A few months back, I wrote that I was excited to be very bad at Elden Ring. Early previews and network tests had conveyed an experience vaster than other Soulsborne games, but just as hard. Some fans excited about the idea of a detailed open world made by FromSoftware worried it would be hard to fully enjoy since they were also fighting bosses made by FromSoftware. Both because the bosses are hard and also because each boss requires a three-hour dive into a wiki so you can understand the lore.
Fortunately, after spending a weekend with the game, I can give some great news: It’s possible to enjoy Elden Ring as a complete fucking coward.
While previous Soulsborne games had always made ranged attacks an option, they would sometimes strike me as weaker or slower in a narrow environment that required intensely quick reaction times. Sure, I certainly enjoyed the Dark Souls series, but if I tried to run from death while screaming in a high-pitched voice, I was usually just running towards a different death while screaming in a high-pitched voice.
Not so in Elden Ring.
In Elden Ring, the whole world is open to you running the fuck away to mommy.
When I first emerged in Limgrave, I felt the type of wonder I haven’t felt in a game since Elden Ring’s biggest inspiration, Breath of the Wild. Much like Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring lets you go your own way. There’s no map cluttered with beacons for homework-level side missions. There’s no NPC calling you up to remind you about the critical path. You want to know what you’re supposed to be doing? Better write it down.
To be fair, the opening areas of Elden Ring aren’t that hard from a distance. Enemies are relatively weak from a distance and you can often take out entire groups from a distance. The words “from a distance” are doing some heavy lifting here, because there’s no fucking way I’m taking out the sword they give to Day One Tarnished folks and going after an entire camp of soldiers. But Glintstone Arc does the trick until they notice me and I get the fuck out of Dodge.
The point of the Soulsborne games is their difficulty. As the developer has repeatedly said, FromSoftware games don’t feature accessibility options to lower difficulty because it believes difficulty is at the core of the experience itself. You may agree or disagree with that stance, but it has stuck by it. Enjoying games like Elden Ring requires sacrifice and precision.
Or sending ghost wolves to distract Margit, the Fell Omen while running away as far as I can on the battlefield and firing Glintstone Pebble screaming, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!” It may have taken a few more tries than it would have taken with a brave character, but it was important that I learned absolutely nothing about strategic technique from the first major boss of the game.
True, being a coward was a viable strategy in other Soulsborne games. Who amongst us hasn't tricked a boss on a bridge to just jump off the bridge? But here, being a coward feels like its own experience separate from those of the skilled and dedicated. I’m going to find the Elden Ring and I won’t stop avoiding progress in the game until I do.
What happened after Margit? I walked to Stormveil Castle, looked up, said, “Nope” and went right back to grinding runes from zombies I found on a shipwreck-strewn beach while using my horse to get the away from a giant bear god that would not leave me the fuck alone. After leveling up a bit, I went back to Stormveil Castle, died, and then left again. Will I come back later? Probably. Will I cheese my way through the dungeon?
You bet I will.
There’s a fun to roleplaying a coward in Elden Ring. Soulsborne games have such a sad-but-gritty-determination energy. NPCs speak in riddles while selling you arcane goods. Ruins indicate the tragic fall of a once-great civilization. Everything is dark. Everything is bad. Only a stoic Tarnished hero can bring the world back into the light.
When you’re a coward, the mood of the game is much more enjoyable. Rather than testing Tree Sentinel for weaknesses fight after fight, I like to imagine my character riding away as fast as possible on Torrent as he prays to every god he can remember. Looking back and seeing he’s not being followed, I can relax my horse and take a deep breath – and then lose my mind when an archer starts shooting from the other direction. “Is nowhere safe? Why am I here?”
I like to think of my astrologer as a tourist who did not know what the fuck he was getting into. He keeps begging all these ghost women and weirdo merchants to help him escape, but they’re all saying shit like, “Look to La Luna,” and my guy is like, “Isn’t that from Mortal Kombat?” We’re getting nowhere and nobody can help me outside of selling me spells I can’t use because I’m stupid and learned too late what the fuck a seal was.
I’ve embraced being a coward in Elden Ring because I’m bad at Elden Ring. This doesn’t trick my self-esteem into thinking it’s intentional – or I’m playing the “right” way. It just gives me some context for being so bad at it. Being chickenshit ironically makes me feel less bad because my character, Tarnished or not, feels more real to what I’m doing. Imagining him screaming in goofy fear cuts through the grimdark and adds a head-canon-humanity.
Or I just suck ass.
Either way, I’m getting my money’s worth.
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