While I’ve never touched a Souls-like game in my life, I’ve heard a lot about them. I know that they’re notoriously difficult and gruelling experiences that leave you either basking in victorious glory or crying on the YOU DIED screen. I know that they require a substantial amount of time to “get gud” at, and that practice – and arguably most importantly patience – are absolutely essential to enjoying these brutally punishing experiences. So, when I had heard that Elden Ring, the latest title from Dark Souls developer, From Software, was supposedly marginally more approachable, I finally decided to throw my hat into the ring.
During my time with this game – as someone who had garnered their information about the series almost entirely from second-hand sources – I learned a thing or two. These nuggets of information would have certainly been helpful for me during the wee hours of my initial playthrough. So, I felt it was pertinent that I pass them on to future Elden Ring players in the hopes that they help you.
1. Elden Ring Is Unbelievably Hard
I know, surprising right? I’m not exactly saying anything particularly groundbreaking when I say that Souls-like games are incredibly difficult – cue the games journalist can’t play games joke. But in all seriousness yes, Elden Ring is quite a tough nut to crack. However, it is not in a way that could be considered bad or unresponsive. Rather, it is that the game punishes you heavily for mistakes. Roll the wrong way? Dead. Mistime an attack? Dead. Parry the wrong way? Dead. You’ll quickly learn that Elden Ring does not take kindly to those who have failed to practice.
That being said, after the rage-induced coma you will undoubtedly go through initially, there is an important and crucial lesson to be learned at the end of it. Your mistakes are your fault and yours alone. Essentially, anything that goes wrong in Elden Ring is because you messed up. While that may sound a little hopeless, there is a silverlining. Ostensibly, this means that you can – and will – get better, eventually. You just need to put in the hours to get there.
2. Co-op Makes The Experience More Fun
Now I know most hardcore fans of the series will probably argue against me on this one, as from what I can gather, the Souls-like genre is meant to be a single-player focused experience. However, exploring Elden Ring’s large open sandbox world is made that much more enjoyable while tagging a partner in to explore with.
Not only does it make the content a lot easier but it also helps against invaders in your world. Luckily for me, Elden Ring’s multiplayer functionality is quite simple, only requiring an item to use and then being able to summon until either you die or rest. Suffice to say, if you’re finding the Elden Ring life a little difficult, then consider playing with a friend. There’s a reason the old adage goes “everything is better with friends”.
3. Bosses Are An Incredibly Intimidating Yet Enjoyable Experience
I remember entering my first fight against Margit. As intimidating of an experience that it was, after the fortieth “Put these foolish ambitions to rest” I started to see a rhythm within the madness. And each time I’d walk through that mist I would be less scared each time. It’s through the Margit fight that I learned that Elden Ring’s difficulty is having the patience to learn the encounter and account for your mistakes.
It is fair to say that these games are built almost entirely around the cathartic release you get from defeating a boss. The seemingly never-ending dance you’ll go through with each one, incessantly dodging and parrying in the hopes of getting in a jab or two is exhilarating. Perhaps my best piece of advice when it comes to bosses in Elden Ring is don’t be afraid to lose. It is all part of the fun, and by dying once, twice, or forty times you’ll pick up a thing or two you can use against the boss the next time around.
4. You Are Absurdly Squishy
I’m used to games being somewhat easy, as most games are these days. I’m used to I-frames and certain mechanics that give me an advantage over my AI opponents. This is not the case in Elden Ring. There have been countless times when I expected to evade an attack, only to be brutally hit by my opponent and swung into a wall.
It is fair to say that your character will be absurdly squishy even with putting points into Vigor. Half the time I’m not surprised when I get half hit by a random non-boss enemy and forced to use an Estus. However, once again not only is this part of the fun, but it also encourages safer plays. Knowing that you’re going to be relatively weak before heading in will give you an idea of how cautiously you should be playing. Survey your surroundings, learn your opponents’ attack patterns and dodge when the time strikes. Only then will you avoid being squished to death like me.
5. Play Offline To Avoid Hellish Invasions
From what I’ve seen and heard over social media, Elden Ring is susceptible to souls-like purists. You’re bound to experience pointless “you’re not playing the game right” etc comments over things like using summons, multiplayer, certain builds. Not only that but you’re also likely to be invaded by PvP pros. This is undoubtedly one of the most hellish experiences in video gaming history. It is even worse now that Elden Ring has added crouching to the genre, allowing for some devilish teabagging shenanigans.
However, I must say that the messages left on the floor by Elden Ring players are absolutely fantastic. By far the best messages are the ones identifying every single animal in the game as a dog, whether it be literally any animal as long as it isn’t a dog. Regardless, you can always opt to play offline. While this will take away a fundamental part of the game – akin to Death Strandings’ online features – you will still have an enjoyable experience. There’s absolutely no shame in it.
6. Exploration Is The Key To Having Fun In Elden Ring
Elden Ring is an open-world game and as per most open-world games, exploration is always key. Especially in a game that’s as punishing as Elden Ring, it’s important to explore and find whatever you possibly can and use it to your advantage. This may be in the form of a new weapon or armour, maybe a new Spirit Ash or flask upgrades. Whatever it may be, you definitely want anything and everything available to you.
Fun fact: if you explore enough before fighting Margit you can actually gain an item called Margit’s Shackle which binds Margit twice throughout the fight. This is a huge bonus to the fight which can hopefully alleviate some of the difficulty for players.
7. Elemental Weapons/Attributes Will Help You A Lot
There are various elements that you can apply to weapons in order to gain an advantage. While I initially brushed this off as a fairly minor system in Elden Ring, like with the majority of combat-related mechanics, it turned out to be far more important. Recently, I finally discovered that an enemy I was fighting was weak to fire, and essentially could be stunlocked via hitting them with a flame attack.
Making sure to utilise elemental weapons or attributes to your advantage is greatly advised. Not only will it give newcomers a huge advantage in combat, but it may alleviate a significant portion of the difficulty all while adding a slick layer of strategy to the proceedings.
8. Bleed/Bloodloss In Elden Ring Can Be Both Your Friend And Your Enemy
Bleeding can be a great tool in combat as it is not only effective against regular enemies but also against those pesky bosses too. Not only that but it’s incredibly satisfying seeing a huge burst of damage on any enemy’s health bar.
That being said, while it can be a huge boon for you, you’ll quickly find that it can be used against you too. Any enemy that applies bleeding to you is likely to become your arch-nemesis as the moment that bleed bar reaches full, you’ll experience a practically instantaneous death. This makes fighting bleed enemies so much harder as you have to simultaneously manage a bleed bar as well as your own health bar. Making sure to either initially avoid these enemies or at least prepare before fighting them is a really great idea.
9. Elden Ring’s Difficulty Fluctuates A Lot
Since Elden Ring is an open-world game, it means that you can basically adventure anywhere from the moment you step foot in its glorious world. That includes the tough-as-nails endgame areas. A special shout out goes to Caelid for being an absolute nightmare to traverse through while also being so close to Limgrave. I was easily clearing enemies in Limgrave only to move ever so slightly into the red hellscape that is Caelid to be one-shot by anything that even looks at me.
That being said, the same goes for the other way around. Overlevelling for an area or boss makes the game so ridiculously trivial. This is obviously just a result of the game being open world but it definitely can feel good/ bad depending on how you view it. As a result, you need to carefully consider how you approach Elden Ring. You can either play the game, in the same manner, you would any other open-world title, or tackle each area whenever you reach the correct level. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer, it all just depends on how strict you wish to be. I’d honestly recommend playing it at your own pace however you see fit and then perhaps in a second playthrough adopting a stricter stance. But that’s just me.
10. Short Breaks Help Make Elden Ring More Digestible
Elden Ring is a huge, huge game. There’s a lot to do and see. That’s why I think short breaks help break it down into a far more manageable experience. Completing the entirety of the game in a short period of time would be nigh impossible for anyone who isn’t a speedrunner.
On top of that, it’s easy to burn out if you get stuck on a certain boss or area. Trying to chip away at a problem can make Elden Ring seem like a dull experience, and it’s frankly rather easy to lose the initial spark if you do. So, take your time to slowly work your way through the game. Don’t worry, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It’ll still be waiting for you when you get back.