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If you can beat Elden Ring’s first boss, you can beat the whole game

a screenshot from the Elden Ring trailer
(Image credit: FromSoftware)

When I played the Elden Ring network test back in November 2021, I ran into a significant problem: I couldn’t beat the primary boss. Margit the Fell Omen is a towering, misshapen swordsman, who is nonetheless unbelievably quick on his feet. His relentless combos can drain your stamina or your health in just a few hits, and early-game weapons seem to almost bounce off of his leathery hide. Even as someone who’s been playing FromSoftware games ever since Demon’s Souls back in 2009, I simply could not defeat Margit.

That’s why I knew that when I wrote my full Elden Ring review, besting Margit would be at the top of my to-do list. This was partially out of revenge, but partially out of pragmatism as well. Elden Ring has no shortage of tough bosses that you can encounter simply by wandering around the game’s massive open world. But Margit is the first boss that Elden Ring absolutely requires you to beat. Unless you can make it past him, you can’t delve into the first real dungeon — and you can’t fight the first of the four major demigods who lurks beyond.

The good news is that I was able to take down Margit after only a few tries this time. The even better news is that, in doing so, I figured out Elden Ring’s entire cadence. Preparing for the Margit fight and defeating him are, essentially, the whole Elden Ring experience writ small. Conquer this microcosm of the game, and you can conquer the game itself.

As is the case with any new FromSoftware game, a lot of tentative players on social media are asking, “Will Elden Ring be the first From game I actually finish?” Frankly, I think that Margit will be their litmus test. If you can figure out how to get past Elden Ring’s first major boss fight — and you find the process fun — then Elden Ring is the game for you. And if you can’t, then this probably won’t be the From game that changes your mind.

Also worth bearing in mind is Elden Ring is best played on the PS5.

Rushing ahead

Elden Ring screen shot

(Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

In my first attempts to defeat Margit, I made a mistake that I imagine many Elden Ring players will also make: I tried to do it too quickly. I started the game as a Wretch, deprived of armor and wielding only a simple club. While I was able to buy a respectable set of chainmail gear, I still had only a simple club when I first confronted Margit. I was around Level 20. I figured that since Margit was the game’s first required boss, I’d be able to defeat him, even if it meant I had to have a nearly flawless fight.

To my credit, I was able to get Margit down to about 1/3 of his health multiple times. But as you deplete Margit’s HP, his combos get faster and more frequent, and I quickly found myself overwhelmed. A situation made worse, if you're playing on Xbox Series X and dealing with longer loading times

At first, I wasn’t sure what to do. I had already acquired a set of armor and explored the areas surrounding Margit’s domain. I had explored a handful of optional dungeons and bested a handful of optional bosses. What I didn’t realize, though, is that Elden Ring doesn’t have just a few optional objectives — it has a lot.

I figured that I might have missed a useful weapon or piece of armor somewhere along the line. After I hopped back on my horse and revisited the open fields of Limgrave, I realized how right I was. Along a stretch of abandoned coastline, I found a merchant selling a versatile broadsword — much faster and more damaging than my beat-up wooden club. I also found another dungeon, which led to a whole new area of the map I hadn’t explored.

I found a blacksmith, who could upgrade my weapons beyond their initial +3 limit; I found optional bosses on the overworld that dropped tons of character-building Runes; I found helpful Ashes of War, which gave my broadsword bonus damage based on my high strength stat. All told, I spent a good three or four hours just exploring and getting stronger. And, when I felt that I’d found everything that I could find, I confronted Margit again.

This time, the boss went down after three tries.

How to defeat Margit

Elden Ring screen shot

(Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

Granted, simply overpowering a boss is not usually an option in Elden Ring. Even with my character about twice as powerful as before, Margit could still obliterate me in one or two hits. The big difference was that now I could dish out enough damage to keep the fight from going on for too long.

Every player will fight Margit a little bit differently, since your strategy will vary depending on whether you use melee or ranged attacks, whether you employ magic, whether you carry a shield, whether you feel comfortable dodging toward devastating attacks rather than away from them, and so forth. However, by fighting Margit a few times with my more durable character, I was able to get a good sense of how to exploit his weaknesses. To my surprise, he was not nearly as unstoppable as I had previously thought.

First off, there are two distinct phases to the Margit fight. At first, Margit will attack you with steel swords, occasionally jumping backwards to hurl light-elemental daggers at you. This section is actually not that bad. A good shield will mitigate most of Margit’s damage, from both the swords and the daggers. Furthermore, he tends to pause after three-hit combos, leaving you a window to get two or three good hits in. Likewise, he’ll occasionally raise his sword above his head and come down with a massive blow. This is relatively easy to dodge, and he won’t recover before you can smack him a few times.

The second phase of the fight is where things get ugly. At around half health, Margit calls upon a huge hammer and a handful of extra swords, all made of light. Your shield can’t block all of this damage, and Margit’s combos can last for five or six hits — easily enough to obliterate any early-game character.

This is where fighting Margit multiple times came in handy, however. Rather than going into the fight knowing that I would win, I shifted my perspective. I didn’t need to win; I could retry almost instantly, thanks to the Site of Lost Grace right outside the boss chamber. All I had to do was determine when I could safely strike him.

The answer, as it turned out, was “right after his scariest attack.” Margit will occasionally raise his gigantic hammer, leap into the air, and smash the weapon down on your head. Or, at least, that’s what he’ll try to do. If you dodge toward Margit, rather than away from him, you’ll land safely behind him, perfectly poised to do some serious damage of your own. All I had to do was exploit this weakness a few times, and Margit went down.

This approach took a little patience, a little luck and a lot of prep work. And yet, it worked just fine. Margit was finally gone, and I actually found the subsequent area much easier to deal with.

Elden Ring lessons

Elden Ring screen shot

(Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

After I finally advanced past Elden Ring’s first major boss, I realized that Margit had acted as sort of an extended tutorial. Elden Ring’s vast repository of optional content isn’t just for show; it’s there to help you prep for the game’s plot-related difficulty spikes. Every optional area is an opportunity to empower your character; every “unbeatable” boss is a subtle signal that you should retreat for a while and explore somewhere else.

To be fair, I think a lot of players are going to absolutely despise this approach. Elden Ring is a fairly unforgiving game, and it will never tell you whether a boss is simply hard, or completely beyond your current skills and character build. While every Souls game has a wake-up call boss like Margit, only Elden Ring puts it quite so early in the experience. I think it’s going to alienate a lot of potential fans — but it’s also going to galvanize others.

Elden Ring, like the other From games that preceded it, gives you a ton of control over how you build your character, how you handle combat and how you progress through the labyrinthine levels. This can lead to a lot of frustration, but it can also lead to some profoundly satisfying victories.

If you can beat Margit the Fell Omen, you should have all the tools you need to beat Elden Ring. And if you can’t, you’ll have to either retreat and retool, or concede that maybe the game isn’t to your taste.

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.