Elden Ring Diary: Of Monsters and Magic

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My current look, complete with blue armor, wolf helmet and flail.

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

I might need to slow down and savor Elden Ring a little more. I get to play it for the first time only once. This first time has been magical, and thankfully, I still have so much to uncover despite the fact that I’ve been putting in ridiculous hours. I can’t stop, y’all. That said, I don’t really want to stop, so I guess that works out.

As a refresher, this is my diary as I play through the game. My goal is to reflect on the experience as it changes over time and to tell the stories that naturally arise from the many secrets and surprises of the world. Check out my previous entries for my expectations, first impressions and adventures through the starting area.

spoiler alert

Epic battles

I fight dragons.

Yes, that’s a rock band, but it’s also an accurate description of my in-game actions. It’s hard to describe how cool writing that sentence made me feel.

Playing a lot of FromSoftware games is like a roller coaster of power. You start at the bottom and slowly climb your way up until you feel like a complete badass. Then the game finds a way to force you to eat a generous slice of humble pie before starting the cycle again with higher and higher stakes.

I’m in the middle of my first real surge of power, and it feels incredible. As I related in a previous entry, I chose the Wretch as a starting class, which meant I entered the world at the lowest possible level with nothing but a club and a loincloth to my name. Everything in the world could kill me in one hit.

Now I’m decked out in sweet blue knight’s armor, with a kickass wolf’s head helmet. I use a curved greatsword when exploring the world and fighting monsters. I have a powerful flail if I need to get up close and personal with a faster enemy. Plus, when using either weapon, I always have a potent dagger at the ready so I can land huge critical strikes after I’ve staggered an opponent.

The first part of my hero’s journey is complete. After my early struggles, it’s supremely satisfying to obliterate the minions of the world and battle the monsters head on.

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I also went through a brief “Wolf-erine” phase.

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Those battles against monstrous foes are as cool as ever, especially the fights against dragons. Lots of games ask you to fight huge monsters or dragons. Few have ever made those fights feel so epic. The dragons in particular can still murder me in one or two hits. If I get chomped on or caught in their fiery breath, I’m done. That danger doesn’t stop me from riding into battle, sword drawn and courage at the ready. Now that I’m powered up, it makes me want to tackle the fights that much more.

I fight dragons. To do so, I race across open fields on my horse as the dragon sweeps the area just behind me in flame. I leap off my horse and slash at the dragon’s face with my greatsword before rolling out of the way as it tries to stomp me. It leaps into the air to get away from my attacks and incinerate me from above, so I summon my trusty steed again and urge him to race as fast as he can so we can outrun the coming fire.

The dragon dives at me and I leap away over the ruined structure of a building. I circle around as the dragon turns to face me once more. We lock eyes as we prepare to reengage. And then I propel my horse back into danger, back toward the dragon as it prepares to unleash hell once again. It’s a spectacular, epic dance that isn’t some scripted series of quick time events. This all happens organically in the open world. I fight dragons.

At this point, I’ve beaten two of them after they each crushed me into a fine pulp over the course of numerous attempts. I’ve found a couple more as I’ve explored. They’re each spectacular, and they each have their own tendencies and attacks.

My last battle was on a hilltop among ancient ruins. The dragon was magical and could cast spells in addition to breathing fiery magic flame. I’d successfully gotten the majestic creature’s health to half, and it took to the air to wind up a new attack. I raced my horse into the cover of one of those decrepit buildings and watched. I thought I was safe to observe, thanks to the stone structure I’d put between myself and this now angry creature.

It formed a giant, blue magical sword in its mouth and dove down to the ground, slashing at me. Needless to say, neither the structure, my horse or my sweet armor was any match for the magical ferocity of that attack. I died in spectacular fashion and vowed to come back later.

It was awesome, but sometimes you need to know when you’re beat.

Power trip

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So many vistas. I love journeying toward the horizon, greatsword in hand.

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

That hasn’t happened much to me lately. That’s not to say I haven’t died, but I’ve been winning most fights and beating lots of bosses in only a couple of attempts. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to do the Weeping Peninsula and it’s optional castle and boss before tackling the main castle and bosses at the end of the starting area.

The Peninsula juts out to the south of the starting area, and I absolutely crushed the boss waiting at the edge. I felt pretty cool afterward, and the Weeping Peninsula itself was thrilling to explore. At night, I got attacked and murdered by a dark, flying creature called a Death Rite Bird. I figured out how to get into a massive, walking mausoleum. I dodged the mighty arrows of a giant as I approached the gates of a mysterious castle.

Elden Ring is so good because it constantly makes exploring feel epic. Liurnia, the next major area in the game, ups the stakes that much more. You see it first from a cliff next to the castle at the end of the first area. A swamp fills a valley between mountainous paths on either side.

Sticking out above the whole thing is a magical floating city. The entire journey through Liurnia centers around finding a way inside this mystical place. Once you get in, it looks like a beautiful nightmare version of Harry Potter.

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I was floored by the entrance to the floating city of Raya Lucaria.

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Liurnia also held a ton of other surprises, from a dark village hidden above a poison swamp housing the crawling undead, to a castle filled with living hands that can grab you and squeeze you to death.

I hated that castle, in the best of ways. Lots of those hands were buried in the courtyard with only the tips of their fingers sticking out. I didn’t realize this until I walked over one for the first time and had the life squeezed out of me by surprise. If my neighbors are reading this, I’d like to apologize for the high pitched scream you heard from my place on Tuesday evening. I promise I wasn’t actually being murdered.

That surprise led me to exploring the castle an inch at a time while checking the ground for fingertips and the walls and ceiling for any other clinging enemies. It was so nerve-racking, and so glorious to finally make it out.

Hidden pathways

Exploring castles and dungeons often fills me with similar dread, but somehow that never detracts from the wonder, in part because of how rewarding it is to find secrets and hidden paths.

I often feel like I’m pulling one over on the game when I use a ledge to climb onto a rooftop or use my horse to double jump right past a barrier. I think I’ve gotten somewhere I’m not supposed to be, and then I follow the rooftop to a secret item and feel the game winking at me. Of course this hard to reach spot jutting out of the corner wasn’t put there by accident. In fact, sometimes it’s not even a secret. In the first main castle, crawling across rooftops is one of the major paths you can use to get to the end.

In one particular dungeon, I entered a large room and noticed giant saw blades crashing down from the ceiling in sequence. Even at first glance, I thought crossing the room would be perilous, and then I realized that skeleton archers were shooting at me from different spots throughout.

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Just use the giant saw blades that drop from the ceiling to jump to that balcony while skeletons try to murder you with arrows. No problem.

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

I timed my path toward them, avoiding the blades, and attacked. Every time I struck the skeletons down, they hopped right back up, so eventually I just ran. I’d only later realize that the only way forward is in that room.

In fact, you need to hop onto the back of one of those giant saw blades when it crashes into the ground. It lifts you as it resets toward the ceiling and you need to hop off onto a narrow balcony before it crushes you at the top. You need to do this tricky feat while the skeletons are shooting at you, only to be greeted by another skeleton throwing firebombs at you from the ledge. If you dodge those, then you can kill the sorcerer keeping the undead alive and win yourself some breathing room and a new path forward.

Elden Ring’s exploration is awesome because it constantly asks you to do ridiculous things and it rewards you with cool items if you do push yourself to take that leap and explore that dark cave or dangerous cliff side.

I can’t wait to see what the next area, Caelid, has in store. It’s a decaying wasteland filled with monstrous creatures. I’m pretty sure that despite my recent success fighting most monsters and bosses, I’ll be eating a generous slice of humble pie.

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