My FromSoftware fandom has always been mixed.
Like many others, I have tried unsuccessfully to fight my way through the murky dungeons of Dark Souls and dark souls 2 before you find a home bloodborne‘s gothic lanes. Later, Sekiro: Shadows die twice proved that my newfound love for FromSoftware wasn’t just an accident. But I was still deeply divided. On the one hand, FromSoftware’s one-offs are some of my favorite games I’ve ever made. Then again, I’ve never finished a game in the Souls-like franchise of the same name.
My early hours with elden ring, From’s sprawling new epic, was reminiscent of my first tepid forays into Dark Souls. But now, 60 hours in elden ringI think I finally get it – not just the thrill elden ringbut also those of Dark Souls.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Elden Ring.]
My initial trepidation with elden ring was entirely due to its size. FromSoftware’s previous titles intentionally obscured where to go next, but at least you only had so many options. with elden ring‘s Open World, however, I was able to go in all directions right from the start. I was quickly plagued by indecisiveness. Even the guide lights on Sites of Mercy – which only pointed me to a boss I was underrated for – couldn’t help me. Eventually, if I stumbled into a catacomb, I would walk away victorious, but upset that all I got was a bow I would never use.
As a gamer who doesn’t typically like the loose and free structure of modern open-world games – even ones filled with icons that tell you what to do – I was afraid I’d never click it elden ring
With hot builds like the Moonveil katana and magic (which I had heard were good), I fought my way through Margit the Fell Omen, Stormveil Castle, and Godrick the Grafted. I was frustrated, underperforming and bored with riding my horse from place to place. I eventually ventured into the Lake of Liurnia and Raya Lucaria Academy. But I only played out of obligation and recommendation, desperately and persistently trying to figure out how to make the experience more similar to the FromSoftware games I love.
After 20 miserable hours, I killed Rennala, Queen of the Full Moon, and started two new endeavors: respect my character and begin Ranni’s quest.
I didn’t like the Dexterity/Intellect build I was using, but it worked well enough that I was afraid to change. Nevertheless, I had collected a “Colossal Sword” called “Greatsword” and was curious about it. Despite being a prisoner class not originally designed for strength builds, I’ve changed things up. Suddenly I was rolling around in heavy armor with a sword twice the size of my character.
Not immediately convinced by the new build, I started Ranni’s Quest as a kind of test. Then I started digging my way through the Caria Manor handspiders, and I knew this was the playstyle for me. With my new toy, I re-introduced myself to the witch, defeated Starscourge Radahn, unlocked his two massive swords, bought his armor, and played as the little demigod on horseback for the rest of the game.
In this Radahn inspired playstyle, I found a spark that reminded me of the FromSoftware titles I love. Every fight was a punishment, forcing me to play aggressively against much faster opponents. If I hadn’t been intentional with my combos and knew their timing down to the second, I would have failed.
After two dozen hours I found my enjoyment in it elden ring.
More broadly, it dawned on me that my issues with elden ring were my own fault. With Dark Souls, I always disliked how flexible the builds were. Even when I was having fun, playing aggressively, and ignoring shields, I still felt like I was doing something wrong and not playing the game the way From intended. While that might not matter (and actually excites many players), it kept me from getting into it.
in the bloodborne, There were lots of crazy items to choose from, but the intended playstyle always felt clear: defensive play was punished while aggressive play was rewarded. Whether I was using the Hunter Axe, the Threaded Cane, or eventually (and always) Ludwig’s Holy Blade, I never played defense. I loved too Axe because it only gave you one gun. It was rigid, which made for a more artisanal experience – This is the challenge and this is your tool, now get to work.
elden ring is more Dark Souls than Dark Souls itself in that regard. There are hundreds of items to choose from, and the freedom started to tug at me almost immediately. But changing my build because I found an interesting weapon helped me change my thinking. There is no wrong way to play elden ring or by extension Dark Souls. The beauty of these games is and always has been that FromSoftware offers players almost endless options, and all of them are valid. Bosses and easy enemies don’t always play fair (hit while you’re down, shoot at you with a shot, etc.), so FromSoftware provides plenty of tools to help even the playing field.
Don’t confuse my own issues with Dark Souls as the intolerable gatekeeping of some Souls-like fans (I’m obsessed with elden ringmore accessible format). My frustration with Dark Souls comes when I refuse to hit the game midway. For example, although it’s really fun demons souls Remake, I put it away just after using my bow to cheese the armor spider, feeling like I’d “cheated”. elden ring showed me that changing builds and items to fit the fight – or my mood – is not only intentional, but a critical key to success.
As I got out of the linear path of Ranni’s quest – which allowed me to focus on my new playstyle – I began exploring areas I had previously skipped. Now each dungeon or wayward body contained an item that I might be able to use in a future build or for a tough boss fight. I stopped pooping on spells and weapons that didn’t fit my idea of success.
In the end, I chose to use Spirit Ash summons and magic sparingly for the rest of my playthrough. But that was my choice based on how much fun I had fighting bosses with my giant gravity swords. Still, I made every effort to snag cool spells and incantations because I could always imagine using them later. and when I used a Spirit Ash to help me kill Malenia, it certainly didn’t feel like “cheating”.
with elden ring done and dusted, I want to revisit the Dark Souls games. I expect to still use a fat sword in my playthroughs, but I want to leave myself open to more possibilities. Maybe I’ll collect a few spells without feeling guilty, or win a victory where I can get it with some creative archery.
elden ring has helped me to overcome my own limitations and succeed with creativity instead of just brute force. As cliche as it sounds Elden ring reminded me that the only wrong way to play a game is not to have fun.