on the soothing complexity of Elden Ring

I finished Elden Ring in late March after logging 90 hours – a joint effort with V, where we settled on a tankier warrior Greatsword build just to get a good first taste of the game, since I always go for melee Berserker types and it felt more straightforward in terms of leveling up and scaling. I’m not a seasoned From Software gamer; I’d only tried Bloodborne and Sekiro last year after finishing my thesis and my wise best friend very kindly put his PS4 in a Sephora bag, handed it to me and told me “take it and go have some fun”. Initial results were… not great: I was getting my ass handed to me round every corner in the former and coping a little better with the latter’s mechanics, but generally I was stuck in Miyazaki Suck City.

However, I felt like progress was much faster with Elden Ring, probably due to having an RPG connoisseur help out with maximizing damage early on in the game, thus making the experience more approachable and less frustrating; V was very much the brains of the operation, studying boss moves and learning their patterns, and I was more of an aggro comic relief, doing shit like barging in a totally unfamiliar boss fight and winning through sheer Hulk smash! attitude and then dying a thousand times by falling off ledges and cliffs because I suspected an item might be there. To my credit, the gamble paid off… sometimes.

Once the game was over, I found myself missing it soon after. It’s vast enough that there will be dungeons that will go unexplored, or at least not completed all the way through, and the questlines are almost too many to keep track of, so you’re bound to miss out on some beautifully written lore. I reminisced about those first moments of awe, like entering the barren, unhospitable Caelid and the sky turning blood red, or being so transfixed by the ethereal, elemental nature of bosses like Regal Ancient Spirit.

So I’m playing it again.

Right now, I’m halfway through my second run with a samurai dexterity build, which makes for a slick, faster play. I deal significantly less damage than before, but it’s quick and dirty fun, and it’s actually making me hone my dodging/strafing skills a lot more now that I’m not a literal cannonball. Leveling up is more intuitive the second time around; our first play-through was hilariously laborious, with the two of us taking turns with the controller and frantically searching for information on the game’s wiki on the iPad. Now, if my fella’s attacks feel sluggish and slow, I’m working on increasing dexterity; if a boss one-hit yeets me into outer space, I’m vigoring up. I’m also managing to explore all those robust questlines – I can guarantee you, even if you put in the hours and think you got most of them covered, there’s still a bunch of NPCs whose dialogue you never exhausted, an item you had to fetch for them and never unearthed, a weird drop left at the spot where they died, and the list goes on. I must admit, the game is really bad about giving you quest-related hints, and all it takes is a couple of *wrong* choices to lock yourself out of important plot lines. That, to me, is the single fault of Elden Ring, but otherwise, it has been an insanely enjoyable experience for my attention deficit suffering soul, despite its vastness and complexity. If anything, I consider myself to be a turn-based player: I’ve put in years of Civilization and Slay The Spire, probably because they’ve always had a …defragmentation sort of power to them. Turn-based is meditation-like; you are allowed the time to plan ahead and play out the movements, you calculate, regroup and edit your thoughts. This can be very healing to an ADHD brain that is constantly in declutter mode, and somehow Elden Ring has managed to accomplish that in the lushest, most majestic of settings you have ever seen in your life. It’s not a game I ever imagined would have that type of replayability, but here we are. Elden Ring will make you a better player, more inquisitive, more skillful, more stubborn, more resourceful. It’s inspiring and it’s a solid work of art, and it’s making me excited for the future of games in general.

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