I finally finished my first playthrough of Elden Ring last week, which feels like a bit of an achievement considering I also suffer from a particularly nasty stomach flu. I just wanted to keep my head in a bucket, but the Lands Between beckoned me, and with the end so close, I had to keep playing in those nasty gaps between eruptions. The real challenge, however, was completing something that consumed my life for over a month.
I generally find it very difficult to concentrate on a single game. I get easily distracted, and my ever-expanding library of games provides nearly endless distractions. There was a cavalcade of enticing new releases, and all the old stalwarts, my online obsessions, trying to tempt me. But this time, I stayed the course.
The reason for this new level of discipline is simple: Elden Ring is really awesome. It’s the first game since Disco Elysium to really grip me like this, where I absolutely have to talk about it all the time even when I’m late.
This can be a dull pain in the ass at times, and at no point did any of the fixes alleviate any significant performance issues, which should have bothered me a lot more given my recent expensive PC upgrade. But those imperfections became largely invisible by the time I booted up the game – drowned out by the parade of startling grotesqueness, cheesy building experiences, and the overwhelming sense of camaraderie that comes from completing a challenging game with millions of other people.
Fellowship of the Ring
That last part made it especially hard to say goodbye. I’ve only just started socializing offline again recently, in small doses, and throughout the pandemic, proof play has truly been an incredible balm, right after getting a puppy in November. And Elden Ring is where that peaked – and while I barely delved into the multiplayer side of things, it was always a deeply communal experience.
I share all of my victories and successes with folks who tirelessly write guides, Tarnisheds discussing building ideas on Reddit, friends and colleagues who give me advice on Twitter, and PCG’s own Slack channel. May be I could have finished without all that assistance, but I would have missed so much, and the experience would have been worse without it.
The older I get, the less inclined I am to join online communities, especially gaming ones. Elden Ring didn’t inspire me to do a 180, but just existing online and playing Elden Ring means you’re inevitably going to be a part of this loose Tarnished affiliation spread across the globe. Even if you’ve managed to avoid social media, if you’re playing online you’re at least going to see messages and ghosts from all those other adventurers.
It feels like you’re part of something, with its own language, eccentricities and sense of humor, heightened by the fact that, damn, this game is badass. You must rely on your tarnished comrades. Sure, some of them are assholes who drop messages above mercy sites or under ladders, responsible for so many needless deaths, and there are plenty of lies scrawled on dungeon floors or on edges of the cliffs, but that just gives the rest of us a few bad guys to insult. Trolls bring us together.
The only comparable experience, really, is the launch of a big new MMO. We’ve seen some of that with New World, but the crucial difference here is that Elden Ring is actually great, and its secrets are worth unraveling. Now that I’m on the other side, I feel a bit alone. I already miss my nights spent making my way through this enigmatic world with my ghostly comrades, each doing the same in their own version of the Lands Between. It’s strange not to be buried in debates about the effectiveness of different swords or sharing feats for helping people defeat a particularly tricky opponent.
As I approached my destiny in the Erdtree last week, I took a step back. There were a few optional bosses I still had to face, and a lot of spells and weapons I wanted to collect for my NG+ adventures, but really I just wasn’t ready to leave the Lands Between and all the people that were still playing. Because I knew that even if I absolutely cannot wait to play again, it will not be with the same intensity. I will dive in and out while playing other things. The new player experience is unique and cannot be traced.
So I left the Erdtree. It was only then that I faced what is considered the game’s trickiest boss, Malenia, and she lived up to her villainous representative. She was just one of many memorable encounters I had while I was technically cleaning things up. Even this late in the game, Elden Ring continued to send me down rabbit holes, delving into hidden areas, and getting lost. I changed my build a bunch of times, too. In the midst of it all, I completely forgot that I was only a few big fights away from watching the end credits.
The distance between when I decided, “OK, I’m ready now” and finishing it was huge too. The final boss fight is a doozy. My main build had proven to be pretty much unstoppable up until then, but time and again the Elden Beast destroyed me. I watched videos, browsed Reddit, interviewed friends – there was a lot of homework. I once again left the Elden Tree, searching for weapons and talismans that would give me an advantage. Now it was Elden Ring himself trying to stop me from saying goodbye. It was awesome – one of the highest points in a game that is full of it.
When I finally did, with no more vials, a dead mimic tear, and only a burst of health, I was slammed with all that joy and relief. I woke the dog to demand a high five. And then I had to vomit all over the bathroom because the stomach flu doesn’t care about my exploits. But even as my throat burned and my guts felt like they were being crushed, I was thrilled. I had waited for ages, but it was damn amazing to finally become an Elden Lord, even if it meant I had to move on.
Of course, now I don’t know what to do with myself. Sleep, probably. Apparently some games have been released? I guess I could see what it’s all about. But actually, I’d rather not play anything for a little while. I still need to digest Elden Ring after 150 hours of chewing. And I suspect other games wouldn’t hold my attention, or I’d spend too much time comparing the experience to the sublime one I just had.
That said, I installed Sekiro…