Elden Ring is the perfect Soulsborne to be awful at
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Featured Image Credit: FromSoftware, Bandai Namco
When Elden Ring first released last year, I’ll admit that I initially had absolutely no intention of playing it. Having never played a Soulsborne game before, I was daunted by the tales of other players who were struggling to take down the title’s plethora of bosses, as well as the reputation that it’d built up with the devs’ refusal to incorporate an easy mode. I just accepted that it wasn’t going to be a game for me, and moved on.
Except, it was impossible to move on. Elden Ring was everywhere for months after launch thanks to all the zany challenges that players were pulling off, cool lore and secrets that others were uncovering, and the internet’s overall obsession with the title. I can’t quite remember what it was that finally made me cave, but I eventually became one of the millions of Tarnished taking on the perils of the Lands Between.
Speaking of challenges, check out this streamer beating Elden Ring with a dance mat below.
My expectations for myself were on the floor when I first started, if I’m being honest. I made it a goal to take down one main story boss, and then see how I felt about my prospects for the rest of the game. I’m not going to lie, upon slaying Margit the Fell Omen, I wasn’t filled with confidence, but instead relief that I’d finally pushed past my first major hurdle. Even so, that ridiculous hit of adrenaline and dopamine from taking down the guy was enough to make me keep going, and I soon realised that even though I was admittedly terrible in battle with my trigger-happy dodging and awful judgement of when and when not to attack, the title is surprisingly accommodating of total newbies.
Elden Ring’s gorgeous, sprawling open world is a huge part of this. For the first time in Soulsborne history, players can simply decide to nope out of particularly difficult boss battles and go and explore somewhere else instead. Sure, there’s still a certain amount of bosses that you’re required to take down if you want to progress the story, but most of the time, you’ve got options - there’s no need to slam your head against your controller for hours on end when you could be having fun discovering the world’s secrets (and inevitably finding new items, felling other enemies and becoming stronger in the process).
And what incredible secrets there are to be found. It’s easy to make an open-world game big for the sake of being big, but FromSoftware included so many details, lore and treasures to discover in every inch of the map that you could play for hundreds of hours and still not see everything it has to offer. I’ll never forget the moment that I first descended into Siofra River and sat in awe, not just of the magical landscape in front of me, but at the fact that the already enormous map had a gigantic underground half that’d been hidden up to that point. While Siofra River is hardly a secret at this point, there are so many nooks and crannies in literally every area that it almost feels rude to rush through a location without jumping onto every ledge, hitting every wall, and smashing every enemy just in case there’s something to be uncovered.
The openness of the world also contributes heavily to the flexibility in which players can approach combat and character customisation. Although Soulsborne players constructing weird and wonderful builds for their characters is nothing new, being able to run out and grab anything you need to construct them basically whenever you want means that the most absurd, game-destroying setups can be put together pretty much instantly. Just take the guy who managed to defeat every main boss in a single hit - although he was no newbie, anyone could - in theory - recreate the build and breeze through the story with ease. In this sense, the game is essentially as hard as you want it to be.
Frankly though, with exploration being just as big a part of the game as the boss fights, it hardly matters even if you’re at a total loss as to how to progress - there’s still so much fun to be had. Although I did finish the game in the end, looking back on my time with it, I cherished those moments of discovery even more than the victories against the most hard-fought enemies (apart from beating Malenia, perhaps - that was euphoric). That thrill was what kept me going, and by drawing me back in time and time again, I eventually became better at those ‘main’ Soulsborne elements that I’d initially struggled with. I now genuinely want to try out Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 because I’m hooked on the feeling that Elden Ring gave me, but without that open world and the freedom to take things at my own pace, I have very little doubt that I’d have shelved the game within the first 10 hours.
Elden Ring is so much more than a game that exists solely to be difficult - without trying to be corny, it’s an experience. While I don’t think the addition of an easy mode would do the game or its players any harm, I really appreciate that there’s just about something for everyone behind its daunting exterior, and that can definitely be enough to hook Soulsborne novices like me on a genre of games they could never have imagined enjoying.