Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 3
Stormgate and beyond.
I looked around and noticed that what’s missing from the blogosphere is a narrative telling of playing Elden Ring that ignores the “controversies” and highlights why voluntarily subjecting oneself to the difficult learning curve of a Souls game is fun for some people.
There’s a couple of posts out mentioning spoilers from Naithin and Bhagpuss, and I’ve mentioned fear of spoilers a few times in these posts, so I should probably mention that, um, yeah, these posts have spoilers in them.
But the previous two posts only covered perhaps the first hour of gameplay. As of this writing Steam says I’ve played 50 hours, and at the pace I’m playing there’s probably at least 50 more hours to get through, since I’m only in the second of supposedly five areas. There’s plenty left unspoiled. Also it’s fairly unlikely that I’m going to be able to write about the entire game with posts like these, since that would basically be writing a full novel or two or three, and that’s hard to do.
But in general I’m making an assumption that nobody is going to read a post with “Elden Ring” in the title if they’re worried about Elden Ring spoilers. I certainly wouldn’t, and I absolutely won’t read or watch anyone else’s Elden Ring content until I’m sure I’m well beyond the point in the game that might be referenced. See the end of this post for more on that.
The audience I’m targeting with these posts is people who resolutely refuse to play a From Software game because of the community stigma, or for whatever other reason aren’t able to or don’t want to play them (there are numerous legitimate reasons not to play From Software games).
Otherwise these posts might appeal to people who have already finished the game or progressed beyond these areas. Souls players like to compare the different ways you can play through the games, because nobody plays the same way, at least near launch time, before the Most Optimized Playthrough becomes the unspoken law of the land.
We resume our tale near the Gatefront Ruins, when a woman named Melina materializes as I sit at a nearby Gracebonfire. She offers to “play the role of maiden,” to help me search for the Elden Ring. That’s why I and all the other Tarnished are here in The Lands Between, by the way: To search for the Elden Ring and become Elden Lord. It’s a bit like that old movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, I suppose.
Anyway, Varre warned me that I’m “maidenless,” and Melina has a soothing ASMR voice, so of course I accept, then she bequeaths me a ring which will allow me to summon a spectral horse named Torrent, who has “chosen” me. (This is the same woman and horse from the cut scene after I died to the Grafted Scion.)
In terms of game mechanics, Melina’s appearance means I now have access to the level up menu. After collecting the runes from my most recent death at the Gatefront Ruins, I’m able to rocket upward once to level 8. (I started at 7, apparently.) I
chose a point in Vigor to gain some hit points, usually a safe choice at the beginning of any From Software game. [Correction: That was a lie. I actually chose a point of Strength, because my character had a ton of Strength to start with so I figured I should stick with making a super-Strength build. The next time I leveled up I chose Vigor, though.]
I consider that I might never need to increase my Stamina for the entire game, because I’ve already noticed that the Stamina bar is longer than my Health bar, and I can swing my axe and dodge and block for days without running out of Stamina, something that seems on first glance like a massive reduction in the base game’s combat difficulty. We Souls veterans would likely teach newer players to be disciplined and don’t spam your attacks but … well, now you can spam your attacks, apparently. I can imagine it having significant repercussions for PvP, but that’s something I don’t get involved in.
As a side note, Melina’s name is maddeningly similar to Marika’s name, and I get them confused all the time. At first I actually think Melina is the ghostly spirit of Marika, the woman in the crucifixion pose.
Following the road and the glowing lines from the Gracebonfires, I pass through a gate into what is a very obvious trap or boss fight arena. I look up, and spot a large fellow crouching over the road, waiting to spring forth. Ah ha. Nice try, Elden Ring, I’m too much of a wily old veteran to fall for this. I prepare to fight.
The large fellow turns out to be an extremely large giant who towers over me. But I’ve fought giants many times before in previous games, so I’m not worried about it. Giants are actually some of the easier opponents in previous Souls games, because they’re fairly slow. It’s mainly an exercise in avoiding getting dizzy from the camera spinning all around. This one is probably no exception.
But as soon as the giant appears, a couple of Godrick’s green-and-orange crossbowmen pop up out of the bushes and start peppering me with bolts. It is a trap after all. So much for my impressive wiliness. I charge into the bushes to dispatch the crossbowmen quickly (always kill the adds first, the mantra of every RPG player ever), but more pop up, and the giant tries to smoosh me at the same time. My battle plan falls apart immediately. I try to run away, but it’s too late; the giant clips me with a massive swinging fist and I die again.
Eventually I draw the giant out beyond the gate, so the veritable army of hidden crossbowmen can’t shoot me Bonnie-and-Clyde-style while we’re fighting. An epic battle ensues. This giant hasn’t gotten the memo that giants are supposed to be slow, and halfway through the fight pulls out a Final Fantasy-sized two-handed sword and charges around in a circle, flailing every direction. I die. Again. Luckily, right next to a Gracebonfire.
“How unfair is this game,” I remark, being fairly certain I’ve now died considerably more in the first couple of hours of Elden Ring than I did at the start of Dark Souls 3. Was my recent triumph over Demon’s Souls completely meaningless? (Yes, it was.)
I try several more times, and the giant finally goes down. There’s no reward. I thought it was a boss the whole time, guarding the road to block progress, but I somehow missed the fact there was no boss health bar. It was just a regular old enemy, nothing special at all in the world of Elden Ring. Yikes.
Even without the giant, there’s a lot of Godrick’s men guarding the road beyond the Stormgate. Crossbow bolts fly at me from every possible direction, and I curse every one that hits and interrupts me in the middle of my attack animations. Eventually I get them all.
I note that I got virtually nothing for my efforts, so I continue up the road, still following the direction of the glowing lines from the Gracebonfires. It has not yet occurred to me that I can summon a horse. Why would it? Horses aren’t a thing in Souls games.
I find a Golden Seed as I enter the extremely windy Stormhill region, which will give me another healing flask, then I’m ambushed by wolves who, for some reason, fall from the sky. I groan, because Dark Souls dogs are universally despised (by me, at least), and they’re in Elden Ring, too. Their attacks are fast and unpredictable, and there’s usually more than one, so they’re hard to deal with, and anyone from a novice to an expert can easily die from a minor lapse in concentration or just plain rotten luck. My luck holds and I make it past them.
I find another Gracebonfire at a place called Stormhill Shack. I chat with Melina. She “prays that I’m fit to face the challenges of the Ring.” I opine that I might not be, based on how this game is already at difficulty level 17 for a Souls veteran on a scale of 1 to 10, right at the start. Even with unlimited Stamina.
I consider whether to continue up the road toward the big castle, in the direction of the glowing lines from the Gracebonfires. It’s hard not to notice that I’ve been doing a lot of fighting and dying on this road so far. So, instead of going where I’m supposed to, I go a different direction. East, instead of North. There’s another, smaller pathway here. (Future me will return to Stormhill Shack one day and discover an NPC that I didn’t see.)
I hear another giant roaring somewhere in the distance. I examine a big stone structure sticking out of the grass that has no doors and scoff again at the open world formula that fills the world with non-interactive scenery.
I fight a couple of big fur-clad warriors on the road, then I stumble on another Gracebonfire near a shack with an NPC leaning on a massive sword. This fellow is a Bernahl the Warmaster, and he sells weapon enhancements, called “Ashes of War.” He’s very proud of his battle arts, his “tales of chivalric romance.”
I played through the base game of Dark Souls 3 at least five or six times, and I almost never used that two-handed left trigger “special” charge attack move. To see a whole vendor here selling them is confusing. Am I supposed to use that in Elden Ring? The meaningless treasure from the Gatefront Ruins was also an Ash of War. They seem to be pushing me to use them. I consider whether I should abandon everything I know about Souls combat and try this new thing, or just stick to what I know, which works fine. Except for dying all the time.
I buy an Ash of War from the Warmaster in case it unlocks new dialog from the vendor. It doesn’t. [Correction: Checking the video replay, I misremembered and didn’t actually do that, but it’s something I did with other vendors.] I’ll play with them later. (50-Hours-In-The-Future Me can reveal that I still haven’t used them very much, except for one that’s amazing, and extremely dangerous.)
And that’s where I decide to call it a night and go to bed, ending my first day in Elden Ring. I can’t decide if the game is an improvement on previous Souls games or not. My first thought is that it isn’t. On my first day, I’m not loving wandering through acres of empty terrain looking for something to interact with, the downfall of all open world games.
More later. Maybe. This is a lot of work, and these early days are but a distant memory to me now. :)
Next: Part 4
(Just FYI on the off chance of spoilers it’s likely that I won’t read any comments on this post very closely until after I’m finished playing the game.)
More on Spoilers
Speaking of spoilers, the specific things that I don’t want spoiled in a Souls game are any of the numerous “ah ha” moments that occur in the games. “Ah ha, that’s where that key is used! Ah ha, that’s what that word or phrase means! Ah ha, that’s where I’m supposed to go to get the widget to beat the whosit boss!” Those kinds of things. Those are moments of great enjoyment for me, and if someone just tells me where the widget is, there’s not much point in playing the game.
I don’t want to know if I passed something important. I don’t want to know if there’s a switch in a dark corner that unlocks the secret sword of awesome. I don’t want to know if there’s a shortcut to make it easier to beat a boss. I don’t want to know which weapons or techniques or damage types I’m supposed to use. I don’t want to know if I’m going to be attacked if I enter a room. The game will inform me of most of those things through its own design, and if it doesn’t, I can go back to playing online, where I’ll find the ground littered with graffiti that will give me clues buried amidst all the butt sex jokes and lies about invisible walls.
How one reacts to the inevitable surprises that occur around any given corner in a Souls games is a big part of the fun for me. Do you die instantly or do you, against all odds, cleverly dodge out of the way at the last second, or survive by the wildest stroke of luck? That’s why Souls veterans love to watch other people play Souls games for the first time, it’s the only way we can re-experience those thrilling moments that we’ll never get to have again.
There’s a lot of talk about what “spoiler” even means anymore, but for me it usually means accidentally receiving information that diminishes the impact of story or game surprises. Basically, I want to be the one to decide when to give up and just Google the answers.
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