Elden Ring (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Accept Dying Over 100 Times)

Now, I’m going to preface this review by stating that this will not be a full technical breakdown of Elden Ring. I love playing video games, but unlike my love for film, I more so love video games as a past-time, rather than a passion.

It was hard to deny that the initial Elden Ring hype over the last few years caught my interest. Having never played similar games from Bandai Namco such as the Dark Souls trilogy or Demon Souls (but being fully aware of their reputation as incredibly difficult games), I figured that Elden Ring would be a great introduction into this world and style of video game. An original fantasy story (a genre I’m a fan of in pop culture) from George R.R. Martin set in a vast world with endless possibilities of combat and exploration was gearing me up mentally that this would be my launching pad into the dense world of action-RPG’s. I was excited to dive into Elden Ring.

When February 25th approached, after a week of reading reviews and breakdowns claiming this was undoubtedly a game that was incredible and worth the lengthy wait for its release, without hesitation, I pressed the purchase button on my PlayStation 5 and began installing Elden Ring. In the hours and days that followed, was an experience that still to the time of publishing this article, has me the most conflicted I’ve ever been about any piece of media or art… ever.

But first, what is Elden Ring? Legendary game director Hidetaka Miyazaki (creative at developer FromSoftware, Dark Souls) has teamed up with publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment to create what Miyazaki describes as a ‘natural evolution’ to the Souls franchise, with a brand-new fantasy world and story created by A Song of Ice and Fire author, George R.R. Martin. Set in the Lands Between, Elden Ring is the story of an all-powerful ring that was destroyed, with its shards being dispersed between the vile and evil offspring of Queen Marika the Eternal. Each piece of the all-powerful Elden Ring, known as the Great Runes, corrupts and taints Marika the Eternal’s children, as the unjustly rule over the Lands Between.

Your character is known as Tarnished – an exile from the Lands Between after the destruction of the ring. However, you are summoned back after the Shattering to explore the land and gather each Great Rune to restore the Elden Ring and take power back for good, once and for all. After an initial battle with a giant spider-like monster, your Tarnished soon discovers that they are to restore the ring to become the Elden Lord, and rule over the Lands Between and the Erdtree.

Obviously, being a G.R.R.M. tale, the density and lore within Elden Ring is vast and, at times, overwhelming. Even the choice of 10 different character types at the beginning of the game (each with a varying level of ability which will directly affect how you play the game), had my head slightly spinning with the anxiety of wondering whether I made the right decision when I selected to play as a samurai, a decision made based on the high level of attack skill, something I thought would suit my playing style based on previous games in general.

Awakening after the Shattering, in the Lands Between, I was first met with a strange light marking on the ground. Unsure of how much exploration I needed to do early on (and for that matter, throughout the entire game), I decided that initially, I would read every hidden message I could find. Revealing the first message, I pressed a button to: “WELCOME TO ELDEN RING”. What a nice sentiment! I already knew I was going to love this world. But behold, after reading the beautiful welcoming note, a ghost-like figure ran towards a light at the end of the dark tower I awoke in. A guide!

Leading me out of the cave, I looked out to a beautifully rendered and defined landscape, scenery that genuinely had me in awe of how far video game visuals have come in the last decade. And this was just the beginning of it all. After a few seconds of gazing the horizon, I found another message to be revealed on the ground – this time in a shade of red. My curiosity steamed ahead and before I knew it, a message plastered my screen: “ur goin to die alot”. And following the message, a red ghost ran straight for a high point of the castle and jumped off into the oblivion below. These weren’t in game hints for a noob like myself, these were user-created notes, an idea that I thought obviously means a lot of the community-based aspect of Elden Ring, but also helped me realise that I probably don’t need to read them all. I pushed forward through the stony-walled terrain to a rickety bridge, one of those bridges that signify: ‘there’s no going back from here.’ My Tarnished samurai traversed the bridge to our first encounter… and the first of many deaths.

The combat in Elden Ring was foreign to me, a gamer who is very much used to shooters or sporting games. The intricacy of utlising attacks and defense sparingly and having to time every movement expertly gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I appreciated the level of skill that was required to defeat enemies, Elden Ring is a video game that is purposefully challenging in order to bring the most elite level of playing out of the gamer. With no difficulty setting, the challenge of defeating this first boss set the standard of what this game would be like going forward. One the other hand, I could feel my blood pressure rising to Crash Bandicoot 4 levels of stress.

Attempting all sorts of bow and arrow attacks, the occasional sword strike if I was feeling gutsy enough to move in close, and the endless ducking and rolling accumulated to a 10-minute-long mission to destroy this spider-creature. Without many on-screen prompts to guide me through my first battle, this truly felt like a trial by fire, almost like a test that if I didn’t pass, the game would shut down and not let me play anymore.

That was when I experienced the infamous ‘YOU DIED’ across my screen. A line only seen in memes and gameplay videos before this moment. It wasn’t before long that I realised, that in this moment, the story needed you to be attacked so you can find out more about your quest. Introducing your character to Melina, a woman who will gather you and other Tarnished to assist her to Erdtree and fulfill her own purpose within the story. Feeling like I cheated death slightly by surviving a boss-fight (albeit the very first one in the game) for 10 minutes, a stroke of confidence came over me. This game will be a piece of (very long) cake. Oh, how I was wrong.

In the 15 or so hours I’ve clocked on Elden Ring, I have died approximately 100 times, probably more. Any time mist or sounds emerge from a darkened corner of a cave or dungeon, the digits on my smart-watch heart rate begin to increase. I can’t back away from the challenge because it’s part of the quest. But I don’t want to spend 2 hours, repetitively dying just to take one small step further forward. To those of you who have the patience for this, and get enjoyment out of it, more power to you and I hope you are enjoy this game. But for everything that is beautiful about this game (which I will touch on in the following paragraphs), for me, there was more hesitation to advance on to the next stage. Something that overall, hindered my experience. Perhaps, I just don’t have the dexterity to manage the attack and defense elements of the combat, and that’s not the game’s fault at all. It is just one of those things that is not for me.

However, it is undeniable that something truly special has been crafted in Elden Ring. The specificity and details within G.R.R.M’s story is so rich and vivid. Even the most minor of NPC’s (of which you will communicate with many) seem to have an encyclopedia’s worth of backstory to them. The countless creatures that roam the Land Between, all feel incredibly unique with varying levels of difficulty in order to defeat. The world itself, a visual wonderland of varying terrains and layouts, feel so meticulously crafted by the developers. Whether it’s the coldness in the depths of forbidden caves, to the immaculate spark of light in the middle of the Land Between in the Erdtree, which stands strong as a guiding light throughout the game or traversing along vast plains on horseback or walking alongside plummeting cliff faces, there is so much variety in this open-world adventure that it’s truly awe-inspiring.

There is so much care put into the world of Elden Ring, that I can’t call it a ‘bad game’ in any way, shape or form. This was a game that simply wasn’t suited to my playing strengths or enjoyment levels. To those who have battled each creature, demon and demigod to prevail and restore the Elden Ring, congratulations and I hope you enjoyed the experience. If you are someone who has struggled with getting into games like Dark Souls, then Elden Ring may not be the game for you.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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