Elden Ring - Random musings
Entry posted by Yuanrang ·
Well, that is one more game for the list.
(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).
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.
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.
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.
- Valiant Gargoyles – A massive 34 deaths.
- Ulcerated Tree Spirit (Fringefolk Hero’s Grave) – A frustrating 27 deaths.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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