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Elden Ring - Random musings


Yuanrang

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Well, that is one more game for the list. :ice:

 

 Completionism.png

 

(Warning: Some spoilers can be found within.)

 

Ah, Elden Ring. While the game might have gotten a ton of Game of the Year awards, I end up feeling deceived by everyone who recommended me to play the game.

I was promised many things about FromSoftware’s latest game, but as someone who stayed away from reading about the game, I knew precious little about the game before I booted it up. I think my knowledge was “Miyazaki meets George R.R. Martin”, “Open World” and “Double jump with your horse”.

I expected something else than what I got, because if we are to be brutally honest here, Elden Ring is not a new IP at all. It is an Open World version of a Dark Souls game, just set in a whole new universe. Well, the same could theoretically be said about Dark Souls 2 (even if it was just set in a different age to Dark Souls). :laugh:

The vast majority of animations, gameplay and even aspects as weapon and magic are either copied straight from the Souls games, or they are just barely altered. The game plays, and feels, like Dark Souls 3 with a horse. That is hardly innovative or ground-breaking, although I must admit that Torrent is a great gameplay feature, and Torrent is probably the best mount I have had in any game thus far.

 

Map design and the world.

As for the "Open World" aspect of the game? Yeah, you have large and open zones, most of which is stuffed to the brim with optional dungeons, puzzles, random stuff to explore and discover, or random NPCs that offer interesting side quests and glimpses into the lore. The world design of Elden Ring is nothing short of brilliant, but you could say the very same about the Dark Souls games. In fact, let me say a few words about Dark Souls to prove my point.

The first Dark Souls is a tour de force in terms of map design, simply with how everything is interconnected and how you can move freely through areas and zones with the appropriate game knowledge. Truth be told, Dark Souls do not really feel like a hallway RPG, as the zones are presented in such a way that it feels way more open world than it is. Dark Souls 2 continued this tradition by railroading you to Majula, but then you are presented with a ton of options and paths to explore. You are meant to find and kill four bosses and gain their particular souls, but you can bypass all of that simply by gaining enough souls to bypass that requirement, just so you can make your way through to the next part of the game.

Now, why do I mention map design of Dark Souls games? Well, truth be told, Elden Ring is the same conceptually as the Dark Souls games. You need at least two Great Runes obtained from Shardbearers to be able to finish the game. Even more similar to Dark Souls is the fact that to access certain areas, you do get bottlenecked into having to do certain areas to obtain "medallion keys". You cannot skip Leyendell, for instance, because you need to take the Grand Lift of Rold to progress further. Even Altus Plateau can only be reached in one of two ways, one requiring you to fight your way up a dungeon, and one requires you to randomly find two halves of a medallion to use the Grand Lift of Dectus. A lot of Elden Ring's area progression feels less open world, and a lot more linear.

In my eyes, I would say that Elden Ring is far more open within a singular zone, but I would say that the freedom to travel between areas is either the same as that of Dark Souls, or even quite a lot more limited. It occurs to me that if you simply go by the Legacy Dungeons in Elden Ring, it would be somewhat easy to rewrite those into a more Dark Soul-esque game and remove all the Open World fluff and side content. If you cut away anything Open World, you can easily get a Dark Souls game with the Legacy areas that remain.

In truth, I imagine I will never do a thorough completionism playthrough of Elden Ring ever again, simply because there is so much side content to do, that it is not worth doing multiple times. I quickly realized that every dungeon is interesting, and quite often rewarding to complete, so you are incentivised to complete everything. However, once you have done them, there is preciously little reason to do most of that content a second or a third time. It was fun the first time, but I can see it get old very fast. I think one of the things they do wisely, however, is to introduce later enemies as early game bosses. You quickly learn to mentally groan or learn how to parry when you face a Crucible Knight, after the first time you find one in a Gaol in Limgrave. It sets the tone when they become far more common later in the game. However, then again, both the Taurus Demon and Capra Demon becomes enemies in Dark Souls, so.. I would not say it is revolutionary. To be critical to Elden Ring, it would be worth criticizing the game for how it reuses bosses quite a lot. The three first bosses in the game, the Grafted Scion, Ulcerated Tree Spirit and the Tree Guardian, are reused several times later within the game.

Another thing to praise the massive amounts of content within the open world for, is the fact that as a D&D dungeon master, I had a lot of inspiration for traps and puzzles. I will create a base where you are conditioned by floor-elevator after floor-elevator, which they then simply go down into the floor to send you to the basement location. At a crucial spot, I will make sure one such elevator instead slams upwards into the spiky ceiling at full speed. I am surprised that most of the dungeons and tombs were so well designed. I know Adam? wants AI generated tombs for such areas, but I am not sure. I think an AI could potentially not create such a range of greatly designed tombs to traverse through, but hard to say.:unsure:

 

The story and the minor stories found within.

As for the story... well, it is both the most important aspect of the game, and the most pointless aspect of the game. I often find that Souls game is more about the story of the journey and the struggle against the improbable, and often-thought impossible, rather than the plot. However, I truly do like the way FromSoftware tells a story. I like that I want to know more, and I do like that random items I get have a story to tell. It gives you more of an understanding of the areas and the people you encounter.

An example comes from one of my favorite NPCs in the game: Iron Fist Alexander. His disposition reminded me of Siegmeyer and Siegward, and you interact with him often, often helping him move forward. While the story ends in a sad manner, there are a lot of other implications as to what went wrong, or what would have happened. After he gets cracked while fighting General Radahn, he can be found consuming corpses.

I wonder... did he also eat Radahn, and thus get corrupted by Scarlet Rot? That would explain his desperation in testing his mettle in a fight. Perhaps he was running out of time and could not become any stronger, so he had one last thing to do? Even if this was not the case, his fate would be grim. As a Living Jar, his purpose in life is to gather up the bodies of the dead, and then bring them to the Minor Erdtrees so an Erdtree Avatar can smash them. That is why the tombs and Minor Erdtrees are filled with broken and smashed Living Jars. After all, heroes were given Erdtree Burials if one is to believe the ashes of Banished Knight Oleg, just so they could return to the Erdtree.

Ultimately, by helping Alexander, you are just bringing him closer and closer to his inevitable death, in a cycle that is simply inevitably futile and harsh. The cruel thing to the player is that you probably will not think about these things, as it is never really explained through gameplay. Alexander just turns on you, and you might not find him feasting on corpses after the General Radahn fight in the first place. Also, if you never stop to wonder why there are so many broken Living Jars scattered around, you probably will never realize the purpose of Living Jars.

I think a lot of players just do not read the description of spells, spirit ashes, equipment or items, and thus a lot of the story is lost. There is a ton of lore for those who care enough to look, but for those that prefer gameplay, you craft your own story by the way you struggle forward. I definitely want to learn more about the story though, as I feel there is a ton of information left untold in that universe, and I truly am left hungry for more. 

 

Bosses

This was perhaps the only let down within the entire game. I think it is safe to say that I am a good gamer, and I am quite experienced with Soulsborne games, but I did not think most bosses would be that easy.

 

The deadliest bosses for me, ranked by amount of deaths in my first playthrough, were.

  1. Valiant Gargoyles – A massive 34 deaths.
  2. Ulcerated Tree Spirit (Fringefolk Hero’s Grave) – A frustrating 27 deaths.
  3. The Final Boss fight – 13 deaths.

 

Honestly, the Valiant Gargoyles I will chalk up to using a melee weapon that did slash damage and bleed, and only being melee. When you fight a duo boss that is highly resistant to slash and utterly immune to bleed (because they are constructs, ugh), it takes a lot of hits to beat the damn boss. The problem I ran into against them was that I could not kill the first Gargoyle fast enough, so I would have to dodge both gargoyles for a long time before I could whittle down the first, and then I had to slowly whittle down the utterly healthy second Gargoyle. I think I also got lost and found them in the first place, so I think I was under-leveled.

In retrospect, I should have swapped to a Strike weapon for that blunt damage , or just use a Larval Tear and go Faith/Intelligence, but during the first run, I wanted to just stick to a build and thus I had only gotten enough Faith to use Flames, Cleanse Me. I never did respec that playthrough, so my stats had just mainly been invested into dexterity, strength, endurance and vigor at that point. Hence... I had to struggle through 34 painful deaths. I had two tries where I died close to getting the win against the second gargoyle, but I just ran out of flasks and I would eventually just make a mistake and take a hit. My issue in these games is that I get stubborn about doing it my way, especially when I feel I can do it, I just... need to do it perfectly. I felt I could avoid both Gargoyles at the same time and wittle down the wounded one, and I could. 1 on 1, the second gargoyle was easy, but really it was just a fight against my own stubborness. :facepalm:

 

The Ulcerated Tree Spirit is mostly on the list due to going there immediately after getting a second Stonesword Key in Limgrave, and I was just woefully underleveled, with no gear or upgrades. I think that if it was not for the fact that its hitbox is that massive, or him being really vulnerable to fire, this would have been almost impossible. It took quite a long time to learn some of his random attacks though, and a single mistake would likely one-shot me most of the time, so.. yeah, 27 deaths was the end result there. :wacko:

After that, very few bosses were much of an issue. The Final Boss was mostly just deadly because it involves so much chasing and very little time to actually melee in Phase 2. Phase 1 was surprisingly easy, I was confused when I got through that phase on the first try. In fact, on some tries, I would be impatient, and I tallied up a few deaths while trying to just zerg-rush Phase 1 to get to Phase 2, and got punished for it. I believe that impatience was 3-4 deaths, but all in all, it was not too bad. The fight itself could have been good, but when you play as a melee build and the boss starts kiting you the vast majority of the fight in Phase 2, it becomes incredibly annoying. I believe that AI attitude was probably why the Final Boss was significantly more lethal than the ones in Dark Souls (did not track data in first game, but it ought to be sub-10 as parrying was so easy), Dark Souls 2 (0 deaths) and Dark Souls 3 (0 deaths).

Honorable mentions go to

  • The Crucible Knight in the Stormhill Evergaol (had to re-learn Parrying for the damn Crucible Knights)
  • The Ball Bearing Hunter in Caelid (felt incredibly overtuned)
  • Alecto, Black Knife Ringleader (for some reason, whenever she dropped below 20%, she would absolutely smash me to the ground).

 

Of the seven Shardbearers, Radahn was the most lethal at 6 deaths. Behind him, Maliketh at 5, Malenia at 4, Mohg at 2, and Godrick at 1 death. Rennala and Morgott were both defeated without any deaths.

I think the game under-used quite a few of their bosses. Multi-phase bosses were fairly rare, and often they were kept within the same health bar. It is beyond me how they could fumble Hoarah Loux so hard, being the third last boss. With the introduction cinematic, the lore and everything surrounding the fight, it was an absolutely disappointing fight. By the time he went full power, he was almost dead, and I did feel robbed by a good fight. Out of all the boss fights that I would drastically expand on and tune harder, I would make Hoarah Loux into a fight with multiple health bars and stages, but... alas, that was not so. :sad:

Morgott, as a mechanical fight was very fun, but he did not have the stats to back up his fight. Maliketh was an extremely fun fight (I loved the hell out of his aggressive mobility!), but he needed more health, or to not have a major weakness that just made him easy to down. Malenia was a 3-trick pony, and if you were mobile and learned how to dodge her sword dance and the Rot Dive Bomb, she was a one-trick pony that relied heavily on delayed attacks, and Blue Smelter Demon and Fume Knight conditioned me against that nonsense almost decade ago. :cute:  

I think Mohg should have been a far stronger boss, as should Rennala probably have been. Godrick is fine considering his location in the game, but.. yeah, a lot of bosses were underused in regards to the potential they had. I do hope this is something that gets changed in Shadow of the Erdtree, and I expect It to as well. Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City had the best and hardest boss fights in Dark Souls 3, so I assume the DLC will bring some fun fights as well.

 

Final thoughts.

Is Elden Ring worthy of a Game of the Year award? Yeah, of course it is. It is a fantastic game. In fact, as a game, it has been absolutely amazing to play through, and I have been able to actually play through such a massive open world game without burning out. Skyrim could not do that. Witcher 3 could not. Fallout games could not. Elden Ring kept my interest and attention the whole way, and while I will probably always skip a vast majority of content in future runs (or speed-run it), I appreciate that it will be there. Elden Ring is a well-crafted game, and it is obvious that time, effort, and love has gone into designing the game. I have been mind-blown on so many occasions as to how beautiful the game has been, or how fun it was, and I cannot wait to play the DLC, or DLCs, being released. It is a 10/10 game in my book, and well deserved at that.

I just… do not think it is an innovative game. Elden Ring is nothing more than Dark Souls 4, as the jump between Dark Souls 3 to 4 is eerily reminiscent of the jump from Witcher 2 to Witcher 3. I think the main reason why they made it a whole new IP is to simply get away from the stigma of it being a “Dark Souls” game, as the name itself has gotten a lot of unfair infamy as being impossibly hard games. Elden Ring is accessible, and feels fair, presenting you with options and making you feel like you have something to work towards. I am fairly sure that is why Elden Ring has recently sold twice as many copies as the entire Souls-series have done combined.

Does all of that matter? No, but to me, this pretty much was Dark Souls 4, and it was magical. Well done, Elden Ring. Well done.

 

Now bring on Shadow of the Erdtree! :pirate2:

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Interesting read. You are echoing a lot of the complicated thoughts some folks have about the game, and it's a great reminder that you can't bestow a game with the title of "revolutionary" until we see what comes after. The truth is that From Software popularized gameplay mechanics and an approach to storytelling that lends itself extremely well to experimentation and iteration. I think it's very fair to say that Elden Ring is an iteration on a model that began with Demon Souls, and From continues to (unsurprisingly) be the best at crafting the type of game that they popularized. Elden Ring is Dark Souls lifted onto an open world with horse combat, and I think the most impressive thing about Elden Ring is how well they were able to successfully iterate on their model for an open world setting.

 

For me, the difference between the world design of Dark Souls and Elden Ring is that Dark Souls is extremely good at making you feel like the world is bigger than it is and that you are making unique choices, when in reality the game is guiding you through the illusion of organic discovery. (Bloodborne is also great at this.) In Elden Ring, you are given a vague direction to go in if you want to continue the main thrust of the story, but otherwise you are truly able to take off in any direction and explore. And regardless of where you go, your curiosity will be rewarded.

 

Another thing that Elden Ring completely nailed for me is feelings of awe. Entering certain areas left me breathless with the scale of the game and the lasting impact of their art direction. Each section of Elden Ring is densely packed with compelling content and has its own distinct color palette / look and feel. This is unique for open world games, at lest for ones I've played. 

 

As an aside, I have no idea how you could think the late game bosses are easy. Malenia in particular I still haven't managed to beat, but maybe I just need to git gud.

 

 

Edited by Adam?
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5 hours ago, Adam? said:

Elden Ring is Dark Souls lifted onto an open world with horse combat, and I think the most impressive thing about Elden Ring is how well they were able to successfully iterate on their model for an open world setting.

Oh yeah, they definitely have made Elden Ring be a very smooth adaptation of past games into a new setting. I have never played Demon Souls (neither version), but Elden Ring truly is Dark Souls 4 to me. The moment of finding the Claymore in Castle Morne, or the Greatsword in Caelid, was like unlocking a decade worth of muscle memory and familiarity with timings, simply because I have used those two weapons so often across Dark Souls games. 

Elden Ring's greatest strength is that they made a Dark Souls game without naming it Dark Souls, just to appeal to a hell of a lot larger base of players. If people like the game and want more, now they can transition back to the Souls series. :tongue: 

 

5 hours ago, Adam? said:

For me, the difference between the world design of Dark Souls and Elden Ring is that Dark Souls is extremely good at making you feel like the world is bigger than it is and that you are making unique choices, when in reality the game is guiding you through the illusion of organic discovery. (Bloodborne is also great at this.) In Elden Ring, you are given a vague direction to go in if you want to continue the main thrust of the story, but otherwise you are truly able to take off in any direction and explore. And regardless of where you go, your curiosity will be rewarded.

I think you are quite right about most of what you said. I do think the Souls games are also horribly vague on where to go "Ring the two bells of awakening"... well what the hell does that mean the first time you play the game? By the time I found my first bell, I forgot I was looking for the damn bells in the first place... :xd: 

I think both games are vague and open for free exploration within the confines of where you can go, but where Elden Ring is superior, is through the simple fact that you will be rewarded for your exploration no matter what. There are so many different side-activities and places to explore, you will almost always get Spirit Ashes, weapons, armor, talismans or something precious for your efforts. Dark Souls? Just imagine the amount of people wandering into the graveyard next to Fireling Shrine in the beginning, and then being heavily punished for exploring in the wrong direction. Elden Ring truly is the better designed game in this regard, and that is where the Open World aspect of Elden RIng is such a huge success. It genuinely feels rewarding to do every dungeon, Evergaol, explore every corner of the map, and so on. :tongue: 

 

5 hours ago, Adam? said:

Another thing that Elden Ring completely nailed for me is feelings of awe. Entering certain areas left me breathless with the scale of the game and the lasting impact of their art direction. Each section of Elden Ring is densely packed with compelling content and has its own distinct color palette / look and feel. This is unique for open world games, at lest for ones I've played. 

The first time seeing the Erdtree at the beginning really sets the tone, does it not? You start panning the camera around, and you realize how massive the world truly is.

What used to blow me away in Dark Souls games were how you could travel around a zone for ages, and then you would unlock a shortcut, leading you right to an entirely different area, and I would be stunned by how inter-connected the world was. Elden Ring, however, is just a master class in giving you a game that is breathtaking. If you scale a high point of a zone, you can easily see all the different areas of the zone, and most likely the area of adjaecent zones. I had a few "WOAH!" moments when I realized that everything I could see, I could travel to and walk in a straight line to, because the world truly was that open.

I also agree 100% on how the various zones and sections give you a feeling of identity and awe to them. Caelid, in its desolation, gives off the vibrant mix of decay, of autumn, and of the wilderness and untamed nature that has mutated to survive. When you compare that with Limgrave, you see the stark difference in art and aestethics, and the game experience in terms of challenges are also different. Beyond dungeons being fairly similar to each other, the actual areas themselves were wildly different from each other.

Oh, and I just remembered... taking the lift down to Siofra Well the first time from the Mistwoods. When I understood how deep that lift went, I was surprised, but not as half as surprised as I was when I saw the absolutely insane scale and gorgeous enviromental design and skyboxes of the underground. It felt like I had found a world inside a world, and it was gorgeous. :wub:

 

5 hours ago, Adam? said:

 

As an aside, I have no idea how you could think the late game bosses are easy. Malenia in particular I still haven't managed to beat, but maybe I just need to git gud.

Well, I will touch a bit on Malenia here since you mention her in particular. I would say that mobility is your friend against Malenia, and to remember that Phase 1 and Phase 2 is incredibly similar in terms of when you can damage her. All Phase 2 does is to add in a few new gimmicks. The first flashy new movie in Phase 2 is the dive bomb Aeonia explosion, which you can just move away from her to avoid. I find it easier to rush towards her when she goes up, and then just run past her when she dives down at where you were. 

The second thing in Phase 2 is that her attacks now leave little ticking time bombs on the ground where she smashes down, which will then trigger a small AOE explosion. If you just dodge away from the attack itself, you will not eat the explosion, so thus the trick is to never block a single time against Malenia, but rather dodge everything. How do you do that? You go the Way of the Deprived, naturally. Armor is an illusion and a crutch. Only in your britches can you find true salvation and mastery of Soulsborne. I have never used armor in Souls games on my first playthrough, simply because Light Rolls  beats any approach to melee combat. The best way to win is to never be hit, after all. :tongue:  

The final, and I felt the most annoying thing, about Phase 2 was her clone attack where she launches many different copies of herself to slash and then she hurls herself towards you at the end. I always got caught by the end of that chain attack since I kept rolling in the same direction. What I realized was useful was to roll in one direction, and then immediately roll in a different direction, just to throw off her targetting. Luckily, this attack seem more rare than some of her other abilities, as it is by far her most annoying attack.

 

Once you can avoid the new attacks in Phase 2, she really is mostly the same boss as she is in Phase 1, with the same glaring weaknesses:

  1. She has very bad re-direction of her attack combos, meaning she has poor turning movement when she does a series of attacks. It is very easy to flank her, and then immediately punish her as she is exposed while doing that. She hits fast and sweeps wide, sure, but that really does not matter if she cannot attack in the direction you are in. :cute: 
  2. A lot of her attacks, especially the thrusting and ground slam ones, has a huge recovery moment where you can easily smack her with some charged attacks to start building her stagger gauge and do heavy damage. It will wittle her down, and it will also expose her to a critical hit eventually, as well as build status effects if you run those.
  3. Her sword dance combo is way more intimidating than it is actually dangerous. There are too many attacks to tank through it, so you have to avoid them. Luckily, the sword dance is easy to dodge, and  also incredibly telegraphed. When she goes up in the air, you know it is coming up, so just.. run the hell away. After she dives after you and start the slashes, run away from her until she finishes her second slash, then immediately start rolling towards her. She will just leap towards you and overshoot you, effectively failing the rest of the combo.
  4. Most melee moves are just problematic as she can delay attacks and lure out rolls, so wait for the animation before you start dodging. Malenia is nothing compared to Alonne, Fume Knight, Friede or Gael when it comes to baiting you out. Fume Knight in particular made me rage so hard when he could change his animation speed mid-attack before that bug got fixed. :xd: 

 

Most of the other bosses have some massive weaknesses too. I think Maliketh should, on paper, be a harder fight than Malenia.  What bothered me the most with him was understanding how the Blasphemous Claw worked, but when I realized when to use it, Maliketh just melts. I think that he would realistically be quite more challenging than Malenia if he had two health bars instead of changing forms mid-fight, and you could also not mega-stun him with the Claw. Maliketh is pure aggression in Phase 2, and he is way less open for attacks than Malenia is. The problem, I feel, is that both Maliketh and Hoarah Loux are very cool phases to boss fights that just end too fast. FromSoft seems to have not wanted to do the multiple-healthbar type of bosses in the base game. I feel that most end game bosses are easy, simply because they end too quickly.

 

Which ones have you found to be very hard though? :ohmy: 

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