I tread cautiously into a deep subterranean cavern, the path ahead of me lit only by the impossible canopy of stars hanging above my head. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do in this place – I didn’t even know the Siofra River existed until a few moments ago. I can’t easily escape to more familiar territory, and everything here wants to kill me and does it very well. So far, so Elden Ring, right?
To the right. But. The difference here is me: I don’t hope to find sweet loot on a withered corpse that hangs on the edge of a crumbling monument dedicated to forgotten gods, nor do I make an effort to “complete “another area as I chart a destructive course through The Lands Between. I am here because my curiosity, guided only by a map deliberately more evocative than instructive, led me here. I don’t know what I’ll find here or what I’ll do when I find it, and it makes every shady nook an uncharted corner of my own adventure even if it’s a dead end.
This is where I find myself battling the toughest enemy in the Elden Ring once again. You’d expect it to be a huge demigod riding a small horse or a mighty dragon capable of roasting me from above, but in truth I’m fighting a feeling – the feeling that by taking such a laid-back approach to ‘Elden Ring, I don’t play it the “right” way.
git gud can get lost
I’m supposed to want to be “good” at games, right? Especially FromSoftware games, famous for their difficulty and the exploits players use to overcome them. I’m supposed to want to effectively solve their mysteries, defeat their towering foes, and then see the credits roll in time to move on to the next big thing the internet wants to talk about. I shouldn’t want to spend “unnecessary” time snooping around somewhere I don’t need to be. If I played for 100 hours and decided to quit long before I saw the final boss, I must have done something wrong.
Managing my load of gear in Elden Ring is nothing compared to the weight of expectations that rests on my shoulders when it comes to community games like these. Watching talented players storm places I may never see is fine – it saves me the virtual walk if nothing else – but it’s another thing to get stuck and ask a little help, only to find that fan-made guides and wikis have a very different idea of what “a little help” entails.
What build are you aiming for? Well, kinda m- What weapons do you use? I found this powerful staff some time ago, is it- In which hands do you hold these weapons and how many Smithing Stones did you use on them? Uh, I’m gonna have to ch- What status effect are you hoping to inflict? Death, I suppose- What phase of the boss fight are you in? Wait, you’re telling me there’s more than o- Have you tried rolling? Yeah but-
The game may change – a popular MMO, a chart-topping F2P adventure, a competitive strategy game, whatever disease-riddled world FromSoftware has concocted this time around – but the pressure remains the same. It’s often not enough to play, and for some, it’s not enough to win: the dominant way to analyze and discuss games like Elden Ring is to optimize. To be efficient. If I’m not interested break the game at the mechanical level, so everything I do often feels like a shoddy approximation of how to do it “correctly”, judging by conversations on Reddit and Discord and social media. Much of my time at Raya Lucaria Academy was spent running around corners and mumbling “Please, pleaseplease don’t hit me’ under my breath felt like something better hidden on the internet unless I wanted to see my social media feeds filled with advice on how I ‘should’ have played, whatever the result.
There is, however, another, less efficient and optimized way of looking at Elden Ring, which the game actively encourages. The overworld allows you to be wherever you can go, whether you have earned the right to be there or not. Elden Ring himself doesn’t care what I do or when I do it; The Lands Between will always be there, imprisoned in post-apocalyptic amber. So when a game offers so much freedom, why not choose to be free?
When I started Elden Ring, I swore to focus on spending time in its world just for fun, even if I wasn’t “doing” anything. It’s time I stopped seeing incomplete accomplishments as a public list of things I didn’t do but should have. I have instead chosen to cherish the leisurely walks through waterlogged forests and the often deadly explorations of the darkest depths for their own good. I have to give these virtual worlds, these incredible amalgamations of art and technology created by armies of talented people, the space to be more than the next game to conquer.
Although it’s not that easy, is it? You can’t just create the feeling of being surprised. Resident Evil: Village went to great lengths to make longtime good guy Chris Redfield sound like the bad guy in its intro killing his wife and snatching a baby, but like most surprise attempts in games, Clearly there is more going on than you’ve currently been told. This isn’t shocking hero behavior, it’s just a plot point awaiting an inevitable explanation.
It’s just as difficult for a moment of discovery to elicit genuine pleasure, even if you’re ready and waiting to be thrilled. These days, Final Fantasy 14 incentivizes time travel and dimension jumping at the push of a button, though the convenience of the act can reduce your daring adventures through reality to hunts for the nearest Aetheryte. and the correct “!” on the minimap.
By contrast, Elden Ring is a world of untold possibilities, shaped by my own hands. The list of places I never have to go and things I never have to do is long, and yet the rewards for doing them can shape the future. I can fall into conversations and agree to things that I don’t fully understand, and find myself having to live with the consequences. Characters can turn on me for real, forcing me to kill them before they do the same to me, or they can die and leave only a few items of unknown use behind, their deaths being the result of something I did or didn’t do but now have to deal with.
When I play without any outside knowledge, it’s continuous changes in a world that doesn’t revolve around me. It’s too vast and too old to deign to explain to a humble Terni. As the wider gaming community lays bare all the possibilities and uploads best practice videos, all that remains is to check out the end result and decide if the reward is worth the effort I have to do to get it.
That’s why it’s always worth asking if there’s another way to approach something as big as special, such as Elden Ring. If there’s anything more interesting to do here than being strong or fair or efficient.
Lost grace discovered
Elden Ring means many things to many people – the culmination of FromSoftware’s stubbornly unique successes, the latest must-have game everyone is talking about, a great challenge to be overcome in the hardest way possible, another world of fragmented knowledge to carefully put together, but it’s also the perfect reminder that we don’t need to master or even finish a game to consider our time with it worthwhile.
There are entire rotting cities that I’ve only ever seen from Torrent’s back as I’ve been bombarded with frustratingly accurate magic spells from afar or chased by a rotting beast with way too many teeth ( often both at the same time, because Elden Ring) . There were times when I tried to outsmart my enemies only to realize too late that I was so focused on sneaking up on the festering beast in front of me that I hadn’t even noticed the one falling from within. high. I may never know if I was inches from the start of another mysterious quest, a left turn from a sprawling dungeon, or about to pick up something valuable when I died – maybe Maybe it was none of that and I just saved myself a lot of bother by dropping dead and wandering off somewhere else. But the memories of these unforeseen events, ineffective encounters that happen infrequently shine all the brighter because they don’t try to force these self-made events into serving a more productive purpose.
I still don’t know where I’m going or what Elden Ring will be waiting for me when I get there, but I had funand that’s enough.