Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 8 (Finale)

Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 8 (Finale)

Stormveil Castle and Goderick the Grafted.

Boss fights that take 72 tries to win present a unique challenge in the area of YouTube video production. It’s not terribly practical to release a three-plus-hour video episode with all 72 fights in it, though from my perspective, that would, in fact, be the easiest path.

Unfortunately I like to make videos that I would want to watch, and three hours of boss fights isn’t that. That pulse-pounding boss fight music is great for five minutes but not for three hours. It gets tiresome even after 10 minutes. I’ve tried multitudinous options for boss fight videos in the past, from only including the first couple and then the last, to death-only montages, to just throwing out everything except the winning fight, to various combinations thereof.

The current strategy I’ve devised for these repeated boss fight efforts is to get a frame grab of every “YOU DIED” screen and make a slideshow out of them. It’s the best I can come up with for 72 fights that’s still somewhat practical for me to do in a relatively short amount of time. And I can make annoying animated GIFs out of them too!

With some creative audio editing underneath of it, it’s not half bad.

Stormveil Castle

Previously: Part 7

With Margit the Fell Omen out of the way, I can finally enter Stormveil Castle, which has been sitting up there looming over Limgrave the entire time I’ve been playing. (I say “finally” but it’s actually only been four days since I started playing.)

Stormveil Castle, which I keep calling Stormview Castle

Stormveil Castle is a major shift in gameplay. It turns back into a standard Dark Souls game. There’s no open world inside the castle, no going around the obstacles. I have to go through them, inching my way forward from Gracebonfire to Gracebonfire with each and every enemy trying to stop me, until I reach the final boss. It’s a pitched battle of my experience and problem-solving skills versus the game designers' tricksy traps, secrets, and puzzles.

It’s a glorious time, this week I spend in Stormveil Castle, my favorite part so far, by far. It’s a delicious steak meal prepared by the finest chef, the level design in this castle is amazing, right up there with the best locations of any other Souls game. This is what I’ve been sorely missing in Elden Ring so far, but unfortunately it’s far too short.

Elden Ring is much better than I initially assessed it to be, but I still would have preferred 60 hours of a Stormveil Castle, instead of 4 or 5 hours of Stormveil Castle, and 30 minutes of Catacombs and camps and caves dotted here and there around the world.

New and Old Friends

Inside the castle, I meet a woman named Nepheli Loux in a side room, standing over the corpse of an armored knight she’s just killed, praying, “let the winds lift you to a higher place.” She says she’s there by an order from her father, and would love to help if I’m on my way to fight Goderick.

Sorcerer Rogier

I meet Sorcerer Rogier in person in a little chapel, the NPC I tried to summon a few times to help fight Margit. He says he’s “looking for something in the castle.” This is very exciting, because I think he’s the first NPC who can sell me sorcery spells. Unfortunately, he only sells sorcery-related Ashes of War, but I buy all three anyway. My starting Magic Glintblade spell continues to be my best and only spell. My character isn’t technically a sorcery build per se but I’d still love to have more options.

Lastly, I encounter my old friend the Grafted Scion, the very same monstrosity that killed me in the unwinnable boss fight at the very start of the game. It’s not a boss fight this time, just a regular enemy hanging out in what looks like a butcher shop. I don’t really have to fight him, but vengeance will be mine!

It’s a tough fight, though, because this thing is basically a blender with lots of arms jabbing and slashing sharp things at me, and it takes a lot of tries, but I finally kill it. It’s a hollow victory because it doesn’t drop any rewards, but, more importantly, it doesn’t spawn again.

Near the “butcher shop” I find the “chrysalids” that the Jellyfish Woman was talking about. Apparently it’s her men that she led here “across the sea” that were hacked to bits and left in a pile, used now only as body parts to graft onto the scion (and others). I find a memorial token there that I return to her, and she thanks me, and decides to go to Roundtable Hold to “find her purpose.”

A Grafted Scion

By the time I get to the end of Stormveil Castle, I’m level 27, and I’ve upgraded my Great Epee to +5 (my other weapons are a Glintstone Staff +1 and an Estoc +2, but I rarely use it anymore). Then it’s time to head into that big, obvious yellow fog door at the end, near the Secluded Cell Gracebonfire.

(There’s more in the castle that I haven’t seen yet, places I can see but can’t yet reach, a handful of Stonesword Key doors I can’t open, but I’m ready to move on.)

Equipment-wise, I also picked up a Banished Knight Shield along the way, which is, as far as I can tell, the best shield. It has “no skill” which means you can’t parry, but it also means you can use your charge attack one-handed. Later in the game, when I finally figure out just how powerful the Bloody Slash is, this will be crucial to my character’s path forward.

Goderick the Grafted

His reputation preceded him. I’ve been hearing about him for days: A demigod, one of the offspring of Queen Marika, bearer of the Great Rune I need to unlock all the doors in Roundtable Hold. Varre told me he’s “decrepit,” but that he has a “new toy” and to “prepare for the worst.”

But there’s really no way to prepare for a boss fight. You equip what you think might help, based on clues lying around the game, but in the end you go through the yellow fog door completely blind, having no idea what might be on the other side.

It’s one of the most exciting times in a Souls games, actually, going through that fog door for the first time. Will I get to see a cool cut scene? Will I get smashed into a bloody pulp and die in seconds? Hilarious! Will it turn out to be way easier than I thought and I worried for nothing? What a let down! Who knows? Anything is possible. I’ve seen a lot of boss fights from From Software, and somehow they always seem to find new curve balls to throw at me.

In this case, there is a cool cut scene, and I don’t die immediately to Goderick the Grafted. I stay back and try to watch him for a while, testing different things to see if any good ideas present themselves. I die eventually, though, when I ran out of healing flasks. I come out of that first try with the brilliant strategy: “Don’t get hit.”

Nepheli Loux

On the second try, I summoned Nepheli Loux to help. She did ask to help, after all. I figured it might be one of those situations where the NPC’s quest line advances if they help with the boss (like Dark Souls 2, I think).

Nepheli uses a lot of cool lightning attacks, and, together, we get into Goderick’s second phase (which triggered another cool and somewhat disturbing cut scene). Not surprisingly, as I’m learning is the standard in Elden Ring, Goderick’s second phase is ridiculous, not just a little harder than the first phase, but orders of magnitude harder.

And then, as is also the standard with summoning NPC help in Souls boss fights, Nepheli dies about 75% of the way through, leaving me alone with more-hit-points Goderick in his super-charged fire-breathing dragon phase. I die almost immediately when he turns his attention on me. I give up on summoning Nepheli pretty quickly. It’s counter-intuitive, but the boss fights are often easier when you don’t summon NPC help.

And so the war of attrition begins. It starts on Thursday night, and continues into Friday (a day I happen to have off from work), for a total of four hours. It’s a typical boss fight: Learning how to recognize and respond to each one of Goderick’s dozen or so different attacks in a way that doesn’t kill me, learning when it’s safe to get in and hit him, learning when it’s more prudent to stay away. Going back to my piano analogy, it’s like learning to play a new song.

Hookclaws

Somewhere along the way, on a lark, I try out the Hookclaws I picked up early in the castle. I like them: They’re very fast duel-wielding Wolverine claws that do bleed damage, far different from the Estoc and Great Epee, and they suit my Dexterity-leaning character. They worked quite well against many enemies in the castle. But will they work in a boss fight? Probably not.

Except they do. They work very well, in fact, and make short work of Goderick in his first phase.

In his second phase, however, it’s a different story. The bleed damage doesn’t trigger nearly as often.

I was debating how to shift my weaponry around for the next try, so that I could do more damage in the second phase, when, on the sixtieth try, I accidentally beat Goderick the Grafted.

I’m mostly just going through the motions in this second phase, counting how many times I have to hit Goderick in a row before the bleed damage triggers. I get to twenty three before the big spike in damage. I don’t really notice that it takes him down to about 15% of his health left. I back far away from Goderick, thinking I need to switch weapons because the Hookclaws are ineffective now, but it would be suicide to open my inventory in the middle of the fight, and my staff is the only other weapon I have equipped. I blast Goderick from range a bunch of times with the Magic Glintblade, but I don’t think it will do much because I previously determined magic wasn’t very effective against him.

Goderick the Grafted

Except it is, and I notice for the first time that Goderick is almost dead. He only has a little bit of health left. I could kill him with just a few hits from the Hookclaws, if I could just get back into melee range. It’s risky, because in the second phase, approaching Goderick is dangerous. But I’m very lucky. Goderick starts into an attack that does a circle of fire damage around his feet, and it lets me run all the way up to him in relative safety. I hit him a few times while he’s winding up for his next attack and that’s it. He’s dead.

I’m stunned. It’s a somewhat anti-climactic ending to the battle. I feel like it’s mainly luck that got me through this fight, and not any particularly great strategy or tactics. I had almost given up on it. When I started counting the number of times it took for the Hookclaws to do bleed damage, I was mentally preparing for the next fight, having no expectation of getting through this one.

Weirdly, it doesn’t say GREAT ENEMY FELLED this time. I mean, I thought he was a demigod. But I get Goderick’s Great Rune and a Remembrance of Goderick, and these are things I need to take to Roundtable Hold to get into the secret back room.

Which I do. I won’t go into about what’s there, but let’s just say I thought all this talk about “the Two Fingers” was a metaphor.

The Other Side

Getting to the other side of Stormveil Castle opens up so, so much of the world of Elden Ring. In these eight posts I’ve described perhaps 2% of the game I’ve actually seen. After Stormveil Castle, you can go almost anywhere, in any direction and any order. It’s a staggering amount of area to cover, looking for clues and secrets and NPCs and any other interesting things to uncover.

But that’s a tale for another day, because I’m going to wind down these posts. It’s turned into more work than fun to write, and I feel like I’ve accomplished my mission anyway.

As I write this, my character is level 47 and I’ve only reached the second of the five demigods (haven’t beaten him yet). Steam says I’ve played for 90 hours, although the play time for my current character is actually 75 hours, but if you discount the time I was just sitting idle, it’s probably more like 70 hours. I’m seriously starting to wonder if there even is an end to this game.

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