I Am Elden Lord

~ my essay on Elden Ring (2022).

My experience with smash hit Elden Ring, the hyped, immersive, and extreme action role-playing game from FromSoftware, was that of transcendence. My first experience in the Souls world, it was a joy. I honestly don’t want to write much about the game, outside of my feelings on it. Much praise has been delivered on the mechanics and scope; Elden Ring’s overall reception has also been… transcendent. Below are concise expressions from time in The Lands Between, from my origin as a lowly Tarnished to my violent spiritual journey to the throne of Elden Lord. No real spoilers.

DREAM x NIGHTMARE

~ visions of The Erdtree — a Yggdrasil x Tree of Life mythic symbol of creation — greet you no matter where you venture across the land.

Without knowing anything but the first sight of the world you enter in Elden Ring, the “Lands Between” can only be described as beautiful. The view from your first steps into its vast expanse features lush greenery, bright hills, distant castles, and a tree for a sun. The Erdtree, where all life sources and myths abound after the Shattering sowed chaos into the realm, guides your eyes as you explore the strange land. Where are you? What should you do? Rest easy, ambient worldbuilding and mythic phenoms and incredible surprises await you around every corner. The Lands Between look like a dream.

~ everyone has that moment in Caelid, aka “The Red Zone,” when they say: oh fuck.

Such notions soon vanish. There is darkness in the cracks and caves, rotting dead lie across battlefields and terrible secrets await in sunken ruins. A man in a white mask proclaims you “maidenless” with a sighing disdain. Most everything over each horizon you can cross wants to kill you. And they can. And will. Efficiently. Painfully. Strangely. Grotesquely. In this dark fantasy setting co-constructed by legendary creators George R.R. Martin and Hidetaka Miyazaki — nearly every man, woman, beast, demon, and dragon fiends for bloody combat with you. The Lands Between is a nightmare.

~ This moment was the first of many wow’s. A giant’s epic leap from Stormgate to challenge you.

Your journey, you soon realize as an estranged traveler in this realm —  a “Tarnished” former exile — is that of an extended arena bout, with the whole realm as the ring. You are in a dangerously open world, with many paths before you. All of them will lead you into death-defying duels with creatures beyond your imagination. Your enemies are fast and horrifying, worthy to beware.

But you are not doomed. Sites of grace light the way, providing direction and respite from the violence. Mystic acquaintances such as wizards, knights, and blacksmiths beckon you with small quests and efficient services, friends and foes among them. There are also kind turtles and gruff half-wolves and witty jar-people to guide you.

Oh, and you have Torrent, an agile and reliable spirit steed. She’s a goat mount and she’s strong and she becomes your best friend. A gift, she can be summoned on command; in the thick of a fight, Torrent can spirit you away, saving you from sudden danger.

The Lands Between is both dream and nightmare, a wild realm fully realized for satisfying engagement from the player holding the controller.

Altogether, Elden Ring is a MASSIVE, weird world. Vast landscapes of plant and crystalline life, ruined cathedrals for dead gods, mines full of stone people and shrimps with spears — they sprawl across arenas natural and man-made and seemingly godsent. Warriors wield blood as a weapon and daemonic Lovecraftian beasts roam between planes of existence, hunting. Dragons haunt lakes and giants jump from mountains. There are lords and cowards and heroes and multi-armed monstrosities. They all challenge you — your mental and physical dexterity, your persistence and heart.

They all brim with humanity, even the “monsters.”

~ The Lands Between are filled with compelling characters that will surprise you and probably make you cry.

Those initiated into a genuine playthrough of Elden Ring’s adventure come to see The Lands Between are a dream as a nightmare. And you won’t want to wake up.

Elden Ring’s Lore: Explained! VaatiVidya

CHALLENGE

Elden Ring is a 3rd-person action RPG within a complex 3D environment. As your custom character, you’ll be traversing over plains and mountains, into gigantic castles and winding caverns. A Tarnished wields a blade, bow, staff, spear, and much more, attacking hard or fast. They can sprint and jump and block and roll. They can roll a lot. And you’ll soon need to. The Lands Between house many dangers a dodge can save.

~ My first razor-thin loss against a main boss. I did not put my “foolish ambitions to rest.”

Elden Ring is a game of bosses — angry giants and fire-breathing dragons and big guys with axes. Their attacks are visibly lethal, devastating but imperfect. It becomes your job as a Tarnished to fight across the land, learning bosses and defeating them while wielding your own martial and magic powers on a path of blood leading to — where else? A final throne. {This is GRRM and a fantasy RPG afterall.}

Something I absolutely loved about the game was how straightforward it was. Not linear, it’s a true open world and there are many paths you can take to clear the content. But I loved how little there was to keep track of or truly “worry” about; Elden Ring has no checklists or much cinematic narrative to proceed through (beyond ambiguous dialogue + descriptions, and *vibes*).

You look at your map. You explore and you fight. I loved it.

The maneuverability of your avatar and the customizability over your build is what gives the tense action gameplay its satisfaction. Your RPG choices will heavily alter the experience; playing ranged vs. melee provides vastly different experiences. A sweaty solo sword must get up close and personal with speedy violence coming at you from tooth and claw. A caster can sling spells from further away, avoiding attacks with more time given. From summonable companions to co-op, Elden Ring gives the player a variety of tools to play with how they wish to.

~ I played a samurai. I couldn’t resist.

No matter your build, Elden Ring eventually demands mastery over your character’s control in order to progress. FromSoftware is notorious for the difficulty of their games, which is relished by fans. This is a world full of enemies each demanding different responses. Attack and defense are equally important inputs to survival. To kill your menacing foes, you’ll need to know your weapons and spells inside and out. Continuously improving my command over the responsive control scheme was a gratifying journey to undertake.

Best of all, the game teaches its challenge through the classic mechanic in gaming: death. A common theme of most every video game — and certainly every Soulsborne{ring} experience — is that of dying as you learn. These are fighting games with rhythm elements; a player will need to get a feel for the dance and limit their mistakes over time to earn victory against the many bosses. Elden Ring forces you into learning attack patterns and anticipating weaknesses with as ruthless of a resolve as your enemy.

^ look at this freak! You are gonna kill his ass. But he will kill you first, many times.

Once you fight a foe enough times to see what they can do, eventually you can counter and defeat them. This process is Elden Ring’s challenging gameplay loop. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t downright excellent.

ACCOMPLISHMENT

Who doesn’t love the dopamine rush of a sincere job well done? Elden Ring delivers a sense of accomplishment better than any game I’ve yet played.

The Soulsborne series is celebrated by millions for this. The prospect of your first few boss runs’ reactions of fear and despair and failure must never deter you. Go again. Go again. Go again! Every boss requires its repetitions. Commitment is key.

Sizing up Elden Ring bosses and learning their patterns within the heat of yet another life-or-death duel filled with rip-roaring violence provides a thrill few experiences can deliver so deftly.

~ Elden Ring does such things as Tarkovsky is describing.
~ Elden Ring makes you experience this.

Every game works to balance enjoyment and challenge. Most favor enjoyment over challenge, because no one really likes a game that’s too hard. Elden Ring manages to push both to the extreme, while never feeling unfair. The game’s developers respect the intelligence and determination of the player.

What must be done when this attack comes? When will you decide to counter? Which abilities and armor will you wear for the upcoming battle? What happened last time, what did you see and learn? Where did you go wrong? What’s your strategy this time?

~ a piece of primary lore from The Lands Between, the legendary battle between Malenia and Radahn.

Every fight is practice; every death is a notch in your blade, one step closer to victory.

After hours in The Lands Between, exploring for fights and winning them along your auspicious path of blood, you’ll feel strangely at home. With your weapon in hand, you know every challenge will become another accomplishment. Like Tom Cruise’s manifold-murdered character in Edge of Tomorrow (2014), based on the aptly-titled manga All You Need Is Kill, you’ll soon be moving against titans and demigods with violent prescience.

The spectacle of your skills’ growth will only be matched by the cinema delivered from the biggest boss bouts.

~ This was the final boss I fought on my run, after I’d beaten the main story. No better image could reflect the unforgettable size and spectacle of the game’s many monstrous foes.

Elden Ring makes you feel strong; because learning how to effectively fight against beautifully terrifying A.I. monstrosities is strength. Mentally and physically. No joke, you have to be quick with your trigger fingers. Fast on reactions yet patient with timing. Like every great game of gambits, with their internal engines of novel accomplishment, Elden Ring provides a recursive experience that is easy to learn and nigh impossible to master. Throughout my hundred-hour journey, every fight felt meaningful.

Simply, it has become one of my favorite games. In my view, Elden Ring is a masterpiece. You should play it.

And I can now serenely say: I am Elden Lord. ~

~ my final character sheet at the end of my playthrough. 137 hours. Level 174. 38 of 42 achievements. Every boss defeated.

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