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I Finally Understand Elden Ring And All It Took Was A Little Magic

No mortal man can win this day

I make no bones about the fact that I suck at Dark Souls. Probably Bloodborne. Very much Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I adore the concepts, the world building, the art style and amazing monster designs, but the one thing that’s always held me back from appreciating more than from afar was always the learning curve. Thrown into the deep end, environments that choose to punish in order to teach you the ropes, I mean it’s certainly not a bad thing when designed right and clearly FromSoftware has found that market and run with it over the years to great success. But it always comes back to the level of difficulty, especially for little old me. For some players it’s just beyond stressful, hardly enjoyable, and to be fair to FromSoftware’s latest venture in Elden Ring, I originally felt the same way. Until something finally clicked.

My first few hours with Elden Ring felt much as I expected, stepping out into a beautifully mysterious and miserable environment with monsters around every corner and dangers cropping up when you least expect them (the less said about that dragon, the better). I found myself with a sword and shield in hand, doing my best to tumble my way past incoming attacks and stumbling across my mount, the Santa-inspired Merchant Kale and the eerie introduction to Melina. It felt good to get out there and explore the opening areas of Limgrave, but of course the looming threat of larger bosses came into view as Margit greeted me at the entrance to Stormveil Castle.

The beautifully intimidating

Now for most of you reading this, you may have found Margit to be an absolute breeze, some may have considered him a good opening challenge, but from my perspective I found the castle gatekeeper to be a major stumbling block. Clearly that’s where the golden pathway through the story was, and as much as I spent a few hours elsewhere trying to level up and improve my character, I didn’t feel like I had a clear enough perspective as to what I wanted to do. Did I want to hunt down better weapons and pump whatever upgrades I could into dexterity and strength? Did I want to be more of a damage dealer from a distance and go bow and arrow? I had options, sure, but ultimately I decided that (given my previously minor experience with the Soulsbornes) I needed to change tact completely.

So I did a little digging. There are a handful of classes you can choose from at the start of Elden Ring, each one adjusting through traditional Dark Souls options through to the Samurai that’s clearly inspired by FromSoftware’s experience with Sekiro. One thing that Dark Souls hasn’t always focused on though is magic, it’s there of course but never a true selling point of the Souls experience. Elden Ring, however, has plenty of opportunities to really delve into the world of Gandalf the Grey (so to speak) and for a novice like me, that sounded far more up my alley. To be able to cast all kinds of damaging spells from afar and not have to be right up close and personal with every single enemy you come across? What could possibly go wrong?

Speaking of intimidating…

I scrapped my standard warrior and started over as an Astrologer, high in intellect and capable of delivering all kinds of dangerous spells. I happily mucked around with my new staff within the opening area, its tutorial tucked into the right hand side, getting to grips with the casting time and the distance I needed to be from whatever critter I came across. It felt good to get off a few shots without having to be in sword range, my trusty little shield there just in case anyone does take a peak, and the more I took down the more confidence I felt. Giant trolls were suddenly easier to battle, slowly chipping away at their health and dodging out of their way as they lumbered forward, and packs of soldiers took two quick Glintstone Pebble shots per to bring down before they were get close.

Having already spent ten hours in Elden Ring, I knew the general gist of what I needed to do and where to go as my Astrologer, and within an hour I was outside the dreaded doorway of Margit’s area once more. I had my jelly friend at the ready with my Summoning Bell, a few points pumped into my character, so I stupidly thought maybe I should just go on in and get a better idea of what my new class could do and what I needed to work on in order to finally crack the Margit puzzle. What happened next, however, I was not at all expecting.

Jelly always comes up big in the clutch

The battle kicked off as it always did, Margit throwing a couple of dangerous knives in my direction as I rolled out of the way and brought out my Jellyfish onto the field of battle. Elden Ring politely allows you to summon another aid into battle here too, so out came another caster who did his best to do a little damage and largely took the heat off me as I kept my distance and slowly chipped away. The flow of combat followed a similar routine to the many previous attempts, Margit eventually taking care of my caster ally and shifting his focus to Jelly, and by this point in all my previous battles I’d reached maybe half of Margit’s hefty health bar. However, on this occasion I had edged closer to victory than any previous attempt as his health slipped to about a third remaining, and for a moment I could feel the tide turning in my favour.

With Jelly knocked out, it came down to a true one-on-one as Margit swiped over and over again at my frail, magic user form. Having learnt his pattern, I combat rolled like a madman and bided my time just enough to lay in the final death dealing blow. Margit was down, I was beyond excited, and finally I felt like I belonged. Everything began to click, I wasn’t fearful of what was around the next corner, it felt like the entire experience had opened up in a direction I never thought it would.

Not a bad stat sheet to work with going forward

The truth is, if I hadn’t swapped out to a new character class, I probably would have given up on Elden Ring. Not for a lack of trying, but a game where death is the only reward and with so many new games on the horizon, I did consider letting it slide. But now, in this new age of magical wonder, I’m ready to commit to the experience, and I’m glad I did. Not since Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have I played a game that rewards you by simply exploring, diverting from the logical path forward through the narrative to find just one more secret. It helps that the Lands Between is genuinely beautiful, its bleak atmosphere perfectly accentuated by broken buildings across eerie landscapes that beg to be explored.

I may never finish Elden Ring, might never see the final boss up close, but I’m hardly worried about that. My hours since discovering magic’s elegance has led me further south, uncovering better weapons, dangerous new foes and clever puzzles, and I couldn’t be happier ignoring the castle and just running in a direction to see what I find. All it took was a little magic.

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