An invitation to Roundtable Hold.
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.
We rejoin our story on Friday night, the second night of playing Elden Ring.
Incidentally I put together a page which lists all the videos I’ve recorded to date, which gives a non-video indicator of where I actually am and the path I’ve taken to get there: Elden Ring progress. It’s generated from a YAML file that will eventually be used by my upload scripts. There could also be spoilers in there, so be warned.
Rethinking The Way Forward
Previously: Part 5
Margit the Fell Omen taught me that I needed to upgrade my weapons before even thinking about trying to fight him again. Which means I need to go out into the world and find bosses I can beat, collect runes, and buy upgrades. The Beastman showed me there are defeatable bosses out there, I just have to find them. It’s a daunting task, though, because the map is huge and there are no indicators on where to go.
Well, I take that back: There are indicators of where to go, but they point you directly to bosses like Margit the Fell Omen.
Pondering what to do next, I return to the familiar: I go back to the Stormroot Catacombs and clear it all out again on this character. But I skip the final boss, the Erdtree Burial Watchdog, because I remember my Hero died a lot and, after the Tree Sentinel and Margit, I’ve experienced quite enough failure for one gaming session, thank you very much.
I talk to Melina at a Gracebonfire. She gives some tantalizing clues to an interesting backstory which didn’t really sink in when I first heard it. She’s searching for her purpose, for “why she yet lives, burned and bodiless.” I have no context and don’t know what any of these words mean, but I file it away for later.
I decide to tackle the rolling contraption in the Fringefolk Hero’s Grave again, to see if I can get to the bottom of it (literally and figuratively). But before I even start, Melina has something else to say: She offers to take me to Roundtable Hold.
I go, hoping this will be the thing that unlocks whatever it is that’s required to actually beat bosses in Elden Ring. (I actually have no choice on this matter.)
It’s Firelink Shrine again. Or The Nexus, if you will, or The Hunter’s Dream/Oedric Chapel. It’s the central hub that I’ll be returning to again and again between adventures, where many of the NPCs I’ll meet in the game gather (at least I assume so, based on previous games). There’s a blacksmith who can upgrade weapons, which is very useful, because I happen to have the two smithing stones required to upgrade my Estoc to +1.
There’s a cleric who sells Faith spells, which is not useful at all since I only have a 6 Faith score (on this playthrough, at least*). Sadly nobody is selling Intelligence-based spells. There’s a fancy noble-looking guy looking for someone named Lanya, who’s “such a little tomboy.” There’s a scary silent guy leaning against a wall, and there’s a guy in a Magneto helm, who seems annoyed with me. He makes sure I know I’m “just a guest.”
There are creepy Twin Maiden Husks who, despite being motionless husks, somehow sell various interesting weapons, armor, and supplies for characters starting out. (Like a 100% damage reduction Heater shield! And a long bow! Of course I can’t quite afford either at this moment.)
There’s a mysterious Deathbed Companion who just wants to hold me, so that I can grant her my “lifely vigor.” She gives me a “Baldichin’s Blessing,” which, as I write this now some two weeks later, I still haven’t used, and offhand I don’t even know what it does [it’s some sort of buff]. But if I need another, she’ll give me one. She tells me a secret, but I don’t understand it, and I have no idea why she’s here or what her story is (yet?).
There are a lot of doors that don’t open, and I won’t find out why until I happen to visit Varré sometime later, back at the First Step Gracebonfire at the start of the game. Varré would explain that the “Two Fingers” in Roundtable Hold won’t grant me an audience until I bring them a “Great Rune,” which, naturally, can only be obtained from Goderick the Grafted, in Stormveil Castle. And I can’t get in there until I get through Margit the Fell Omen. Fantastic.
New Player Tip: Always go back and talk to old NPCs periodically. I actually didn’t get Varré’s straightforward instructions for several days.
Returning from Roundtable Hold, with no other pressing matters to attend to, I resume my trip back down into the Fringefolk Hero’s Grave again, and this time I make it all the way to the bottom. There’s a boss down there: The Ulcerated Tree Spirit. It’s big and scary and my +1 Estoc doesn’t do enough damage to beat it, so I leave.
After that I don’t really know what to do, and it’s getting late on Friday night. I get on Torrent and ride around the Agheel Lake North area, looking for something interesting. I find a telescope, which is interesting, but seems only useful for taking screenshots. (Except I discovered my Steam screenshots weren’t working because I had disabled the Steam overlay for some reason.)
I find the first of what I call “rollee balls,” which drop Ashes of War weapon upgrades or other random goodies. (Elden Ring’s version of crystal lizards.)
I try some horseback fighting against another horse rider. The camera spins like crazy and it makes me dizzy. It kind of stinks too because you have to kill the rider and the horse (although you can let the horse survive, if you target the rider instead of the horse, but that’s harder).
Near a bridge, I stumble upon a talking bush, which is definitely interesting, because it turns out to be a little fellow named Boc. He says he’s going back to a cave that he’s been thrown out of, but he’s afraid to, and working up his courage. (I’m amused to see he looks somewhat like a gray rat, which reminds me of Greirat from Dark Souls 3.) It’ll be a very long time before I find out what became of him and his cave.
I end Friday night feeling stumped about what to do, unable to beat most of the bosses I’ve found, and unsure about where to go to resolve that situation. There’s only one area visible on the map–Limgrave West–but it still looks massive, with an overwhelming amount of acreage to cover and no pointers on where to go.
And that’s the end of my second day with Elden Ring.
Saturday dawns and I put a marker on something that looks like an interesting feature or structure on the map some distance to the southeast of the First Step, and head in that direction. I have no idea what it might be, but it must be something. On the third day I’ve concluded that this is the correct way to play the game: Just wander around until I find something that will be useful in my quest to defeat Margit the Fell Omen and get into Stormveil Castle.
I’ve alternated back and forth on the first two days, but I’m playing with mouse and keyboard today, and I also go ahead and switch to playing offline. I haven’t been reading messages anyway, and I’m tired of all the message graffiti and player ghosts distracting me, and I’d prefer to be maximally surprised by the surprises anyway. The game looks and feels a lot more immersive playing offline. Perhaps I’ll play online in a second or subsequent playthroughs, if I ever get there.
Of course it’s a long and winding road to get to the spot I picked on the map, because I first have to get my runes from when I died the previous night. Then I end up going into the Limgrave Tunnels, which is a very handy source of many smithing stones for weapon upgrades.
The Limgrave Tunnels remind me of the Stonefang Tunnels in Demon’s Souls but, hilariously, the miners are resistant to piercing damage, not vulnerable to it. It’s somewhat problematic for me, because my Estoc mainly does piercing damage, but luckily, the strong attack is a wide slashing attack. It also turns out that the miners are extremely vulnerable to my Glintblade spell, too, so I can kill most of them before they even look up from their mining.
This is the closest cave to where I found Boc, so I assume this is the cave he meant to go to, but I don’t see any sign of him. The place is surprisingly easy to clear out, which is encouraging, and I get tons of upgrade materials, so I make a note to come back later for more tier 1 smithing stones if I need them. (As it turned out, the stone deposits are one-time only and the drop chance from the miners is pretty low, so the one time I went back to try to farm tier 1 smithing stones, I found none.)
Forlorn Hound Evergaol
To make a long story short, because I’ve written over 10,000 words about Elden Ring so far and I’m still two weeks behind where I actually am in the game, it takes about a half hour but I get to the spot on the map, and it’s a Forlorn Hound Evergaol. I enter it, it’s a single room with a boss in it: The Bloodhound Knight Darriwil. He reminds me of a boss from either Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3, I can’t remember which. He’s fast and charges right up into your face, pretty similar to the Beastman, actually, and perhaps because of this similarity I immediately use a Glintblade on him and discover he’s extremely vulnerable to magic.
So whenever he charges toward me, I back away and blast him. I get him down to where I only need to hit him with one more Glintblade, but naturally I run out of mana. So I just have to close in and hit him once or twice with my Estoc to kill him. He attacks three times, I dodge all three swings, but of course the dodging is laggy and I’m hit two out of three times and die, even though I’m 100% sure I’ve dodged those attacks. I’m starting to yell “dodge!” at the screen now, and I’m super whiny about it. It’s incredibly frustrating to play a fast action game that isn’t responsive when you know for sure that you’re pressing the keys in time.
(As I write this, I’m still waiting for the “fixed the dodging delay” patch note, and assuming it must either be an intentional crippling of what is normally the “get out of jail free” button that players have come to rely on–perhaps an attempt to shift player tactics back toward making shields more viable again–or some unintentional consequence of this Easy Anti-Cheat middleware that has never been in a Souls game before. But apparently it affects consoles too.)
Anyway I try a second time, because, when you die in Elden Ring, you usually go back to the nearest Stake of Marika, which in this case is right outside the Evergaol. I have plenty of mana this time, and I obliterate this Bloodhound Knight with Glintblades. I get 1900 runes and a Bloodhound Fang, which is a nifty-looking curved bleed damage greatsword I can’t use.
I’m happy to see that there actually are easy bosses in this game (I classify this one as “easy,” like the Beastman–a boss that I can do more damage to them than they can do to me). I’m starting to see that there’s no rational ordering to it. Sometimes the bosses are harder, sometimes they’re easier. You get what you get and you just have to make do when you encounter them, and decide whether you can handle fighting them now or come back later.
I return to Roundtable Hold and buy that Heater shield I saw, so now I can block 100% of incoming physical damage in a way that doesn’t feel laggy, and can feel relatively safe standing in melee range of foes once again.
Next: Part 7
* Though I can’t imagine wanting to replay the game after I’m done, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s so massive.