For the undecided: Don't buy Elden Ring on the hype alone — read this first

Elden Ring Musical Instrument
Elden Ring Musical Instrument (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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

Elden Ring Pics 2022

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

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 may end up loving it.

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.

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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.

Elden Ring Margit

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

If you're willing to learn, and practice, much like learning to play a classical instrument, Elden Ring will respect you — and reward you.

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.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for 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!

7 Comments
  • it helps to use ms rewards to get the game steeply discounted or even free. then you don't feel like it's a waste if you don't get into it or finish it
  • Thanks, Jez. It's reassuring to read that someone else who was not already a Souls Veteran could get into the game, and what helped you do it. I plan on trying Elden Ring. In my case, with respect to big games, I'm usually a one-game at a time guy and an absolute completionist. Right now, I'm still trying to fully complete every quest and explore every inch of Cyberpunk 2077, and with work (and posting comments at Windows Central) only have limited time to play. If I finish that before Starfield comes out, Elden Ring is my planned next game. That's in large part thanks to your reviews as a non-Souls addict.
  • I'm not a Souls fan and I was skeptical of trying the genre, though I've always felt curious.
    My first Soulslike (a term I abhorr) was Mortal Shell. It's a very similar experience. I dipped my toes into it and I enjoyed it.
    I got Sekiro pretty recently. I got into it too, and barring the difficulty, I keep enjoying it. So this all got me excited for Elden Ring and I must say it's a game I really enjoy. The challenge is part of that. It's a game that respects the player, doesn't hold hands but it's still fairly generous. You choose your battles and your pacing. I recommend it to friends who haven't ever tried a Soulslike because it's an experience, and the sense of wonder and accomplishment you get from this game is really unparallelled. I know it might put off some people, but a lot of other difficult games could have the same effect. I'd say it's still a great game to experience.
  • This was a great article. Really well written. Also I think a very relevant article for ppl like me who love rpg fantasy but are not pro tacticians. So I will take your advice, believe in myself and take the plunge! All the best
  • great read!
    I'm on the fence trying to decide if I should dive head first in or wait a bit.
    Never played a Dark Souls game before!
  • Great write up Jez. Here is my take as a developer. I love Elden Ring but at first when I started playing it, I was not sure I was going to like it. Now I’m a level 50+ astrologer and playing the game is much more fun but it’s still rough at times. However, Elden Ring like many other games has its flaws. You cannot:
    • Save on the fly
    • Change the difficulty
    • Set Co-op to friends only to prevent invasion but other players. Playing solo you are fine
    • Jump-in, Jump-out with friends
    • Get different mounts One of my favorite games was Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter because you could play the campaign with 4 of your friends, however there was a PvE objective game mode that allowed you to play with up to 12 of your friends. Yes 12 of your friends. Well then came along Army of Two which I really liked, and then the game industry changed their model, making many games 2 player co-op which was disappointing. I do not know how many friends other gamers have, but I’m not a hermit and I’d like to play games with more than just 2 friends at a time. Rainbow 6 Vegas was another game I liked but after Army of Two came out Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 dropped to 2 player co-op was as before it was 4 player. I think Elden Ring along with other games should set the standard for 2-8 players co-op with the ability to lock the number of players the host wants to play with, because they may only want 2 players and not 8. Let the gamers decide and not the game studio. Setting the game difficulty should also be up to the gamers and not the game studio. This is not about one size fits all. There are Pro gamers and there are amateurs just like in sports. You are not going to pit a junior school baseball team against major leagues, so why would a game studio design a game knowing not everyone is at the same playing level. Setting the game difficulty is not something new, and there is no reason why Elden Ring or other games cannot incorporate that into there game. If some gamer wants the pain of setting the difficulty to “Unleash hell I cannot win” to the gamer who sets it to “Kids are in bed and I have to work tomorrow so I do not have time to get my ass kicked” then they should be able to. To those gamers who want to play this game (FOMO as Jez says) but are not that good at games, you are going to have to take your time and be patient:
    • Expect to die a lot and I mean a lot, like 10, 15, 25 times or more if you are a causal player.
    • Treat it like any other RPG where you are weak as hell until you level up and get stronger.
    • Every time you are at a Grace, check you level to see how many runes you are away from the next level before you attack something hard and loose those runes. Once you have what you need go back to the grace and level up and pay attention to how many runes you need for the next level. Try to have as little runes as possible on you that you do not care if you loose or not.
    • Kite (get enemy to follow you) to a safe area you know you can get back to safely to recover your runes in the event you die. You will be glad you did if you need 10K runes for the next level but you only have 9536 on you because you cannot store the runes anywhere to keep from loosing them
    • If you enter a boss room though the clouded door, and realize you bite off more than you can handle, then make sure you kite the boss to the door you came in before you die. Enter the room again and grab your runes quickly, then go into your menu and choose leave game. When you come back into the game you will be at the grace will all your runes.
    • At a moments notice be ready to mount up and RUN if you get into a bind
    • When at a grace step back a few steps and look at where the grace ARC is pointing to. You do not have to go that way but if you are unsure where to go next then follow the ARC.
    • At times this game is open world and other times it is linear so keep that in mind when exploring. Look for cloudy tornado like geysers which when mounted on your horse will allow you to reach higher ground when you jump One final thought, if you are that gamer and you know who you are, who has broken many controllers and/or keyboards DO NOT BUY this game.
  • Most people that learn how to play a musical instrument well make a career out of it (their job). Most that do it as a hobby don't really play it that well (because otherwise they would make a career out of it). And for those of us with full-time jobs and long commutes the last thing you want to do is come home after a long days of work and be frustrated with learning how to play and get decent at playing a musical instrument. Not to mention that my spouse would be pissed at hearing me moan and groan about not being able to play this musical instrument well.