Elden Ring is the latest game in the tradition of punishing, mysterious titles by developer From Software, following hits like the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne. I have wanted to play these games for a long time. I've followed the releases, watched speedruns and read about their level design. Something didn't click.

Not for lack of trying, some combination of the bleak aesthetic, boringly elitist community and relatively on-rails experience put me off. I was hoping that Elden Ring would be different, that its unique blend of exploration and mysticism would finally grab my attention.

So far it has been delivered and some.

The first two or three zones of the game may have some minor information to share.

Since Elden Ring launched a few weeks ago, I've been slowly picking my way through its rolling hills and spooky marshes, nudging the story forward here and there. I crashed through the character creator because I was not sure I would stick with the game past the first few hours.

I'm resisting my urge to ruin Elden Ring's secrets and enjoying the game. It is a blast.

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Many ways to play

My favorite games tend to have big, colorful environments. I'm hesitant to spend a lot of time in gloomy worlds because life is dreary. The world of Elden Ring is beautiful, expansive and grand more often than it is oppressive.

The game has a lot of medieval dungeons and cramped mines, but at any given time you can go back to the overworld and watch the sun set. The juxtaposition of the open world and tense interior parts of the game makes it easy for someone like me who tends to get a little twitchy when I spend a lot of time indoors in games. Double indoors is not good!

If you're hesitant about playing Elden Ring because of its reputation for being hard, there are lots of ways to mitigate the challenge. You can just grind away, killing small enemies and overleveling enough to make the next dragon-handed monster manageable.

If you hit the wall, you can switch your playstyle, tossing magical beams at range instead of chipping away at it with a rusty implement. There's also stealth, archery, agility-focused builds, weapons that cause status effects and faith, and a lot of cool utility options. You can go old school and get a big ass sword and shield if you fail.

Even though you will be stomped, gored and magicked to death many, many times in the process, figuring out a playstyle is a lot of fun. I keep experimenting with new weapons because the combat system is so varied. The process is a game.

Elden Ring with From Software

The image is from software.

I used a one-handed sword, faith-based magic and a dowdy set of armor to start the game. Many hours later, I find myself playing more like a religiously fervent version of X-Men, gruesome claws aglow. At some point along the way, I picked up a katana, a choice I recommend to anyone in any context, and a frosty axe that lets me freeze enemies around me with ice crystals. That is only scratching the surface.

I fell in love with the Monster Hunter series over the last couple of years, but changing weapons completely changes how the game feels. It is a lot of fun. Elden Ring is a boon for anyone who is hesitant to play their first From Software title. If you're willing to experiment, you don't have to be a fan of the developer for this game to click for you.

I don't have enough time to play video games. Life is short and I have a lot of other interests. Elden Ring offers a whole toolkit for unskilled players to turn on easy mode when they don't give a shit. Killing a somnolent dragon in cold blood is an obscure leveling shortcut. You can summon ghost buddies to bail you out or use ranged magic attacks instead of bashing things in the face.

If all else fails, you can summon another human player and hope they aren't just teaching you a harsh lesson about self reliance. This is still a hard game and playing it at all will be a time commitment that a lot of casual players just won't be able to take on. That's okay!

Elden Ring with From Software

Credit: From Software.

A very open world

Elden Ring is a very big game that has all the makings of the next Skyrim, an experience epic and detailed enough that people continued to dip back into it for a decade. Elden Ring is as open a game as you could hope for, but that alone isn't what makes it special. Once novelty, open world games are now a corporate formula that allows companies to crank out massive, cookie cutter games one after the other. As a long time player of Assassin's Creed, those games are like sweatpants for me, they are not particularly challenging but with fun, comfortable combat and enough exploration to be interesting. Both types of games have their places at Elden Ring.

By law, any discussion about open world games must include at least one paragraph about Breath of the Wild, the mega-hit that raised the bar for vast, thoughtfully designed worlds. By law, anyone who plays a game must spend at least 100 hours exploring and loving it. Breath of the Wild's siren song faded a bit when I traveled to the far corners of the map and realized that there weren't exciting secrets at the top of every towering peak.

Elden Ring with From Software

The image is from software.

Exploring Elden Ring's haunted landscape is different than that game is. From Software rewards exploration handsomely, doling out a wonderful variety of strange interactions, hidden treasures, secret zones, power ups and completely optional boss fights for the explorer intrepid enough to push beyond. From Software's human touch is on full display here and every little secret sprinkled in feels like a human person engineered exactly how that moment would unfold rather than just blasting waypoints onto a map out of a t-shirt cannon.

Elden Ring is just beginning to reveal its true scope. The map is expanding outward, but I keep remembering weird little mysteries I want to investigate and areas I wanted to sneak into underleveled, so I'm going backwards as often as possible. Because the game is so open and save points are so generous, you can easily dedicate your hours in Elden Ring to whatever you want, whether that's clearing previously impossible bosses or uncovering secrets at the map's farthest reaches.

I could ride my horse through the plains and watch the sun set over the clouds. I may get trampled into dust by a giant wielding a fire sword the size of a school bus, but that's okay. I can either do something else or bounce back up and do it again.

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