Elden Ring one year later: Why I'm still playing

Elden Ring
(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Note: This article contains some spoilers for Elden Ring's story and open world.

For pretty much the entire first half of 2022, the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was FromSoftware's Elden Ring. Despite launching in a month absolutely flooded with big-name game releases to players with unimaginably high expectations, the fantasy action RPG completely lived up to the hype and ended up fully taking the industry by storm. In less than three weeks, Elden Ring hit 12 million copies sold, shocking the world (that number has since grown to 20 million). For months, thousands upon thousands of players — including several of the us here at Windows Central — eagerly chatted about the game on social media, sharing the stories, discoveries, and builds that we made while making our way through the unbelievably rich open world that is the Lands Between. 

The game generated over 3.4 billion YouTube views. It created legends like Let Me Solo Her. It took home the Game of the Year 2022 at The Game Awards. And, ultimately, it cemented itself as one of the best games ever made.

It's now been exactly one year since the game's release as I publish this article, and while there are a million different things I could gush over for Elden Ring's first anniversary, I'd like to celebrate something I don't often see people talk about: its fantastic replayability. Here's why even after 10 full playthroughs and over 700 hours of playtime, I'm still diving in for more.

Somehow, I'm still making new discoveries

The Dragonlord Placidusax boss fight is one of Elden Ring's best secrets. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Did you know that there's a secret boss called Dragonlord Placidusax in Crumbling Farum Azula that you can fight by jumping to a hidden path? I didn't until my third playthrough, during which I found said path after accidentally falling off a ledge. The Lands Between are brimming with secrets like this one that players organically stumble across as they wander the landscape, and the sheer number of them ensures that the joy of discovery permeates each and every playthrough.

I play FromSoftware's "Soulsborne" games determined to find and experience as much as I possibly can in my initial run, and my approach to Elden Ring was no different. It took me just under 100 hours to become the Elden Lord for the first time, and when the credits rolled, I naively believed that I had seen everything the game had to offer. Little did I know just how wrong I was.

In subsequent playthroughs, I made plenty of major discoveries. For example, in my second, I came across an inconspicuous well in Leyndell, Royal Capital that gave way to the horrifying Subterranean Shunning-Grounds, a labyrinthine underground network of sewer tunnels that's home to some of Elden Ring's largest lore bombshells. Then in my third, I found several NPC questlines that I had completely missed, such as Sorceress Sellen's, the Dung Eater's, and Goldmask's. In my fifth, I learned you can find Volcano Manor's Lady Tanith consuming the corpse of Rykard, Lord of Blasphemy in a grotesque attempt to inherit his serpentine form. if you return to it after defeating him. Killing her and her Crucible Knight bodyguard grants you her unique set of armor.

I naively believed that I had seen everything the game had to offer. Little did I know just how wrong I was.

I've seen a lot across my 700+ hours at this point, but even now, I'll occasionally come upon locations and items I wasn't aware of before. For instance, I recently learned that there's a hidden catacomb dungeon along the northern coast of General Radahn's boss arena, and killing its boss nets you Spirit Ashes for a powerful melee/archer hybrid summon. In my latest playthrough, I also found a cave embedded into the side of a cliff in Caelid with multiple deep pools of Scarlet Rot contained within. They're quite difficult to trudge through, but persistent players will walk away with a bow capable of adding poison buildup to any arrow fired with it. 

The fact I'm still making discoveries like this after learning the game's map to the point where I know it like the back of my hand is nothing short of amazing. It's a testament to the incredible depth of the Lands Between, and it makes me excited to see what else I've somehow missed.

There are so many builds to try

More than any FromSoftware game before it, Elden Ring is brimming with build variety. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Trying out different build types is often some of the most fun you can have in FromSoftware's RPGs, and thanks to the immense size and scale of Elden Ring's open world-driven sandbox, there's more build variety than ever before this time around. Hundreds of weapons, spells, talismans, and more are all available, and many of these have unique and exciting functions like powerful effects or special attacks that are a joy to build around across a full playthrough (the Moonlight Greatsword, with its frost magic-slinging heavy attacks, is my personal favorite). On top of that, it's also possible to tweak the moveset, damage type, and scaling of any non-unique weapons with Ashes of War, allowing players to use these weapons in any build effectively. Ultimately, any build you can dream up is not only possible, but viable as well.

Of course, you have classic Soulsborne character types such as the Strength/Faith paladin tank, the glass cannon Intelligence mage, and the agile and aggressive Dexterity warrior. However, Elden Ring also supports plenty of builds that are quite unorthodox, too. Backstabbing was highly situational for the most part in FromSoftware's previous games, but thanks to the inclusion of ways to silence your footsteps and distract enemies with stealth-focused spells or Ashes of War, it's entirely possible to play through the game as an assassin-style character. Disappointed with how useless archery is in Dark Souls? Bows are better than they've ever been in Elden Ring since they do decent damage and can be used while moving and dodging, and even though melee and magic still ultimately reign supreme, I strongly recommend giving an archery playthrough a try if you want a fresh way to play.

Ultimately, any build you can dream up is not only possible, but viable as well.

Unconventional setups like these may not be the best Elden Ring builds, but they'll absolutely get the job done, and there's a ton of fun to be had with experimentation. Right now, I'm making my way through a Strength/Dexterity playthrough with a pair of power stanced Sword of St. Trinas — a weapon that builds up Sleep, which can stagger or even knock out many enemies and expose them to a free critical hit. Before that, I rampaged my way across the Lands Between with a Faith/Arcane Dragon Communion build, torching everything that moved with dragon incantations. Next, I plan on trying to make some sort of poison build work with items like the Venomous Fang fists weapon and the Poison Moth Flight Ash of War.

I've got plenty of ideas for the future, too. How about an extremely heavily armored juggernaut with tons of Vigor, Strength, poise, and a colossal weapon with hyper armor? Why not make a magical knight that exclusively uses close-range melee sorceries instead of an actual sword? Perhaps I'll take a page out of VaatiVidya's book and pair the Erdtree Greatshield with the Discus of Light incantation, using the shield's reflecting abilities to parry my own spells and assail foes with a devastating blast of Holy magic energy. There are so many builds I want to try, and it's gotten to the point where I have to open Elden Ring's files and swap saves around just to make new characters without losing older ones.

Elden Bling, baby

Can't become the Elden Lord if you don't have the drip, Tarnished. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Discovering cool stuff in the open world and beating the snot out of your enemies with an effective build is meaningless if you can't look cool while doing it. Thankfully, there's plenty of immaculate drip to be found and worn throughout the Lands Between, with 559 individual pieces of armor in the game that you can mix, match, and create your own Elden Bling with.

Not everyone cares about their video game fashion, but for me, it's always been a huge part of how I roleplay. Coming up with stylish looks that fit the backstories I've imagined for my characters is a ton of fun, and it also deepens my enjoyment when playing them. Sure, I could just be "a guy with a greatshield and a big hammer," but I'd rather be Tree Knight Renfry, a legendary Golden Order champion clad in golden Tree Sentinel and Leyndell Knight armor that crushes his foes with the mighty Staff of the Avatar.

Not everyone cares about their video game fashion, but for me, it's always been a huge part of how I roleplay.

As I said before, I have plenty of ideas for new builds to try out in the future. More builds means more characters, and more characters means more fashionable outfits to come up with using Elden Ring's best armor pieces. It may sound silly that I'm looking forward to doing that, but I see it as just another way to engage with this excellent game.

There's plenty of community fun to be had with fashion, too. The Elden Bling and Fashion Souls subreddits are full of fans eager to check out other outfits and share their own, and if you're looking to get inspired, they're great communities to visit.

Happy birthday, Elden Ring

With its vast and deep open world loaded with secrets and treasure to discover, its staggering build variety and massive sandbox, and its amazing Fashion Souls options, Elden Ring is a game that I still look forward to playing even after over 700 hours of adventuring. One year after its launch, it stands tall as the most replayable Soulsborne game yet, and it's undoubtedly one of the best games on Xbox and Windows PC. 

Like many others, I'm extremely hopeful that a DLC announcement is coming soon. Until we get one, though, I'm content to tear up the Lands Between with some new builds and snazzy bling.


Elden Ring

FromSoftware's latest role-playing game took the world by storm, so much so that it ended up winning Game of the Year 2022. It's easily one of the best games ever made, and we can't recommend it enough.

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Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.