I consider myself to be generally pretty good at games. Kingdom Hearts on Critical Mode? Completed it mate. Spelunky? Psh, give me a challenge. Sekiro? Not even a sweat. As soon as you put any Soulsborne game other than the more action-focused Sekiro in my hands, I start to crumble. There’s something about the roll-reliant combat, slow parrying, and constant fear that something stronger and insurmountable is out there ahead of you that makes me sweat in all the wrong ways, which is pretty much why Sekiro is the only FromSoft game I’ve managed to finish.
Never has that feeling been more apparent than with Elden Ring, the one game that everyone seems to want to talk about and one that looks set to stay that way for the whole console generation to come. I had every intention of finally getting through a Soulsborne on my own, constant difficulty anxiety be damned, and even managed to beat Margit without too much trouble.
But the map grew once more, the fear set in again, and I decided to phone a friend to try and get through it with a little guidance. That friend is TheGamer’s own James Troughton, a Soulsborne nerd who by this point had managed to beat the whole game and had pretty much all the gear and knowledge that I didn’t.
After struggling to grapple with the weird rules of multiplayer in Elden Ring (furlcalling finger does what?)I managed to summon James into my world, who swaggered over like an angry father being told someone was bullying their son. That someone was Stormveil Castle, which had just metaphorically pulled my pants down and stolen my lunch money.
Once I’d pointed James at Stormveil and said, “hey beat this for me”, what’s widely known as one of Elden Ring’s toughest early-game areas suddenly became a place for the lads to crack open a cold one and shoot the shit, wind-wielding enemies be damned.
Not only did combat become a ton easier with two people, but James was pointing out secret areas as we passed them, filling me in on lore about the area, and explaining mechanics that I’d been too afraid to Google. He might as well have been standing at the front of an open top bus saying, “Here on your left is Stormveil Castle’s first illusory wall, first discovered by buttmuncher99 who left a message below saying ‘dog’”.
Elden Ring is fantastic, and I knew as much from playing the first five hours completely on my own, but suddenly the worry of whether I’d actually be able to see most of it was gone and I was left to just take in the world. I’m still not a fan of illusory walls, but my god what a world it is, from the weird giant turtles wandering around with bells for bollocks to the cartwheeling enemies that give my samurai far more grief than they should.
The moment where it all clicked for me was when we visited the magic castle to the North of the Lands Between, Lucaria Academy. This wizard school was full of weird enemies and great little details, all with the added benefit of not being thought up by a TERF. This area is apparently pretty easy as it is, but I was able to take it all in and marvel at the world that FromSoft created without any worry. From the crystal mines below to the weird doll-like students, Lucaria Academy was the first area in Elden Ring that really made me feel like a part of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I still managed to die a fair few times thanks to a portal that dropped a cannonball on my head when I was facing the other way, and it’s not like James did every combat encounter for me, sometimes preferring to stand and laugh at me as I described everything that was trying to kill me in that particular moment, but Elden Ring had turned into a game that still challenged me, but one that had a much clearer sense of progression and purpose. I wasn’t just wandering around aimlessly anymore, because I was literally being guided in the right direction.
There’s an argument out to be made that this gets rid of Elden Ring’s sense of discovery and challenge, one that I’d argue otherwise. Since going through Lucaria Academy, eyes full of wonder and amazement, I’ve had the motivation and courage to play more on my own and try to discover some places for myself, like running into Summonwater Village and not flinching at the random boss it threw my way. Sometimes you just need a guide to help you hit the ground running, and there’s no shame in that.
It isn’t just about having someone do the bosses for me or tell me where to go, either. Having someone play Elden Ring with you turns some of the more tedious moments into a laugh. If I’d ran into the Eye of Sauron-esque beast haunting frenzy forest on my own it would have doubtless annoyed me due to a lack of understanding, but with a friend there it’s suddenly just yet another thing trying to kill you both. It’s us versus the world, so what’s one more deadly challenge, right?
To bookend the whole experience, this is exactly how James managed to get into the Souls series himself. Like me, he once had a friend who knew what they were doing to help guide him through Dark Souls 2 and show that it could be done with a little perseverance. I like to think he’s having just as much fun running me through the game and hearing the perspective of someone who’s never really played a proper Soulsborne, but then again he’s also a fan of illusory walls so maybe I don’t care what he thinks.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get at the level where I can pull out a pizza cutter and smack a boss around in a few hits, but I hope that once I’ve gone through the game a few times I can return the favour and pass a bit of knowledge on to help someone else experience Elden Ring free of worry and give them the opportunity to soak in the Lands Between at their own pace.
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