Slight story spoilers for
Big George’s Ring Fit Adventure Elden Ring, probably.
The lumbering forms of Elden Ring’s trolls disguise an ancient melancholy. Turned traitors in the war between demigods and giants, their reward for loyalty to the Golden Lineage was an eternity in shackles, used as frontline fodder in bloody conflicts or beasts of burden hauling funereal carriages around the Lands Between. Since learning their history, I often muse sadly upon it, as I weave between their horribly gnarled legs in my freshly tarnished underwear and hoover up the shiny objects scattered underneath their feet.
I’m on my second run of Elden Ring now, progressing slowly and methodically, examining every statue and reading every spell description. But the first time through, the need to cram the whole content buffet in my face at once got the better of me. Underleveled and underprepared for most areas, I developed the winning strategy of stripping down to my burial rags for a speed boost and streaking through the wilds, shoving everything valuable down my pants.
You, a maidenless fool, may call this cowardice. But I, emboldened by the flame of being right, choose to see it as a valid and cool way to play. A playstyle with precedence, even, that I’m tentatively calling ‘intended transgression’. Here, I mean ‘intended’ player behaviour as, for example, clearing a room full of enemies before advancing on a set path, whilst ‘transgression’ is, say, clipping through door textures during a speedrun. Elden Ring’s world design still lays out a critical path through most areas, but it also not-so-subtly highlights alternatives.
There’s no way FromSoftware intend you to fight three giant lobsters at the same time.
Listen, mate. I beat Orphan of Kos, and it only took me six hours. But there’s no way FromSoftware intend you to fight three giant lobsters at the same time in lieu of just grabbing the item they protect and hoofing it away cackling. And yet! they still manage to make you feel like a lithe and spicy cat burglar when you do it. It’s not just cheese, but a lovingly arranged cheese platter next to a “please enjoy” sign.
Elden Ring shares strands of DNA from each of From’s previous outings (collectively known as El Soulsborno. This is a thing now.) But large swathes of its open world remind me most strongly of Dark Souls 3’s Farron Swamp, an area I have it on strong authority was brainstormed when Miyazaki locked a level designer in a mouldy cupboard for six hours, only opening it to intermittently pelt an angry crab at their face.
Farron Keep has smatterings of islets that facilitate even combat, but the bulk of it is poisonous, confusing goo that you'd have to be a more dedicated idiot than I to methodically clear and explore, rather than just dodge rolling through and grabbing items. Its murky stretches of bubbling bumwater are no doubt evocative, and we should surely give more credit to creating discomfort as a valid choice in the service of atmosphere, rather than writing it off as poor design. But also, bollocks to it, because Elden Ring one-ups even the naked treasure run by giving you access to Torrent.
Torrent, with their speed and poison-immune spectral hooves, makes oppression fun. They grant a safety and mobility that still allows for the sense of traversing unwelcoming biomes filled with insurmountable foes, but without putting the player off from exploring to their heart’s content. This comes with the added bonus that the more horrible the location (looking at you, Caelid), the more you end up falling in love with the ghostly shetland pony/mountain goat hybrid.
A tip, if you’re having any trouble with Elden Ring whatsoever, is to take advantage of what I internally refer to as ‘free runs’. You’ve just hit a site of grace, you’ve spent all your runes, so you have absolutely nothing to lose by scouting out the area ahead. Exploring somewhere existentially terrifying like Caelid? No problem. Get naked, sans the most ridiculous piece of headwear you own, and take the edge off. From’s games are masterfully atmospheric, but they’re classics because they happily hand you the tools to turn all that gothic melancholy into a farcical arseparty. You’re maidenless anyway. Might as well make it official.