Elden Ring kicked my ass — and taught me a very valuable lesson

Elden Ring screen shot
(Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s latest brutally punishing Action RPG. While similar to the company’s now-legendary Dark Souls series, it has the distinction of being set within a sprawling open world. It’s one of the best games of 2022 so far, as we detail in our Elden Ring review.

Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring has almost no map markers to show you where to go. Being left to your own devices is all well and good, but if you tend to speed through games like I do, the “go where you want” approach may be offputting. However, trying to plow through Elden Ring leads to disastrous results. Case in point – Margit, the Fell Omen.

It took me a little over two hours to face Elden Ring’s first true boss after starting the game — which is actually quite fast. The opening area has a lot of mini-bosses, but Margit is the first you have to defeat in order to progress the story.

The instant I was able to summon a mount, I rode it all the way to Margit’s location. I managed to get the boss’ health down to one-third before he took me down. He didn’t seem so bad, so I assumed I’d defeat Margit after a couple of tries. Two hours later, I gave up and reassessed my strategy. I realized I couldn't rush through Elden Ring.

Elden Ring screen shot

Elden Ring's vast open world is a sight to behold. (Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

Honestly, this is the case for all the “Souls” titles. It’s best to meticulously scour each of the games’ locations for useful items and to level grind by defeating enemies. But, generally speaking, grinding for levels isn’t something that ever took up much time. My first playthrough of Bloodborne, Dark Souls III and the remastered Demon’s Souls generally took me 30 hours. But even though I didn’t necessarily rush through those titles, I probably finished them faster than I should have.

I went into Elden Ring using the same strategy I employed with previous Souls titles. And it backfired on me. Spectacularly.

Despite the open world, I went into Elden Ring using the same strategy I employed with previous Souls titles. And it backfired on me. Spectacularly. So what did I do? I returned to the very first Light of Grace (Elden Ring’s version of Dark Souls’ bonfire checkpoints) and started wandering the vast world to see what trouble I could get myself into – which is something I don’t really do in video games. But, after gaining a few more levels and nabbing better equipment, I finally defeated Margit — and learned a valuable lesson.

A lot of people aren’t fans of open-world games that place a million quest markers on their respective maps. They feel that knowing where quests, items and secrets are located ruins the joy of exploration and discovery. I don’t share this sentiment. I’m a completionist and appreciate it when a game shows me where interesting things are located. This way, I won’t miss anything. The way I see it, I’ll run into potential surprises on my way to a quest marker. When I play, I like to be as efficient as possible so I can get the most out of my gaming session. Quest markers facilitate my need to complete every quest and to have a streamlined experience.

Elden Ring screen shot

Elden Ring has no shortage of disturbing locations. (Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

But that isn't the way Elden Ring works. You're supposed to venture into the world not fully knowing what to expect. To my surprise, I’m having a blast simply traversing the bleak lands without a clear goal beyond gaining levels and better gear.

To my surprise, I’m having a blast simply traversing the bleak lands without a clear goal beyond gaining levels and better gear. I feel like I'm playing the game correctly now.

Aimless wandering is one of the reasons I wasn’t enamored with Breath of the Wild. But perhaps, due to it being mechanically similar to other Souls entries, I don’t mind not having a definitive focus. The otherworldly art design probably plays a part as well. No matter where I go, there's always something interesting (and disturbing) to see. I feel like I'm playing the game correctly now.

Stopping to smell the proverbial roses in Elden Ring has made me rethink how I should approach games in the future. Due to the abundance of titles that release every month, I always feel compelled to blast through them so I can be ready for whatever big title comes out next. I don’t think I’ll linger on any one title for too long, but I’ll do my best to fight the urge to complete games as quickly as I can. This may not always be possible, especially for games I need to finish for a review, but for titles I play purely for enjoyment, I’m going to start playing them at a deliberate pace.

It takes developers years to create massive games like Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West. In turn, we wait nearly as long to play these grand opuses. Unless you’re a professional speedrunner, there’s no need to rush to see the end credits. This is a lesson Elden Ring had to literally beat into me. Tough love for sure, but I appreciate it will help me get more enjoyment out of my favorite hobby moving forward. I’ll never rush through games again, all thanks to Elden Ring.

Tony Polanco
Computing Writer

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.