Elden Ring Preview – Gitting Gud
I’ve long admired the Soulsborne genre from afar, the reason for that being that the barrier to entry felt so great. I’ve been playing games for decades, starting on turn-based JRPGs and platformers, before expanding my horizons to test the waters with action titles, third, and first person shooters as I got older. Any genre of game there is, I’ve developed at least a respectful level of proficiency with, and then I tried 2009/10’s Demon’s Souls, and my bubble was well and truly burst. The demands of the game, a game that expected a level of precision, timing, and self-discipline, were simply too great for me, and so with subsequent releases and the growth of the Soulsborne genre, the gulf between us grew. Every now and then, slightly lighter experiences such as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order would come along, and while those titles would push those same skills I’d lacked to their limits, I could overcome them. The jump to the unrelenting levels of the likes of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, or Sekiro was simply too great for me to make… and then Elden Ring came along. Thanks to Bandai-Namco, and From Software, I was fortunate enough to have early access to the coming CNT event.
Elden Ring promises so much that appeals to me, a George R.R. Martin co-written plot, a dilapidated high-fantasy setting that instantly catches the eye, and an enhanced multiplayer focus that told me that in the event that I was still going to get my head caved in solo, that I could ride the coattails of friends to success. Though I was aware of the open-world component, and was eager to see what it meant for storytelling, and gameplay opportunities for the most elite players, I felt it would further compound the already gruelling nature of Soulsbornes for us mere mortal players. As it turns out, it’s the open-world that makes Elden Ring the most accessible, but also most daunting experience yet.
Previous titles, whilst not totally linear in nature, had a level of linearity that ensured players would hit bottlenecks in the game that forced you to have reached a certain level of proficiency in order to succeed. Elden Ring, with it’s far more open landscapes still has a defined path, but gives players the scope to wander off and explore. In my initial hours, as I was bashing my head against a wall attempting to tackle the very first monster of any substance (for what it’s worth, it’s there from the moment you step into Limgrave), the penny dropped for me – “I don’t need to destroy my soul against this guy, I can leave!”, and so I did. I skirted around that Tree Sentinel and took a new path, one that led to the ‘Groveside Cave’ where I went head-to-head with a den of wolves, and an evasive mini-boss who I actually managed to best. That ability to forge my own path, and significantly deviate from the golden path gave me the time I needed to improve my game and actually attain some level of early success. With that victory behind me, as well as some learnings, and new weapons at my disposal, I felt more empowered to take down more of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s bullish beasts, and actually did so. Co-op makes a big difference as well, having more experienced, and more capable players surrounding you is a significant advantage for the weaker player, while accessing the Summoning Pools that connect you to other players is incredibly easy.
Mechanical changes also play an important role in the future of From Soft’s titles, namely the addition of a jump ability, and the new mount with both of these new features impact player mobility substantially. The jump adds a fascinating vertical component to gameplay, I certainly took advantage of several opportunities to drop a heavy thrusted blow on energies from elevated points of advantage whenever possible, though the risk/reward still needs considering with the move leaving you vulnerable should you miss. Meanwhile your new mount, Torrent, adds another variable altogether. Torrent’s mobility, quick movement, and sharp turning circles can be invaluable when dealing with larger hordes of enemies, either for crowd control or to assist in an escape.
Where Elden Ring maintains the overwhelming difficulty of previous entries, it gives inexperienced players enough opportunities to develop their skills, such that they have a fighting chance in the hardest encounters. These changes to the formula do not make the experience easy, not even close, but for those of us who have struggled previously to “git gud” for the longest time, the scaffolds are now there for us to actually improve our game. The world and the diabolical demons that inhabit it look phenomenal, the hum of the lifeforms moving around you further immerses you, the soundtrack is subtle but impactful, and the combat feels fantastic, leaving Elden Ring poised to be the entry with the lowest floor, but highest ceiling of any From Software title thus far.
I still need to improve further, as the first real, proper boss made abundantly clear to me, in almost a deliberate middle finger to those pleading for difficulty modes in future From titles, but I can actually see success in my future, and even more in the future of Elden Ring. The game has closed a gap that I never thought would have been until now.