Elden Ring is an amazing game, and the hype levels are off the charts. The game has hit hundreds of thousands of concurrent players on Steam and consoles, undoubtedly marking it for "game of the year" accolades and placements on many best Xbox games of all time lists.
One question I've been getting a lot of on social media is, "Should I buy Elden Ring?" while citing the game's notorious difficulty and complexity as a big concern. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful motivator of purchasing, and when something blows up like Elden Ring has been, it creates an urge to join in the fun. We're social creatures after all. I myself felt this FOMO a few months ago, as the game's marketing started ramping up, and I started to realize how much content we were going to need to write for it.
As such, I resolved myself to finally learn how to get into Souls games to contribute to our massive guide writing effort, at least primarily. I did not expect to fall utterly in love with Dark Souls, and end up counting it as one of my favorite games of all time. However, that being said, Dark Souls may have helped me get acquainted with some of Elden Ring's DNA, but it's ultimately a very different beast.
If you're thinking about buying Elden Ring, but aren't yet sure, here are some thoughts as someone who only just recently got into Souls games, as someone who is also very much not great at high-skill gaming.
Don't buy based on hype alone
You might be seeing mountains of gameplay clips and memes hitting your timelines on social media, especially stylish gameplay slices that make the game look easy and at least somewhat manageable. What many of these sexy gameplay clips often do not show is the dozens of deaths it took to learn each boss's choreography and AI reactions. Elden Ring is very much a game of trial and error, even for those who are particularly skillful and fast-reacting.
The firm truth is that while Elden Ring is undoubtedly a masterpiece, it's very much not for everyone. Much like the time I was dragged to see a ballet with my SO, I understood wholeheartedly the skill, tenacity, and sheer artistry that goes into these performances, but I would be lying to suggest that it turned me into a big ballet fan. It's just not for me, and that's okay. The same can be true of Elden Ring, and other games.
One recent bout of FOMO I had pertains very heavily to Sea of Thieves. I love pirates, I love Rare, I love the art style and dynamic and immersive world Rare has built. However, I find the PvP combat to be stressful, at least on the face of it. At least in difficult PvE games like World of Warcraft Mythic-tier raiding, Monster Hunter: World endgame bosses, and Elden Ring itself, you will eventually be able to commit a boss's actions and abilities to muscle memory.
You can grind and refine your build to give yourself a better chance in the fight. In Sea of Thieves, the unpredictability of human players, coupled with the thought of having my loot stolen is a huge part of the fun for players who like it — but I find it simply frustrating, generally speaking. And that's fine. Sea of Thieves isn't for me.
The same was true of Dark Souls for the longest time. I picked up the game at launch because the bleak aesthetic really spoke to me, yet the unfamiliarity of the game's systems made it feel like an insurmountable task. It's only really after getting into Monster Hunter: World that I somewhat began to understand the formula Dark Souls and other FromSoft games are going for, given that they share at least some superficial similarities with regards to combat. Yet for the longest time, I too, thought Dark Souls isn't for me, and by extension, Elden Ring too.
I had to change my mentality a bit to get into both games, even Elden Ring, coming straight in from Dark Souls. I'm sure I could change my mentality too to get into Sea of Thieves, or other games that I find to be frustrating. It all depends on how much investment you are willing to put into the game, if it doesn't immediately hook you.
Elden Ring's difficulty is more like learning a musical instrument
I wrote an article recently that served as something of a complete beginner's guide for those who already purchased Elden Ring, without really knowing what they were getting in for. And I'll reiterate some of the points here in summary.
Elden Ring was insanely hard for me as someone who had only played Dark Souls, at least initially. My colleagues said it shared more DNA with Dark Souls 3 and potentially Sekiro, two games I haven't really played. Yet, I persevered, and now am in love with the game with over 150 hours played. Yet still, I find myself struggling at every step to progress in Elden Ring, because the truth is I'm by no means a super pr0 hardc0rE gamer.
The Souls community has an unfairly bad reputation, dismissing criticisms over its difficulty with "git gud," and the like. The truth about Soulsian difficulty curves is that very few people actually just waltz into a main story boss first time and kill it in one attempt, without either having grinded, or looked up guides beforehand. During the review period where there were no such guides, I died about 15 times on the first main boss, Margit. I had no idea how to upgrade my equipment, find new spells for my Astrologer, or perform many new mechanics such as guard counters.
I found it to be incredibly frustrating, and began questioning whether I was simply too old or too bad to play the game. Yet, on my second save, I went to Margit almost immediately after exiting the tutorial, using a basic weapon, and killed him in only two tries with a naked character.
Sometimes it's better to fight in your boxers. #ELDENRING #XboxShare pic.twitter.com/I4EON4YhMESometimes it's better to fight in your boxers. #ELDENRING #XboxShare pic.twitter.com/I4EON4YhME— jez (@JezCorden) February 25, 2022February 25, 2022
Therein lies the truth about Elden Ring's difficulty, for those who are of a generally average skill in these types of games. Even if you struggle, you can train your muscle memory to overcome every obstacle Elden Ring throws at you. I find the sensation of learning some of Elden Ring's more difficult bosses similar to that of learning a musical instrument. Elden Ring's weapons are nuanced and complex in their application. The speed at which they swing, the stagger damage they inflict, and their hitbox sizes and length — you need to practice with them to really get to grips with how everything in the game works. In simplistic games like Assassin's Creed, every weapon practically functions in the same way, and there's no real punishment for using weapons in a suboptimal way.
I can generally pick up virtually any first-person shooter and I immediately know how to play it, because the fundamentals are universal: point gun, shoot gun. But even in Call of Duty and similar games, you'll be called upon to account for each gun's unique recoil profile and bullet spread, for example, and Elden Ring is absolutely no different. We're not used to games that ascribe this type of depth to melee combat, yet we accept it and don't consider it controversial in Call of Duty and Halo, for whatever reason.
Indeed, much like learning a guitar tab or even a rhythm game like Beat Saber or Guitar Hero. At range, Margit will sometimes pull out knives and toss them at you. At 50%, he pulls out a huge hammer which needs to be dodged. His light attacks can be parried, and even blocked to set up a guard counter. You can jump over his tail swipe, which he'll perform if he senses you directly behind him, leaving him open for a stance-breaking jump attack. These are just a few examples of how Margit becomes predictable the more you fight him, just like learning the notes from sheet music.
The speed at which you'll learn these bosses will obviously vary person to person. As a guitar player in my youth, I wrote hundreds of hours of music and even had a song played at BlizzCon, but I never really learned scales, or how to play anything more complex than Nirvana. Yet, I know I could learn if I put the time and effort in. Elden Ring is much the same way — unless you're a Souls savant, Elden Ring should be approached with a hobbyist mindset. If you're willing to learn, study, and practice, you will end up loving Elden Ring.
World of Warcraft had a South Park episode that parodied the sheer time investment the game used to demand, and I'd argue that Elden Ring is far more lenient on your time. There are save points (Sites of Grace) or respawn points (Statues of Marika) outside most bosses, and the open-world side-dungeons are generally 10-30-minute experiences. When I was younger, we'd commit 5 hours to a single WoW raid three days per week, and the choreography each boss asked you to learn was no less complicated. But much like WoW, overcoming the challenge was a truly amazing experience. Nothing will match the jubilation I felt when my WoW guild downed Nefarian back in the day, a battle that took us three weeks to learn properly. Over 15 years later, I still know that boss fight like the back of my hand, burned onto my mind. This is the power of muscle memory, a capability we all have. If you're willing to learn, and practice, much like learning to play a classical instrument, Elden Ring will respect you — and reward you.
Elden Ring can be more hobby, than game
Some of my colleagues who are self-described as Souls veterans even said they find Elden Ring to be tough, especially in the latter reaches of the game. But much like anything, through study and perseverance, you can overcome every challenge the game throws at you, but only if you're willing to make the effort.
Arguably, Elden Ring is at its most difficult right now, given that the information on the web about some of its bosses, quests, and optimal playstyle simply isn't out there yet. When I came to play Dark Souls Remastered, there was naturally a wealth of information online to help me if I got stuck, and it's okay to play the games like that, if it helps you get the most enjoyment out of them possible. It's certainly true that playing Elden Ring a second time has been a thoroughly different experience for me, given that now I know where to get items I need, I know how to kill bosses I struggled on before, and I know how to correctly build and design my playstyle.
If you wait a few weeks or months, there'll be enough information and video content online to help you skip through that initial confusion and opaqueness that had me raging during the review period. Yet, at the same time, discovering these things for myself has been a big part of the moment-to-moment wonderment of the game. I feel as though if I had gone through Elden Ring without that confusion, I would have robbed myself of some of the euphoria of overcoming bosses without aid — yet, there's no shame in calling for help either, hence why the game has features in game for sharing tips with other players via messages, or even inviting them for some jolly Elden Ring co-operative play.
It's wholly fine if you don't fancy the potentially steep learning curve and studying requirements, gaming is something different for everyone. I would also argue that you can totally play Elden Ring piece by piece, here and there, and it's certainly how I'm going to play it. Much like learning guitar, it can be exhausting, but also much like guitar, it feels great when you commit a new chord (or boss fight) to muscle memory.
I think if, like me, you're thinking that you're not "skilled" enough for Elden Ring, there's another way to interpret the phrase "git gud" — believe in yourself. Just be prepared to discover a game that is a little more demanding than most.
Soulsian open world
Elden Ring ... oh, Elden Ring!
Elden Ring is an epic journey for those willing to fully invest in it. Beautiful, haunting, and painful, Elden Ring is a landmark experience that will be celebrated for years to come.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!