DISCUSSION: The GdM Team Plays Elden Ring

It’s a rare thing for a game to come along and live up to its own hype by not only being good but astounding, but for it to do it so utterly and completely that it razes the entire gaming landscape and leaves in its path an absurd slew of glowing reviews from practically every gaming site imaginable. To say nothing of the gaming community itself.

Elden Ring is a rarity. Anomalous in the way it attracts new players, some who’ve never played—or enjoyed—a “Soulsborne” game before. Though if you were do talk to the raving FromSoft fan community they’d tell you otherwise. That it’s the culmination of everything that has come before it. That it is the heir to a storied legacy of gamecraft and worldbuilding. It’s been some kind of impressive to see the chatter and activity surrounding Elden Ring starting long before the game even released to now, with its staggeringly large and inclusive community that continues to grow by the day. It has amassed a legion of fans who gleefully dive into the Lands Between to grow their own legends, to face outrageous ordeals, to engage in glorious battle.

There have been more superlative reviews of Elden Ring at the point of this writing than you could shake a branch of the Erdtree at. I don’t need to add another one to that pile, and that’s not what this is. This, instead, is a collection of experiences of players from their time exploring the Lands Between.

As for me? I’m a couple hundred hours into my adventures in the Lands Between and show no sign of slowing down. I’ll let the others go on about the gameplay and the richness of the world. The difficulty which may seem punitive until you have that epiphany that we all seem to have and suddenly you “git gud.” I won’t wax poetic about the amazing design and art and storytelling. I love all of that stuff, too, but at the end of the day I’m a simple guy. I have the same philosophy for video games as I do for movies, shows, books…they’ve got to be entertaining. I’ve got to enjoy myself to want to continue on, to go deeper, to see it through.

And Elden Ring, more than anything else, is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that rewards the player for pushing harder, going deeper, looking farther. It is, quite simply, fun as hell. So from those of us here at Grimdark Magazine, brave Tarnished, welcome to the Lands Between.

JAMES TIVENDALE

As I type this I am 106 hours into Elden Ring and currently at Level 163. I have a few loose ends I’d like to tie up before I face the game’s final boss, and I thought I’d reflect and jot down a few thoughts about my experience.

I really wanted to play this game. I loved the trailers, and that GRRM was involved. It’s the first game that I’ve bought on the day of release in years. Something about Elden Ring just clicked with me.

There have been so many “Wow” moments in my playthrough, and the whole experience has been excellent. Off the top of my head: luckily getting past Margit because I had a summon that gave him rot, so he slowly succumbed to death whilst I ran away from him. Getting transported to Sellia Crystal Tunnels in the early game and feeling truly terrified and underpowered, begging for a way out. Ranni and Fia’s entire storylines were great. Helping Rya and getting invited to Volcano Manor. Any time Iron Fist Alexander showed up. Farming runes at the group of sleeping alien-looking, kinda-cute enemies just before the battle with Mohg,  Lord of Blood.

Feeling like I “got gud” at bosses like Astel, Commander Niall, and Maliketh, where, after 10-20 tries, I really felt like I got the patterns and timings down. There was one moment with Commander Niall where if I dodged him and hit Bloody Slash straight away, I sort of pirouetted away from his attack and landing mine expertly. It was an amazing feeling of overcoming something difficult by almost dancing with the enemies until the Great Enemy Felled text graced my screen. The fact that, apart from the final boss, Palisadiux, and one of the two Ancestor Spirits, I’ve managed to get all of the boss achievements: that’s something I’m pretty proud of.

This is the first time I’ve played a game and followed some streamers and/or the Twitter conversations. I really enjoyed watching AfroSenju’s videos on YouTube as we were mostly at the same parts in the game, so I found it fascinating to see how he tackled puzzles, bosses, what he missed, and also what he found that I couldn’t believe I didn’t see. The fan art coming out of the community is amazing, some of the time and effort people put into their art is incredible. Adding those with watching the legend of Let Me Solo Her grow, right up until their 1000th Melania kill, and still chuckling most days to Make Up A Tarnished Guy’s posts on Twitter.

Honestly, I’ve had a complete blast with my Elden Ring experience. I probably won’t start a NG+ for a while, but I’ve absolutely got my money’s worth from this fantastic game.

MATT BROADWAY

Let me start by stating that I’ve only played one “Souls” game before. I bought Bloodborne when it first came out and played it for about forty-five minutes, promptly took the disk out, and put it on the shelf. It has been there ever since.

Elden Ring was a completely different experience for me. I am not done with the game yet. In fact, I got pretty far along in my first play through and realized I made some horrible mistakes. Or, what I thought were horrible mistakes. So I started over. Then I started over again. Then I quit that game and went back to my second game. So far, I’m probably about two thirds of the way through the game now. I also eventually discovered that I could have changed everything about my character eventually anyway without needing to start over, but I liked the name of my second character better.

I love the game. I love immersing myself in the world, I love the combat, and I love the quests. I could have done without the learning curve, but now I know I could have just looked all that stuff up on the Elden Ring Wiki or on YouTube. I like the discovery of the game even if it is frustrating. This game is the most frustrating game I’ve ever played, and I love it. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

Do I recommend it? I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy (if I had one). That said, it’s an awesome game. If that confuses you, maybe try it out, but don’t blame me. I warned you.

AARON JONES

I’ve played an insane number of hours on consoles over the years. Thousands of hours in Final Fantasy. Hundreds in Elder Scrolls, Witcher, and Red Dead Redemption. I devour games and love every moment.

Elden Ring devoured me.

It turned me into a mess of a human crying out for save points and some kind of option to change the difficulty mode. I wanted a proper map. I wanted a clear path. I wanted direction. Then I had an enlightened moment. An epiphany. I think it was when I was killed for the millionth time by one of the early bosses (Godrick maybe, or was it Margit?). I was getting battered over and over again. But I didn’t quit. I sucked. I was getting my ass kicked but I still didn’t quit. And that moment when I actually defeated the bastard meant more to me than so many countless moments in my gaming history.

I love stories. Stories mean everything to me. Elden Ring has a story but it isn’t a clear one. Sure, there’s a lot of lore, and weird backstories to everything, but the main character doesn’t speak and there’s not a clear path laid out before you. Elden Ring doesn’t give a shit about that. It’s more about a mood. That beautiful, sinister mood that pervades the land and the unsettling feeling that permeates from the odd characters scattered around the Lands Between.

It’s that mood that pulls me back in and keeps me going. It feels alive. There’s such a freedom to the game and there isn’t anything like it. I’m level 100 and haven’t completed the game yet after 60 hours or so. I beat Radahn and that felt like a momentous achievement that I had to share with family and friends.

I no longer crave difficulty modes and the reassurance of save points. I’m all in on the Lands Between and as Tarnished as they come. There’s a cathartic beauty to the game that I’ve only rarely experienced before and that runs through pretty much every moment of my playthrough.

Elden Ring is a strange, stunning game and I’ve loved every moment.

MICHAEL BAKER

I haven’t got much experience with FromSoftware games. I’ve played a bit of Sekiro before I picked up Elden Ring, but I’m the first to admit that the “Soulsborne” series never appealed to me very much. However, I was intrigued by the hype and attention that Elden Ring has rightly received. Would Elden Ring live up to its gigantic expectations? We’ve seen time and time again hype to be a double edged sword. If it’s not realized, the backlash is immense. We’ve seen that many times. Anthem, Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky, Cyberpunk 2077 and countless others have suffered various levels of failures from too much hype.

I only have around six hours in Elden Ring so far due to my only half-decent laptop and to lack of time, so I’m barely knocking on the door. I’m probably not qualified to review it yet, but I like what I’ve seen so far. The world design is fantastic and it feels like a revolution in open world design, similar to what Breath of the Wild achieved in 2017. I like what I’ve seen of the narrative, and I enjoy the combat. I wish it ran better overall and it seems to struggle with balance problems, but it lives up to the hype and deserves its critical acclaim. Time will tell whether it’s the right game for me.

CHRISTOPHER NAPIER

Elden Ring is the first FromSoftware game that I haven’t bounced off of within the first session. I’m not the type who’s willing to grind at a game for its own sake. Indeed, it’s the way that it managed to hook my ADHD-riddled attention despite repeatedly killing me in ways that would otherwise have earned a rage-quit long ago that’s impressive.

Elden Ring does this by looking beautiful, teasing with compelling story seeds and by rewarding exploration in so many ways: with views, with cool treasure and yes, often by being surprisingly murdered.

The lore of the Lands Between is tragic, deep and enigmatic, teased out when speaking to NPCs and if you want to look further, it’s there in the item descriptions and all over that beautiful world, from the plant life to the ruins and the races that inhabit it. I’ll not spoil anything, but it’s a tremendously layered, dark and morally ambiguous web of intersecting stories from the divine to the most base that I’d happily absorb myself in for a long time.

It’s not the difficulty that defines a game, but how much it makes you want to keep playing and overcome that difficulty. I think Elden Ring is a triumph that rewards tenacity, a game that doesn’t hold your hand but rewards you greatly once you’ve learned how to walk its ways.

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Matt Davis

Matt Davis is a husband, father, and writer who makes his home in the fog-enshrouded moors of California’s San Joaquin Valley. An avid fan of escapism he spends what free time he can steal chronicling weird tales and misadventures—or watching cartoons and reading comics. But most of his days are spent hanging out with his wife and kids and their small menagerie of pets.