Steam says I have played Elden Ring for 77 hours since installing the game 23 days ago. Some of that is undoubtedly idle time but I have probably clocked at least 50 hours of actual playtime and I am still very much a beginner.
Elden Ring is the 2022 mega hit game from From Software, creator of the hugely influential Demon souls / Dark Souls series. These games are notoriously hard core and make a virtue out of not hand holding players. Elden Ring remains true to the souls formula but in a bigger bolder and more accessible format. Elden Ring has been rewarded with huge sales and multiple critical accolades including several "Game of the Year" titles.
More accessible is a relative term. Unlike previous souls games Elden Ring does have a tutorial (if you can find it by jumping off a cliff) but it only teaches the very basics of melee combat. Most of the games many many complex systems are left for the player to figure out by themselves including things as fundamental as how to cast a spell. On the other hand if you define accessibility as the ability to access and progress through the game world then several core design choices have made the game a completely different animal than previous souls games. Elden Ring has a (vast) open world as opposed to the linear corridors of previous souls games. Elden Ring gives you a mount to ride away from danger. Elden Ring has very effective stealth mechanics. Elden Ring allows you to summon spirit companions to help with challenging encounters. The mobs and bosses of Elden Ring are just as tough as in previous souls games but the open world allows you to find alternative paths to challenging encounters. The summons, the mount and even stealth can be often be used to help with tougher battles. Taken together these changes make Elden Ring a much easier game for less hard core players like myself.
When I first started playing the game I tried to avoid guides as much as possible in order to get the full experience. Using the time honoured souls game approach of learning by dying I managed to blunder my way in to picking up a mount and my first spirit to summon. I had very little idea of what I was supposed to do but I followed the trail highlighted by grace points (checkpoint save points) as best I could. Along the way I explored a bit, fighting battles I could win and avoiding those I couldn't. I picked up a few spells to complement melee combat and was even able to clear out a few dungeons with minor bosses along the way.
After a while I realised that I wasn't really having fun any more. The enemies around me had scaled far more than I had and in order to make progress I had to either avoid combat entirely or spend hours cheesily whittling down mobs with stealth and kiting. I got as far as a place called the Grand Lift of Decus which I later realised is designed for players of level 50+. I hadn't really paid attention to levelling and was still in the teens.
Aside: For those interested in the details I started with a Vagabond Knight. This is probably the best equipped character who starts out with good armour and a full block shield. This gear is so good I am still using most of it at level 35 which is probably the reason I was able to get so far before it dawned on me that I was way under levelled for the zone I was in.
Rather than the abandon the game I returned to the starter zone of West Limgrave and did some exploring. I found a lot of content I had previously overlooked in my haste to follow the main path. I found dungeons and secrets and took down a few bosses (including a dragon and the horse riding bastard who killed me instantly when I first stepped into the world ). I then stumbled into a completely new region called "The Weeping Peninsula" that doesn't appear to be on the main quest line but has its own quest line involving a castle where the demi human servants have revolted. I pursued that line to completion ( a fairly challenging boss at the foot of the castle walls) but I also took the time to explore the rest of the Weeping peninsula and I found a host of dungeons, secrets and mini bosses. I took down crypt watchdogs that looked like cats i took down an oversize bear I took down a tree avatar and several other mini bosses. I spent days in that one zone and it finally dawned on me just how densely packed Elden Ring's enormous game world is with content. This game is vast.
I adopted a much more completionist play style and even though I still like to explore by myself I am no longer averse to consulting guides to determine what secrets I have missed. This approach also allows me to level faster than the enemies so after completing the West Limgrave and the Weeping Peninsula I was level 30 and able to go back and kill the gateway boss Magrit who guards the entrance to an optional dungeon crawl in Castle Storm Veil. I hours more working through the castle and I am now level 39 and I have had a couple of attempts at the final castle boss Goldrick the Grafted. He doesn't seem to be much more difficult than Magrit. I got him down to 10% on my second attempt so I am confident I will overcome him shortly.
This completionism play style is very engrossing and I have become very immersed in the game but it also has drawbacks. The game is beginning to feel repetitive. While the world is full of content a lot of it feels like carbon copy. The dungeons in particular feel very samey. I am still enjoying the game but I think I need to alter my approach once again to stave off boredom. I may even take a break. Alternatively I could try and vary my playstyle a bit. I mentioned above that I am still wearing a lot of the gear I started with. I have a slightly better sword and shield and I have added a couple of spells and a bow for ranged combat but for the most part my approach to combat is still the same. I have picked up a huge number of weapons and gear along the way however. None of them are explicitly better than my own gear but they might require a different playstyle which could give me some variety.