Groveside Cave and our first look at that boss.
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.
I haven’t mentioned this before, but if you’re curious to see where I am in the game currently, as opposed to what you’ll find in these posts, which is where I was in the game more than a week and a half ago, you can look at the latest video on my Twitch channel. Have you heard about this Twitch thing? It’s very fashionable. Anyway, I just push a button in OBS now and broadcast my play sessions live without any voice commentary to the channel while I’m recording videos with commentary to upload to YouTube later. (I completely ignore the live chat though if anyone does happen to watch it live.)
Last night, for example, I was clearing out the Black Knife Catacombs in North Liurnia, but you won’t get to hear about that topsy turvy adventure in blog post form for … I don’t know, months, probably. (Also, as of posting time, it wasn’t last night, it was three nights ago. Blogging is so slow!)
The Groveside Cave
Previously: Part 4
I stumbled onto the Groveside Cave while learning to ride Torrent. It turns out to be a wolves den, unfortunately. Everyone’s favorite Dark Souls enemy. But they fall pretty easily to my Estoc and Magic Glintbalde spell, because most of them are sleeping when I enter the cave.
Inside their den I find a Cracked Pot, a new thing in Elden Ring (I think?): It lets you craft throwable things like firebombs. Previously you had to buy those kinds of consumables at vendors, but now I can craft them anywhere and anytime I want.
But, similar to healing flasks and mana flasks, I can only carry and use as many as I have Cracked Pots for. To make a long story short, now I can equip and use one renewable, throwable grenade-style item. I don’t use these kinds of things too often, but when I need them, they’re handy.
There isn’t much to the cave: There’s a yellow boss fight doorway just off of the first room. I prepare for battle, slightly less confident than when I started this game, since my track record is abysmal with bosses so far. At least it’s not very far to run back here.
The fog reveals the Beastman of Farum Azula. He’s not blindingly fast, but he’s not slow either, and he pursues relentlessly, lunging straight toward me, then flailing around with a massive curved sword in a wide arc.
My puny little buckler shield is useless, and timing the dodges is hard, as usual, because–say it with me, because on the second day of playing Elden Ring it’s definitely going to be a universal refrain that I will return to time and time again–dodging is inexplicably laggy and unresponsive. It feels like playing with my feet stuck in two feet of mud, or like I’ve time-traveled back to 1997 using a 64k modem, a very unpleasant feeling when playing a game that is constantly demanding that you move out of the way of deadly attacks that might kill you in one hit.
The Beastman keeps hitting me and I’m spending most of my time healing. Standing anywhere near him is dangerous, so I back away and start blasting him with magic from range. My Glintblade spell does surprisingly good damage, but unfortunately I run out of mana before I can finish him off. I used too much to kill the sleeping wolves back in the den. I have no choice but to close into melee range, and this guy’s got a dozen different attacks that are hard to read on the first try, and I die. Still, I was tantalizingly close to victory. At least it seems possible to beat this guy.
On the second attempt I start out trying to duel with him again, for some incomprehensible reason, as I think back on it now. Melee is traditionally “the Dark Souls way,” so it’s often the default strategy. (Most other combat tactics use some kind of limited resource, like mana or arrows, but melee is the one thing you can keep doing forever, so it’s always a viable strategy. Well, prior to Elden Ring’s laggy dodging, at least.) I do good damage with strong Estoc attacks, but I’m constantly backing away from him to avoid his attacks.
I get him down to about half of his health, and then I run out of healing flasks. He hits me again, and with just a sliver of health remaining, I scramble away, sure that this fight is over. The only thing I can do is switch to my staff and start peppering him with slow-firing Glintblade spells, continuously moving backwards in a circle away from him, kiting him and dodging for dear life every time he lunges straight at my face.
Somehow it works. I have enough spell power to kill the Beastman before he kills me, and it’s my first real victory in Elden Ring. I’m rewarded with a thousand runes and a Flamedrake Talisman, which is, essentially, a fire resistance ring.
New Player Tip: The Beastman of Farum Azula in the Groveside Cave, the fifth boss I encountered, is the first boss I encountered that feels like it’s tuned to the appropriate difficulty level to be the first boss in the game.
Incidentally, to this day I have no idea what or where “Farum Azula” is, and found no explanations in the cave. I’m sure there’s a wiki entry on it somewhere.
The Jellyfish Woman
The Groveside Cave is my first “success” in Elden Ring (a relative term to be sure), but prior to that I was struggling. I had been thinking about why that was. In From Software games, it usually means the game is trying to tell me something. It could be that I’m using the wrong weapons, or that I’m using the wrong tactics, or that I’m simply going the wrong way.
So I ponder what Varre and Melina have been telling me: Follow the glowing lines to Stormveil Castle. So maybe I’m supposed to speedrun there and not stop for every diversion, like the Tree Sentinel or the Catacombs. I surmise that once I get to this destination everyone wants me to get to, something will unlock that will make things easier, perhaps the Roundtable Hold I’ve heard Varre mention, and I’ll be able to return stronger to tackle the Tree Sentinel and other things.
I set out to do just that: Gallop as fast as possible up the road to Stormview Castle.
New Player Tip: Absolutely, positively don’t do this.
But first, I’m distracted right away. Passing by the Stormhill Shack on the road, I notice for the first time that there’s a woman inside the shack, sitting dejectedly on the floor. (I also pick up the Stonesword Key there that I didn’t get the first time for some reason.)
The woman seems to be rambling incoherently: About grafting, a spider, body parts, and chrysalids. “Oh, you’ve come to be one with the spider?” she says. I have no idea what she’s talking about. All I get is that she wants to be brave, but she thinks she’s a craven. She gives me her Spirit Jellyfish, because she thinks it will be happier with me.
I learn a new gesture from her, the “Sitting Sideways” gesture. Gestures (more commonly known as “emotes” to the MMO world) are a whole cultural thing in From Software games that I won’t get into here. But it’s the only way you can communicate with other players in-game if you’re playing together. There’s no text chat and certainly no voice chat.
I will eventually learn this woman’s name, but it will be much later. Until then, I refer to her as “the Jellyfish Woman.”
Back to my main task, I continue up the road toward Stormveil Castle, just up the hill now, and find a veritable army of soldiers barricading and guarding the entrance to the castle. I stealth around the side and get in behind them without much trouble. None of them think to turn around, it seems. I arrive at the Gracebonfire of Castleward Tunnel, which is just outside an open portcullis.
I’ve collected a few runes so I return to the Church of Elleh to see what else I can buy from the vendor there. (I had previously purchased the telescope, an essential item for any Souls journey, and of course the crafting kit.) There’s another distraction in the form of a surprise visitor sitting nearby: The witch Renna, a blue-skinned woman in a big hat with three arms (I can’t tell if it’s a bug or intentional–but the Fool’s Idol in Demon’s Souls had three arms).
Renna’s been hearing of a Tarnished riding around on the spectral horse Torrent. That’s me! At first I try to pretend it’s not me, but Renna seems very convinced it’s me anyway, so I admit to it. (Dialog choices in Souls games are usually illusionary choices, but selecting the “no” choice sometimes leads to interesting dialog before you have to pick the “yes” choice.) Renna tells me that she was asked by “Torrent’s former master” to give me a Spirit Summoning Bell, which she does. She says we’ll never meet again, but I’m suspicious about that.
Summoning Spirits is another new mechanic in Elden Ring. They’re like “companions” that you can summon to help with some fighting situations (but not all). I can now summon the Jellyfish I got from the Jellyfish Woman, and a trio of wolves that I received from Renna.
I go back to the Castleward Tunnel just outside Stormveil Castle. I consider going on ahead, and walk a few steps forward to the portcullis to see an area that definitely, positively looks like a boss fight arena. You play five or six or however many Soulsborne games and you get a pretty good sense of these things.
I’m hesitant, suddenly dubious about my own plan. I decide to warmup by going back to my old nemesis, the Tree Sentinel. I want to find out how my Glintblade spell works on him, and how these summoning spirts work. To make a long story short, magic doesn’t magically–hyuk hyuk–make it easier to beat him. He can activate a magic barrier on his shield, and sometimes the magic missiles bounce off his shield right back to hit me.
I’m murdered repeatedly. Seven times, to be precise. I’m able to get him down to about 50% health, but no more, because it turns out he has a second phase which is, let’s say, somewhat harder.
At least in the process I learn how to summon spirit wolves to help. They … don’t help that much. I discover quickly that their main purpose is to distract the boss for a moment or two. Useful, but definitely not an “I win” button.
So I return to the Castleward Tunnel and walk boldy through the portcullis into what I assume will be the boss fight that unlocks the direction I’m meant to go.
Now The Real Fight Begins
I’m greeted by a cut scene and a voice that initially sounds like the echoing voice at the beginning of Bloodborne’s Old Yarhnam, sternly warning the player to “turn back.” This voice doesn’t tell me to turn back, but informs me in no uncertain terms that he is going to stop me, the “foul Tarnished,” from going any further.
Fifteen seconds later, I’m dead. His final words: “Put these foolish ambitions to rest.”
This is my introduction to Margit the Fell Omen, the first boss in the game that blocks progress.
It occurs to me that I might be wrong to think I was supposed to go directly to Stormveil Castle. I can tell right away that I’m not going to beat this guy at level 9 with no weapon upgrades.
On the second try, I actually hit Margit three times. Then I fall off the side of a cliff and die. There are cliffs on both sides of the boss fight area, and there are no safety rails.
On the third try I summon help from “Sorcerer Rogier,” whose gold summoning sign is just outside the portcullis. I think it’s an NPC, because it’s been there each time. (As opposed to a player. For some reason, there actually aren’t any player summoning signs or messages or bloodstains here as I’m playing, possibly due to network problems.)
Sorcerer Rogier is … wait for it … a sorcerer. He uses a rapier and spells and charges directly at Margit with reckless abandon. The fight is somewhat easier now, because Margit focuses most of his attacks on the NPC instead of me. Together, we actually get Margit down to half of his health. That’s when Sorcerer Rogier dies, just as Margit pulls out a massive glowing yellow hammer and his second phase starts.
Margit’s second phase is … um … harder. But my helper (ie. tank) Sorcerer Rogier is dead now, and I’m left to fight all by myself. And in terms of game mechanics, whenever you summon help to fight a boss, the boss gets more hit points, so I’m by myself with an even harder Margit in the second phase. Yeah, I died. Almost immediately.
I tried a fourth time to fight Margit by myself, and, you guessed it, I died. It was my best solo effort, though: I reduced the boss’s health bar by about 15%.
If it wasn’t obvious after the first try, it’s stupefyingly obvious now: I’m just wasting my time here. I leave, to figure out how to actually play this game.
Next: Part 6
(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.)
(As of this posting I’m about 60 hours into the game, and if you think that’s far enough along to avoid early game spoilers, I’m still discovering new things about the very first areas. This game is enormous, far bigger than any previous From Software game.)