Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 4

Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 4

Stormroot Catacombs, a new Prisoner character, and Fringefolk Hero’s Grave.

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.

Major spoilage of game surprises ahead.

“On the second day…” Ha, get it?

I played the first night of Elden Ring, Thursday night, using an Xbox One controller. As per usual, playing for a night with a controller means my left thumb will hurt for most of the following week, and I’m still recovering from the previous weekend’s Demon’s Souls play time, so on the second night, Friday night, I switch to mouse and keyboard. This is the entire reason I bought Elden Ring for the PC instead of, say, the PS5.

This is when I discover that From Software hasn’t bothered to improve the mouse and keyboard controls. They settled for the “just barely functional” approach again, the same as every previous game (since Dark Souls 3, at least–prior to that, they didn’t even bother getting to “barely functional”).

To be fair, from their perspective, people keep buying the games, and there’s an army of Redditors waiting to type “lol use a controller” whenever anyone questions the mouse and keyboard support, so there’s no reason for them to change. But yeah, it’d be nice if they polished that up a bit. (There are some gameplay advantages to persevering with mouse-and-keyboard, though.)

Anyway back to the story.

Previously: Part 3

Morning Edition

For the record, I counted thirteen deaths on my first day with Elden Ring, which was about three hours of game time. One for the Grafted Scion, seven (not five) for the Tree Sentinel, two for the camp leader in the Ruins, and the rest for the giant at the Stormgate.

I get up extremely early Friday morning to play before work. I wander around the landscape with my Hero, not really finding anything interesting. I’m ready to declare with absolute certainty that there’s no point in wandering off the beaten path when I stumble on a statue at the top of a cliff. The statue reminds me of previous Souls game, but more importantly, I can interact with it.

A light appears and shines a beam toward a spot in the distance. I go there. There’s a door. I enter the Stormroot Catacombs. It reminds me of the little Bloodborne Chalice Dungeons (another thing that makes me think Elden Ring is a “greatest hits” compilation of every other Souls game, a refrain I will think often as I play). There are flame traps and crafty imps with deadly bleed damage weapons. I die a few times. I frequently wish I could hit things at range, but my Hero can’t.

I get to the final boss, the Erdtree Burial Watchdog, which actually looks more like a cat to me. I hate it, because it wrecks me. This boss has robotic movements that are very difficult for me to read, and a big repeated AOE attack that you have to dodge with precise timing, and I’m starting to notice that dodging in Elden Ring feels inexplicably laggy.

I give up and go to work, thinking that every single boss in Elden Ring so far is impossible to beat, because I have a record of beating only one out of four bosses, and the one was only the tutorial boss that was hardly even a speed bump. (I will return to the Stormroot Catacombs later.)

Prisoner Released

When I return to the game on Friday night, I retire my Hero character after four hours of gameplay and start a new character, using a name I created from a fantasy name generator web site. I can’t remember it offhand as I’m writing this. Inalei I think? (I named my first character, the Hero, “Mulligan,” in case anyone’s wondering.)

From my Hero experience, I knew I wanted ranged attack capability right away. I saw very few opportunities to pick up new weapons in the beginning, so what you start with is what you’re stuck with for quite some time. In some other Souls games you can find or buy bows or whatever else you need very early on, but that’s not so in this game. New equipment is hard to come by starting out.

This time I choose a Prisoner, which mixes dexterity and magic. I start at level nine with an Estoc, a fast dexterity weapon, and a Glintstone Shard Magic Glintblade spell which is powerful, but very slow to cast. It’s good enough, but I’m definitely going to want to replace the useless buckler shield as soon as possible. I’ve just come out of Demon’s Souls which teaches that blocking is definitely the way to go, and Elden Ring seems to be teaching the same thing, what with the high amounts of dodging lag that I’m constantly fighting.

Side Tangent: It’s not just me, right? I don’t know what people are saying about Elden Ring, but surely the Internet must be ablaze with talk of how laggy the dodging feels. It’s so shockingly obvious that it must be an intentional change in combat mechanics. It’s so slow sometimes that I have time to see the attack coming, press the key, release the key, see my character does nothing, and shout “dodge!” all before getting hit by what I was trying to avoid. Shield blocking feels way more reliable to me.)

I broke my Elden Ring Google blackout for only the third time just now to Google this and it’s definitely a widely-reported phenomenon. You can see the delay on the screen when you just stand in one spot and tap the dodge button: press, release, pause, then the character jumps backward. I’m sure I’m not the only one anxiously awaiting the patch containing the note: “fixed the dodging delay."

The Prisoner starts with a creepy helmet that completely obscures the face, and at some point in this playthrough, I internally resolve to wear something like that the entire game, for no reason whatsoever. Fashion is important in Souls games. (There’s actually a costume system, of a sort, in Elden Ring, I will discover some days later.)

New Player Tip: Based on my experience so far, if you want to start with an overpowered character, Prisoner is a decent choice. Just beware that learning to use magic can be an ordeal in the Souls universe; it’s very different from other games. It’s not a point-and-click “gun” by a long shot.

After waking up from the mandatory death to the Grafted Scion, I set out to enter Limgrave again.

Going Underground

I skip the tutorial area and head out the door. I pass the white fog doorway and the little imp statue, stop dead, and immediately abandon my plans.

I didn’t mention the white fog doorway in the starting cave before, because my Hero character didn’t have a Stonesword Key (also, I completely forgot about it when writing that post). It’s a door that you can only unlock with a specific key item, a limited resource, like the Fragrant Branches or Pharros' Lockstones from Dark Souls 2. (Another example of the “Elden Ring is a greatest hits compilation” phenomenon.) There’s one right where you start the game.

This time, starting my Prisoner character, I knew there was a white fog door there at the beginning so I picked the Stonesword Key as the starting item instead of the Golden Seed.

I thought it would lead to a little side room with a useful item or two in it. It didn’t. It first led to a room full of poison, then, after running past that, it led to a massive area called the Fringefolk Hero’s Grave. It’s a long series of downward-sloping ramps leading to … who knows?

I didn’t expect a whole new area at all. And I definitely didn’t expect the massive rolling contraption covered in spikes lumbering up and down the ramps blocking my way.

Fortunately it stops there before returning down the ramp.

At first I think it’s an enemy I can shoot, because it reminds me of the skeletal chariot guy in Dark Souls 2, so I try out my new Glintstone Shard Magic Glintblade spell. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t take damage.

So it must be a puzzle that I’m meant to get around. I notice there are little alcoves on the sides of these corridors that I can hide in while the rolling monstrosity of doom passes by.

Okay, no problem! Just wait for the contraption to pass by, run to the next alcove, make it to whatever grand treasure awaits at the bottom. Easy peasy.

Of course I die right away, the first real death on this character. It turns out the hit box on this rolling contraption is extremely large and unforgiving. I thought I was plenty far enough away, but as the contraption turned around, it clipped me and I died instantly before I could even start exploring. No room for errors here, it seems.

The second try goes much better. I make it to an alcove in the sloping corridor. When the contraption passes by, I run to the next alcove. I look across the corridor to the opposite alcove and there’s a ghostly warrior raising a crossbow to shoot at me. The contraption passes by just then, so I run across the corridor to dispatch him in person with my starting Estoc weapon, a fantastically fast-striking weapon, if you’ve never used one. The ghostly crossbowman wisely backs away from me, unwisely out into the corridor, and gets smooshed by the rolling contraption of doom rumbling back down the corridor. Yay!

The next set of alcoves has a ghostly warrior on both sides. This isn’t going to be as easy as I first thought, but my Estoc is a monster weapon against these guys. I’m already loving this new character.

The corridor turns 180 degrees and continues downward. The contraption changes its movement patterns as I keep going downward, so I have to keep studying it. I keep making my way from alcove to alcove, avoiding the rolling contraption. Waiting in an alcove, I spot an item on the floor ahead. I think I have time to get it, so I sprint for it.

I almost run off into empty space, because the floor disappears on either side of the corridor, leaving just a narrow bridge in the middle where the item is. Tricksy! I notice it at the last second and swerve onto the center safe path just in time. I grab the item, look for another alcove ahead to get into, and hear the rumbling of the contraption too late. It’s right behind me; I’m smooshed and I die. The item was just some runes, of course. Nothing special at all. Looks like you win again, Elden Ring.

Another attempt and I make it past where the item was. The corridor splits: One continues downward, the other goes back upward. I pick the upward path, because I can see an alcove I can hide in and the rumbling contraption is getting closer. I have no idea where these deadly corridors are going, so I stand in the alcove and ponder where to go next.

Unfortunately I’m standing just a bit too close to the corridor, and not deep enough in the alcove. As the contraption passes, I hear the loud “snick” sound that tells me I was killed instantly by a hit box that seems to extend further than the bounds of the contraption itself, and it’s back to the beginning again.

Ugh. I’m getting tired of running all the way through this puzzle time after time, so I decide to leave. There’s a million other things to explore. I can always come back later. (And I did.)

I quickly replay some of what I’ve already done with my Hero character. I run past the Tree Sentinel, stealth around the Gatefront Ruins to get the important stuff (ie. the Map of East Limgrave and the Ash of War), and this time I call my trusty steed Torrent for the first time. My plan is to race up the road through the trap of giant and crossbowmen at full tilt.

Who put a cave there?

But, as I’m riding around getting the feel for attacking random soldiers from horseback around the Gatefront Ruins, I stumble on a cave I haven’t seen before: The Groveside Cave.

Next: Part 5

(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. See the end of this post for the kinds of things I’m trying to avoid.)

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