Never played a Souls game before or disliked them and are wondering if Elden Ring is for you? Make an informed decision after reading about this Souls newbie’s experience with it.
Table Of Contents
Souls Games Background
I distinctly remember watching my partner playing Dark Souls 3 and thinking, “I could never.” The game looked beyond intimidating. I loved watching someone else play it—the dark atmosphere and creative enemies were alluring. But to put myself through those infuriatingly difficult battles? Forget it. Thus, my experience with any of the Souls games before Elden Ring was essentially none. I eventually did end up playing through the very beginning of Dark Souls 3, and I hated it with a passion. I lasted maybe two or three hours at most.
This is the extent of the preparation I had for Elden Ring.
I want to be clear about the intent behind this review. I’m not here to give this game an official score. I have not fully completed Elden Ring. I’ve beaten a handful of bosses, including the first few main story bosses. I’ve played enough hours (~30) to feel justified in discussing my experience with it as a Souls newbie, and whether I have found this game to be worth playing, if you—like me—are new to the Souls genre.
Elden Ring Initial Impressions
I picked up Elden Ring despite my awful, brief experience with Dark Souls because I just couldn’t look away from those beautiful aesthetics in the trailers. That, and I was very excited that George R. R. Martin took part in putting together the story. I was sucked in, like many others, praying that I would not pick up the game and hate the combat and mechanics. You might say my prayers were answered… eventually.
As I mentioned above, Elden Ring’s graphics were the first quality to jump out at me. I’m sure you’ve already heard 100 times over how incredible they are, so I won’t spend the time trying to convince you. What I will say is that after spending so many years of my life in awe of Skyrim’s breathtaking landscapes, it was remarkable to finally find a game that somehow manages to be even more stunning.
I became frustrated quickly with the lack of guidance in this game. I had trouble figuring out how to equip certain things and use certain items. And to be honest, I still don’t have a solid grasp on various mechanics in this game (looking at you, Ashes of War). I know, in some minds, this probably makes me “not a real gamer.” But my guess is that if I struggled with a bunch of these things, many of you who are newcomers like me may struggle as well.
…Is This Game too Hard?
Much to my dismay, I arrived at the exact same point after a few hours of Elden Ring that I had with Dark Souls 3. I was frustrated enough that I wasn’t having a good time. I was getting destroyed by basically every single enemy I encountered, small or large. I couldn’t imagine anyone would enjoy the experience I was having, so it led me to believe that maybe I just sucked at the game more than most people did. Despite the hit to my pride, maybe the game was just too hard for me, and I just didn’t have the proper skills to enjoy it. Like I’m sure many have (or will), I reached the point where I considered putting the game down for good.
So, What Does This Mean Regarding Approachability for Souls Newbies?
At first, I wasn’t sure why I continued with Elden Ring despite my urge to quit. I could tell there was something special about the game that I just couldn’t put my finger on—at least, not until many more hours in. My suggestion for when you also hit this crossroads? Take the following into consideration before making your decision about whether or not to stick with this game.
It’s Approachable for Souls Newbies… if You Want it Bad Enough
Let me be clear about this. Elden Ring is not what I would call an approachable game. Many have said that it’s the most approachable Souls game, but please do not mistake this for being approachable in general. That said, Elden Ring is not… not approachable either. It may initially appear to be an unapproachable game, especially if you haven’t read through other guides or received guidance from other players.
But aside from external sources, the game is still approachable if you seek out ways to make it so. The good news is that you don’t have to search very hard.
Importance of Knowing or Learning Your Playstyle
Remember when I said I was on the verge of setting aside Elden Ring? As it turned out, I was having a miserable time largely to do the class I started with. I heard magic was the easiest route in Souls games, so I figured I’d start with an Astrologer. Hitting from a distance was lovely, but insta-death as soon as any minor enemy smacked me was not. I simply couldn’t get better at the game playing a character that had no defense. As soon as I switched to the Hero class, it’s like my whole world opened up. It felt as thought I was playing a different game.
My intent isn’t to tell you Astrologers suck and Heroes are the way to go. Eventually, I actually ended up back as an astrologer again. The point is that experimenting and finding a class that fits your preferred playstyle can make all the difference for your experience early-game. Every class can be effective, but playing as one that doesn’t feel comfortable can break your experience.
Importance of Utilizing the Open World
I’m sure you’ve seen many people claim, “if you’re having a hard time with something, just go explore somewhere else.” This is oversimplifying the experience a little bit, as I found that when I was having a hard time with something at the beginning of the game, I pretty much had a difficult time with everything else no matter where I went.
That said, there is still truth in those words. I died in numerous places before eventually wandering into Gatefront Ruins, a place I found where I could finally down some enemies. After gaining some levels by clearing out that area a few times, I was able to explore just a tad more without getting annihilated. I ended up repeating this process with different locations as I progressed through the game. And lo and behold, I’ve reached a point where I don’t just die the second that I enter any new area.
The open world does add to the approachability of Elden Ring. It does give you options, albeit, not as many as some might make it sound.
Importance of the Souls Community
You might be thinking, “you mean the people who tell you to ‘git gud?’” But I promise you, those gamers are a loud minority. Whether through social media, friends you know personally, or other discussion forums, most members of the Souls community want you to like the game they love so much, and they’re more than willing to help you out. Not only are members of the community great for quick tips and tricks when you don’t want to read through an entire guide, but they can also help you fight bosses through the game’s co-op function. When you take a beat down from the same boss for the 25th time, it makes all the difference in the world to feel like there are people rooting for you to succeed.
Elden Ring Successes
Eventually, I hit that point where I just “got it.” The game cliqued with me, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since. After 30 hours of gameplay and at least 20 hours of enjoyable gameplay, I was able to see Elden Ring in a whole new light.
An Open World That Keeps On Giving
You know those open world games that you walk through and you’re terribly disappointed with the emptiness or lack of content? Think of Elden Ring as the exact opposite of that. Perhaps my favorite part of this game is that the world—though dark with a significant sense of isolation—is rich with mysterious places to discover, fascinating new enemies to fight, and impressive gear, weapons, and spells. I cannot even fathom how long it will take to get through all the content in Elden Ring’s massive world, but I am confident that exploring will never start to feel tedious.
You can do anything you want in Elden Ring—at your own risk, of course. Though there is a main storyline, you can entirely ignore it and spend hours upon hours just exploring other areas, much like you can in Skyrim. The total freedom can feel overwhelming at times, but given how content-rich the world is, this aspect has been a major bonus to the experience.
I’ve attacked and killed a weak little zombie guy just for him to then suddenly transform into a bear and annihilate me. I’ve had wolves literally fall from the sky and kill me. I’ve been transported to the other side of the planet because of a trap within a chest. All this so far, and I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of the unpredictable occurrences in Elden Ring. Considering most games by now are painfully predictable, this aspect of Elden Ring is both hilarious and a fresh of breath air from the norm.
When you start up Elden Ring, you can immediately tell what the world designers set out to do and that they accomplished their vision flawlessly. I was immediately teleported to and engrossed in the Lands Between. From the stunning landscapes to the distinct enemy designs, I have never been so captivated by a fantasy realm.
Elden Ring Shortcomings
Elden Ring is a near perfect game. Though there aren’t any major flaws that take away from the gameplay, there are still a few areas where it fell short for me.
What is This Game About?
After watching my partner play Dark Souls and hearing from enough people in the community, I know that having hidden tidbits of story is a trademark for Souls games. While this might appeal to some, it did not appeal to me in Elden Ring—especially because I assumed the collaboration with George R. R. Martin meant there would be something special about the story. I haven’t finished the game, but it’s clear that the story functions in this game just like it does in the other Souls games—as a background or side point. Considering how overwhelmingly brilliant the open world is, an engaging story (or side stories) would have certainly added to the experience. After 30 hours and some main boss progression, I still have no idea what’s actually going on.
“It’s Quiet… Too Quiet”
I understand that this is about to sound nit-picky, as I’m sure this point mostly comes down to personal preference. But like with Breath of the Wild and Pokemon Legends: Arceus, I wasn’t a fan of the lack of music during exploration. The boss battle music is both exciting and terrifying—which is awesome—but the addition of some more somber music during exploration (aside from the one riff that repeats with approximately two notes) would have tied the whole aesthetic together much more nicely for me.
Back to the Grind
Now it’s true that if you’re a Souls veteran, you probably don’t have to spend nearly as much time grinding as a newbie would. And from what I’ve heard, some people even enjoy grinding in games. Personally, I don’t feel like a player should have to repeatedly farm to progress through a game. But rest assured—especially if you’re new—you will be grinding in this game, or you won’t get very far.
Death at Any Time
If there’s one thing about Elden Ring that I truly loathe, it’s that there is no pause button. Life happens, and losing all of my runes because my dog decides he wants attention is a little soul-crushing. Additionally, I can’t stop to look at my map without worrying about getting mauled when I’m trying to find a new place—not great for someone terrible with directions.
Elden Ring: An Unforgettable Dark Fantasy as Rewarding as it is Punishing
Despite the few downsides to Elden Ring, the positives decimate the negatives. If you’ve been wondering if Elden Ring is actually as good as everyone says it is, the short answer is “yes.” If you can get past the initial hump of figuring out how things work, understanding your playstyle preferences, and learning how to dodge/block, you will be awed and consumed by this game. While you will certainly be punished for your lack of skill at times, you will also be richly rewarded when you succeed—in both game spoils and self-confidence.
My unofficial review score of this game so far would be a 9.5/10. And please believe me when I say this, I have majorly struggled to progress at times. But Elden Ring’s exceptional qualities have made every second worth it.