvelous, both along the main path and as soon as you decide to start venturing off toward one of those cool structures in the distance.

elden-ring.jpg

What a wonderful world. 

From Software

You gain access to a horse which controls smoothly, travels quickly and can jump enough to allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas. The horse also allows you to pick your battles in the open world. I laughed gleefully after I stole a treasure from a chest near a giant and then galloped away while he angrily chased after me.

Wander towards something in the distance and you might make it there, and it will be spectacular, or you might get distracted by any of the other wonderful surprises built into the landscape with regularity. It's astonishing. It sure seems like FromSoftware, known for their great level design, have taken the lessons they've learned over all of their other titles and translated it to an open world that's just as rich and tightly crafted.

I've been surprised and delighted so many times at this point that I've lost count, and I've only been playing for a few days. Yes, some of the side dungeons are simple, but they're fun. I was also worried that they'd equate to watered down main dungeons. In the famously good open world of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the side dungeons are amazing, but I wished they would have put some of those ideas into the four main ones as they were much shorter than past Zelda titles. 

With Elden Ring, the one main dungeon I've played might be the company's best level design I've experienced to date. This dungeon is simply magnificent in scope and it winds together like a perfectly crafted web. I was stunned.

I also think that the way they've implemented a self scaling difficulty system is amazing. If you want to play in classic sword-and-shield Dark Souls style, the bosses and major enemies are more difficult than ever. It's perfect for long time fans of the series. 

However, you can also make things easier on yourself with tons of optional resources to hit enemies from range, call in real life friends to help, or even summon the computer controlled spirits of the dead to fight by your side.

Thus far, Elden Ring is living up to all of my lofty expectations. I've been consistently filled with wonder, I've been made to feel afraid, I've been exuberant when I've risen to the challenge, I've been surprised repeatedly and I've been delighted each step of the way.

Trials and tribulations

Story time. I'll keep these somewhat quick. I won't have nearly as much time to play before my Friday update as my life returns to normal, so I'll save some of my weekend stories until then. Also, my weekly Friday entries from here forth will be focused mostly on stories now that I've blabbed through my thoughts and feelings. 

For this entry, I'll talk about my experiences with the first two main bosses in Stormveil Castle. I believe they were both in the network test, but still, if you are experiencing the game for the first time and don't want to know anything about those two bosses, now is the time to click away and come back when you're done to hear my thoughts.

Last chance. Spoilers for the first two bosses ahead.

eldenring.jpg

Venturing into the dark and fighting scary monsters is part of the fun. Also, turn away now if you want to avoid spoilers. 

From Software

Boy, they are brutal. When I played Dark Souls 3, given my experience with the series, I beat the majority of bosses in five tries or less. These two taught me that when it comes to Elden Ring, I know nothing. They are both so fast. Like I said, FromSoftware has used the lessons it learned from their other titles here, including the speed of the encounters of Bloodborne.

If you have the courage to stand in there, though, in the face of these ferocious and scary attacks, you get rewarded with opportunities for huge strikes similar to Sekiro. Again, you can summon help and attack from range, but I wanted the pure challenge of beating them by myself with my sword, and both took me hours of attempts. 

Margit

With the first main boss, Margit, I discovered that you could break his posture and score a critical strike with three to four big hits in short succession. Doing that, though, was no easy feat. Still, after only a few attempts, I was able to repeatedly make it through his first phase relatively unscathed. When he gets to roughly half his health, he enters phase two, and that's when he started smashing me with his magical hammer. 

By that point, I'd found a shield that stopped 100% of physical damage, but only about 50% of magic damage, so every single strike from that hammer was deadly unless I dodged it perfectly. Little by little, I learned to do that, but a mistake or two and the fight would spiral out of control even if I'd been doing well previously. 

I'd feel the pressure, or I'd get hit and try to back away and heal. Big mistake. Margit has a lot of moves specifically meant to punish retreating. As a melee striker, the best approach is to stay on top of him and use your smaller size to circle to his side or back. 

That said, staying right next to him when he wound up a huge attack, especially if I was low on health, went against every panicking survival instinct I had. He killed me repeatedly as I'd deviate from my own strategy and try to find breathing room.

Eventually, though, I started to get it. I used my spirit summons on one attempt just to give me enough breathing room to watch his attack patterns, but I let myself die as I wanted to win one on one. The very next attempt, I was relaxed and I was perfectly dodging and blocking his moves. I broke his posture repeatedly and was taking big chunks of his health at once. 

I got his life down to about a quarter while still holding most of my healing potions (you have a set number of items you can use to heal on a given attempt), and I tightened up. I thought "this is my chance" and I started playing conservatively to chip away at his remaining health. It did not go well. 

He turned the fight against me, but I was hanging on and getting in occasional chip shots. I used all of my healing potions, but his life was almost gone by that point. I dodged an attack, connected on a swing and thought I had him, but it wasn't enough. I needed one more hit. I tried to back away to refocus and approach one last time, and he killed me on my retreat. 

It's been awhile since a video game has made me feel that much despair. At that point, I was tired and frustrated and my subsequent attempts were getting worse and worse. I ended up using my summons to beat him. It's not cheating by any means, but I was mad at myself nonetheless for falling short of my goal. 

Godrick

Stormveil Castle followed. It's the first main dungeon of the game, and as I described above, it's just spectacular. The next day, I reached the boss at the end of the Castle, Godrick the Grafted. He's slower than Margit, but Godrick hits harder and flails with less predictability given his many limbs. 

I learned to beat his first phase after only a few attempts and was treated to a delightful cutscene where he cuts off his own left arm and replaces it with the head of a dragon, because of course he does. The fire attacks of that dragon head incinerated me pretty quickly. I'd found decent armor by that point, so I switched to a set with slightly more resistance to fire damage, and back I went.

I almost had him on a relatively early attempt. I stuck with the strategy of staying with him and it was working well. My practice with the systems was paying off. A lot of his fire attacks have a huge range in front of him, but I rolled behind him during the windup and then had plenty of time to punish during the attack from relative safety. 

Then, he wound up a new attack that I hadn't seen before in which the dragon head on his arm majestically rears back with an open mouth. "Huh, that looks neat," I thought. I'm still mad at my reflexes for that one. I didn't do anything, just watched, and the dragon grabbed me, lifted me up, chomped me, slammed me to the ground and incinerated me. That attempt was over.

Numerous attempts after that were ended by that dang dragon head grabbing me, but I finally learned how to dodge it. I learned the tell for his area attack slams that were the other wrinkle in my strategy to stay close. I simply needed to put it all together. I'd gotten to the same place where I'd failed with Margit.

Just like with the Margit fight, I knew I had a real shot in one particular attempt. I absolutely eviscerated Godrick's first phase without getting hit. I even stayed ahead of the healing curve on the first part of the second phase and got him to a quarter of his life. And again, I tightened up. 

He turned the fight on me in an instant and I found myself with some breathing room but no health potions remaining and one hit away from death. He was still at a quarter of his life. I hadn't even touched him in this miserable streak. Oddly though, the feeling that the attempt was over allowed me to relax. I started hitting him again and again while perfectly dodging or blocking all of his attacks. 

I whittled him down until he had two hits remaining. I had one. He did his area attack forcing me to back away. I took a deep breath as he approached afterwards. I reacted well to his engaging strike and scored a hit, but then he rolled away from me. He jumped into the air to slam down with his deadliest attack, one that would often kill me if I slightly missed the time on the dodge. 

I didn't miss. I rolled behind him perfectly as he landed and his attack went astray. I turned and finished the fight in my favor. 

I then proceeded to shout with joy and dance around my apartment for a solid 20 minutes. Even writing about it now has my heart fluttering. It was amazing, and I'd redeemed myself after the disappointment of Margit. 

I'd also finally made it over the initial learning curve for melee combat in this game, and the curve was a doozy. I was ready for the next steps of this grand adventure, and I was every bit as excited as when I started.