Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 7

Elden Ring - The Journey, Part 7

Settling into a routine.

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.

Before I get into the story, to give people who might have accidentally clicked on this a chance to leave before I reveal the shocking secrets that you just won’t believe are in Elden Ring (not really), a quick further word on the input delay I’ve been experiencing.

I got out my phone and recorded video of myself pressing the dodge button/spacebar, with the monitor in view to show the character’s movement. (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen other people doing videos like that too.) I loaded that video into an editor and determined with all the scientific precision that is possible with a 30fps phone camera and cheap consumer video editing software that some 3-5 frames elapse between the time I release the button and the time the character moves.

I then went to do the same thing in Dark Souls 3 to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Elden Ring is broken beyond repair and … it’s also in Dark Souls 3. The exact same delay. Which more-or-less renders all my complaining moot. It must be intentional, or else somehow there’s a 100-150ms delay in the output coming out of my graphics card’s DisplayPort. Amusingly, there was also an uproar about input delay in the community when Dark Souls 3 came out.

Gathering Strength

Previously: Part 6

After defeating the Bloodhound Knight Darriwil, I’m able to level up to 14. I now commence a coordinated tactical campaign of wandering around wherever, an extremely non-Souls-like experience. I have no particular goals, except to find equipment or upgrade materials or just information.

The first of the equipment arrives when I clear out a camp near Agheel Lake South and fetch a Great Épée from a chest. It’s another word from Elden Ring that’s hard to type on an American keyboard, and also, it turns out, hard for me to pronounce, having never had to do so before in my many decades of life on this planet.

I can use the Great Épée two-handed, but don’t have enough Strength to use it one-handed. I’m excited that I might be able to upgrade from a smaller damage weapon to a bigger damage weapon that maintains the pointy stabby theme I’ve been using on this character to date, and all of that puts me one step further along the path to beating Margit.

I also pick up a Kaiden helmet and put it on, covering my Prisoner’s face in a different helmet, this one with a tassle on top. And I change into some ratty noble attire I picked up, so I have a cape now. (My character isn’t strong enough to wear more than basic cloth armor, so this is probably my endgame attire.)

Next, since I have a proper blocking shield now, I go back to fight the Tree Sentinel again. And this time I beat it.

Oh, it took some time, and some luck. The shield definitely helped, but what really helped was spending the time learning when and how to dodge his AOEs in the second phase, and accidentally discovering that if you press up against his right leg, against the stirrup, he can’t hit you when he swings that big halberd around. I ended up going two-handed with the Estoc and hitting him as fast and frequently as possible. It was a close scrape, and at the end I had no healing and little health and almost died, but luckily I was able to kill him with a final hit before he killed me. I got a completely useless Golden Halberd as a reward. (It requires way more Strength than I’ll ever have.) But it looks cool.

The Tree Sentinel's Golden Halberd

I visit the Jellyfish Woman again. She asks me to pass along a message to her chrysalis friends. Again, I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I assure her that I will, if I ever get into Stormveil Castle.

I clear out another camp and am rewarded with a Beast Crest Heater Shield, which would have saved me some 1500 runes if I’d found it before buying that Heater shield.

I find the Deathtouched Catacombs, and clear it out, defeating the Black Knife Assassin on the first try with magic. It’s a weird fight and he never tried to attack me. There’s probably a story there, but I don’t know what it is yet. (Incidentally this is why that statue didn’t do anything from my first post: I found the Catacombs before I found the statue, and the statues become inert once you open their corresponding Catacomb door.)

Up at the top of a cliff, I find a big talking clay pot stuck in a hole. This is the “warrior jar” Alexander the Iron Fist, and he’s on his way to Redmane Castle to the East.

Wandering around the northern stretches of Limgrave, I’m invaded by Recusant Henricus, an NPC who tried to smash me to death with a gigantic exploding fire mace. I killed him instead. Barely. (This NPC’s name is tremendously confusing to me, because, as a Virginia resident, the town of Henricus is very familiar to me.)

Recusant Henricus

Further to the West, I encounter a field of what looks like old Steampunk parts for giants, and I’m attacked by a Guardian Golem. I take his massive Golem Halberd as a prize. In another place, I find a graveyard filled with floating jellyfish and skeletons clawing their way out of the ground. I have to kill them twice. I find another Evergaol, this one containing a Crucible Knight. That fight is obviously out of my weight class. After three tries, I leave and save it for later. By this time in the game, I’m fully aware that almost all of the bosses are optional, and I’m just not in the mood for that foolishness right now.

After Saturday’s wandering adventures, my Prisoner is level 17. At the end of the day, I try to fight Margit the Fell Omen again. I try for about an hour and fourty-five minutes. My best effort takes him down to about 20% of his health remaining. I tried solo, I tried summoning Sorcerer Rogier, I tried summoning Spirit Companions, I tried magic, I tried two-handing the Great Épeé, I tried it with shield blocking. I simply can’t survive very long in his second phase without tons of luck.

Sunday

The next day I start by attacking the Flying Dragon Agheel. Did I mention the dragon? A dragon flew down from the sky and landed in the middle of Agheel Lake. I ran away before, but this time I run straight toward him to see how hard it is. It’s got to be easier than Margit!

Flying Dragon Agheel

I can’t ascertain the relative difficulty compared to Margit, but it’s definitely not easy. I died, and left after one try. Another optional boss, the only reason to fight him is so that I can say on the Internet that I beat him, for that sweet, sweet Internet gamer cred. (He probably drops some kind of useful reward, too, but there’s at least a 50% chance I won’t be able to use it, based on game experience so far.)

I feel like I’ve visited most of the territory on the visible map now, so I head East into unknown territory. I find Haight Manor, and the Mistwood, and a Minor Erdtree.

I find a big structure with an elevator inside. It goes down, and down, and down, until it seems it can’t possibly go down any further, and then it goes down some more, and I end up in an entire underground city which is cool as heckballs. The land above ground is enormous, but apparently there’s a whole other map below ground, too. I’ve seen a number of MMORPGs with smaller land mass than this game has.

I poke around this Siofra River Well for a while but it’s obvious that it’s going to be a herculean healing flask-eating slog for my level 17 character, so I leave again. I shall return! (Coincidentally, as I write this two Sundays later, an NPC asked me to go back to this same place to explore, for reasons unknown.)

Siofra River Well Depths

Returning to the surface, I find an NPC named Kenneth Haight, the great Kenneth Haight, I should say. Apparently he’s next in line to rule Limgrave. He wants me to rid his manor of some hooligans who have taken up residence there, and promises to knight me on completing the task, even though I’m but a lowly Tarnished.

I clear out his manor, and unbeknownst to me, I will find by far the most important and game-changing item I’ve found so far: The Ash of War called Bloody Slash. Unfortunately I won’t realize the sea-changing significance of this particular Ash of War until much, much later, after I’m well beyond Stormveil Castle. (I also find half of an important medallion in the manor.) [Update 3/17: I just read they nerfed the Bloodly Slash in patch 1.03.]

Anyway, it turns out Kenneth doesn’t knight me. He bemoans the state of his manor, and claims he needs to find someone to rule his lands, or something like that. I leave him to his misery, where he remains to this day.

Continuing to wander, I find a pair of giants pulling a huge carriage that looks like a funeral procession. I actually fell off a cliff right into the middle of it. I … don’t remember what else I found because my video files for this time period just say “open world.” But during this time I take a lot of screenshots that I’ll use in my first Elden Ring blog post, and toward the end of those undoubtedly exciting open world adventures, in a field full of giants, I’m attacked by a huge Deathbird that flies out of the night sky. It kills me. I try to fight it again, but the sun has risen and it’s gone.

An Artist's Shack

Oh, one thing I remember is finding a nifty bug helmet by identifying the location in a portrait. Scavenger hunts! I normally hate those in games, but if you get a bug helmet out of it, it’s not so bad.

Somewhere during this time period I go back to the Stormroot Catacombs and defeat the Erdtree Burial Watchdog. Remembering my struggles with my initial Hero character, I expect it to be a tough fight, but I wipe it out on the first try with magic Glintblades and barely take a scratch.

I’m now able to level up to 21, and increase my Strength enough to wield the Great Épée one-handed. I’ve been putting all my points into Strength just for this. I’m sure this is what I need to finally beat Margit the Fell Omen–a high damage weapon I can wield in one hand with a shield in the other–so I go back to fight him again.

An hour later, it turns out the Great Épée was not, in fact, the Rosetta Stone I had hoped it would be. My best lucky effort got Margit down to about 10% of his remaining health. Better, but still not quite enough. I’ve done the fight so much now that I’m able to get through his first phase almost unscathed every time, but the speed and intensity of Margit’s second phase attacks still decimate me if I make the slightest mistake.

Back to exploring. I head in the direction of some land to the East that has a red tinge to it. I pass Summonwater Village, and encounter an undead boss known as the Tibia Mariner, a ghostly skeletal minion that surfs around in a rowboat. He keeps summoning resurrecting skeleton spearmen to protect him, and it’s a struggle to through them to the Mariner, but I do so on the first try. “That’s a boss fight I can handle,” I remark, still annoyed about my hours of repeated failures against Margit the Fell Omen.

The Tibia Mariner, hanging ten

Near there, I stumble upon an NPC named simply “D.” He tells me to take the Deathroot from the Tibia Mariner to someone or something called the Beast Clergyman. He puts a mark on my map, where I find a portal that teleports me directly to a place called the Bestial Sanctum, where I find the Beast Clergyman in his abode. He eagerly accepts the Deathroots (I have two of them, actually), loudly munches them down with moist masticating sounds, and demands in a growling subwoofer bass voice that I bring him “more death.” He says he’ll grant me “eye and claw,” and I’m rewarded with some Faith spells that I can’t use. It’s all a bit strange, but it seems better to have this Death Clergyman on my side.

Resuming my journey to the red lands, I pass the Smoldering Church, where I’m invaded by Anastasia, Tarnished-Eater, an NPC who appears to be a woman dressed like a nun, wielding what looks like a big meat cleaver. This is the moment when everything in the game changes for me, though I wouldn’t be fully aware of it quite yet.

You see, I’ve finally equipped the Bloody Slash Ash of War on my Great Epee weapon, the one I got clearing out Haight Manor. This is the first time I’m using it, against Anastasia, and it obliterates her in five two-handed charge attack hits. In this moment, I’m merely pleased to see the Bloody Slash seems to works, but I don’t think too much about it at the time.

Anastasia, Tarnished-Eater

It turns out the red area on the map is a new area called Caelid. I make it to a lovely place called the Rotview Balcony, and I stop there, because it looks like a very ugly and dangerous place, particularly the veritable army of walking undead creatures on the road, and that’s where I end the weekend.

Monday

Monday it’s back to work, but Monday night I try Margit the Fell Omen again. I try a new approach, and I finally beat him.

I put together two bits of strategy from the previous day. Once, I had an idea to try a full magic assault, switching most of my flasks to mana flasks so I could keep chugging them while spamming magic attacks continuously, hoping, basically, that I could kill Margit before he killed me. It worked better than I expected, but it wasn’t enough.

On Monday night, I allocated my flasks so I had half healing flasks and half mana flasks. I did the first half of the fight with my Great Épée, which I had done enough times by then that I could get through it without taking any damage, preserving my healing flasks.

In the second half, I switched to my staff, stayed out of his melee range, and laid down a machinegun barrage of Glintblades at him. It takes three tries on Monday night, but it works.

And I needed one other puzzle piece to make it work: I summoned the 3 Lone Wolves spirits just as the second phase started to distract Margit while I shifted my equipment around and got into position to attack.

If only I could have used this massive Guardian Golem Halberd.

On the third try, I’m sure I’m not going to win, because I’ve messed up and used up all my healing flasks in the first phase, but I go into the second phase with full health and summon the wolves. They last longer than expected, and serve their purpose of distraction well, giving me uninterrupted time to throw out a lot of damage from range before I have to start thinking about defense.

It’s still a really close fight that comes down to the wire. I’ve got about a third of my health left, but I’ve got Margit down to a sliver of health, and I just need to hit him one more time. Then Margit is staggered! I don’t even know how it happened, but I hear the “thunk” sound and he goes down on one knee for a moment.

I’ve never seen this before in a solo fight with him so I don’t even know what to do, but I’m too far away to run up and get the critical hit on him anyway. Then, just as I’m pressing the button to fire to shoot again, I run out of mana and my character goes into that impossibly long head-scratching “hey, wait, I can’t seem use my staff anymore” animation.

My hands are shaking at this point and I’m terrified I’m going to press the wrong key (I’m using mouse and keyboard). Victory is right there in front of me. I’ve never been this close to winning, on this, the fourth day and 72nd (!!) attempt to beat Margit since I first saw that cut scene. I’m sure I’m going to blow this at the last second.

I drink the mana flask, my last one, and I bring up the Glintblade and fire. Twice, just to be sure. It feels like it takes about six hours. Only one of the spells has to hit him and the fight’s over. But the Glintblade is a slow-firing spell: It puts a little sparkly symbol in the air that has to coalesce for a while, then a missile fires out of the symbol to the target.

The final seconds of a boss fight

So Margit has plenty of time to get up, and he pulls back his big staff to lunge directly at me. It’s the move where he flies all the way across the room right to you. I’ve seen it a million times, I know exactly what to do. I just have to dodge it, and make sure I time it right–not too early and not too late. With trembling fingers, a noticeably laggy dodge mechanic, and everything riding on it: If he hits me, I’ll be dead and I’ll have to start all over again with a 73rd try.

Somehow, miraculously, I dodge the attack. It’s one of those “time slows down” moments, where everything comes into sharp focus. If it were an action movie, it would be that cliché slow motion scene that’s silent except for the loud heartbeat sound in the background. All the effort I’ve put into fighting this guy pays off with one glorious dodge roll. I’m untouched, the Glintblade finally coalesces, fires, and hits Margit in the back as he gets ready to attack again, and he evaporates, leaving nothing behind but a dire warning about worse things to come.

The screen says GREAT ENEMY FELLED, and I’ve finally beaten Margit the Fell Omen, probably one of top 10 hardest bosses I can remember fighting in any Souls game since I started in 2015.

Finally

It feels like kicking a winning goal in overtime in the finals of the World Cup, and in my head I’m sprinting around the field with my arms out doing that airplane thing the footballers always do, with a stadium of fans screaming so loud it distorts all the broadcast microphones. In real life I just kind of gape at the screen in disbelief. My character jogs around in a circle because that’s all I can manage because my hands are shaking so much.

That’s why From Software games are like none other.

Next: Part 8

P.S. In my subsequent time with the game, I’ve found numerous ways to make fighting Margit easier, so I imagine if I ever fight him again, in New Game Plus, for example, or with another character, with the time I spent fighting him the first time plus the new tips and tricks I’ve learned (like the Bloody Slash!), it will be somewhat routine. That’s how Souls games are. The longer you play and the more you practice, the easier it gets. Like playing piano, an analogy I like to use for Souls games.

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