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After the holidays came to an end and esports started ramping up in January, my eyes locked onto a giant, open world game set to release in late February: Horizon Forbidden West. However, that’s not what I’m playing right now. After all my friends kept talking about this other game, Elden Ring, I’m 15 hours in, killing giants and clearing dungeons with my trusty steed, Torrent.

I had heard of Elden Ring (how could I not have), but before February, I knew almost nothing about it. I’ve never played a single FromSoftware game before and I’m not a huge fan of being patient. But despite my misgivings, I gave into peer pressure and threw the $60 game into my Steam cart, checking out before I could change my mind.

When the game went live last Thursday evening, I logged in ready to experience whatever magical journey FromSoftware had prepared for me. It was a bumpy ride.

The first five hours in Elden Ring

Before I even got in the game, I needed to open about six different guides just to figure out which character class I should choose. I’m glad I did, too, because I almost went with a choice that is awful for first-time Souls gamers. Unfortunately, that experience turned out pretty par for the course once I started playing, too.

Elden Ring screenshot
I went with the Samurai, a supposedly good class for first-time FromSoftware players. | Screenshot by Parkes Ousley

After the opening cut scene, the game dropped me in some dark room with glowing white message rocks and bloodstains everywhere. Nothing made sense. Furthermore, the controls felt awful

I fully planned to play Elden Ring with my keyboard and mouse, but even at 400 DPI and all of the in-game settings turned to zero, the game was simply unplayable with a mouse. My character did a full 360º turn at just the slightest touch.

I hate playing games with a controller, but I decided to just suck it up and move on. Immediately after leaving the room, the game throws me at some boss that one-shots me. It was so fast, I died before I even knew I was fighting. I revived and start running around some cave and eventually made it to what I assumed was the open-world but… had I missed the tutorial?

Elden Ring screenshot
I stopped to take in my first view of the game and then immediately died to the first enemy before the game even put me in the tutorial. | Screenshot by Parkes Ousley

Yes, I had. Apparently, there’s a hole in the ground that I am supposed to fall into first? Okay sure. After the tutorial, which instilled zero confidence in me, I went outside and started running around. Immediately, a giant, armored horse waltzed up and one-shot me.

Welcome to Elden Ring.

Elden Ring screenshot
This stupid golden horseman haunts my dreams. | Screenshot by Parkes Ousley

I persevered, though, and started fighting anything small. Wow, I was really bad. Elden Ring is NOT a hack and slash game, even though it can feel like it when you lock someone in an R1 combo. I spent literal hours just trying to get used to the controls and cadence of hitting, blocking and dodge-rolling. But even after five hours, nothing felt good.

My anime training arc

After I started to get a bit more comfortable, I found a dungeon near the Church of Elleh, which I had considered my temporary home. “How hard could this first dungeon be?” I asked myself.

Really stinking hard. I died about 30 times in that dungeon before finally giving up.

I was defeated. The fighting felt impossible and nothing was intuitive. I felt abandoned and tricked by my Souls-familiar friends who were all having a blast working through the main story while I sat there moping, killing turtles since they don’t fight back.

I decided that to get better, I needed to go to this ruin site that had a bunch of guards and train. At first, I snuck up and killed them one-by-one. An hour went by, then two. I was getting the hang of using my shield, rolling past attacks and slashing when they were open. I wasn’t good by any means, but I was at least putting up a fight.

Elden Ring screenshot
This is the first mini-boss I killed. Is it even strong enough to be a mini-boss? Probably not, but let me have my moment. | Screenshot by Parkes Ousley

Eventually, I started getting caught on purpose and fighting the whole group of them at once for tougher practice. I’d usually kill a few of them before the mini-boss took me out, but I was actually improving.

I was dead set on killing the whole group, mini-boss included, before I set off on my next journey. And with the help of one of their dropped shields, I finally did it. Ten hours in, I was a mini-boss killer.

On the path to unstoppable in Elden Ring

After conquering the guards, I found a troll right next door and was elated to find out it gave 1,000 me runes upon slaying it. I farmed a few levels but got an itch to explore, so I got on my horse and zoomed forward, brazenly sprinting through until I found a castle on a hill.

There was some mist to walk through there, which seemed intriguing, so I walked through and immediately died to the first real boss I found — Margit The Fell Omen.

I left there as quickly as I came.

Elden Ring screenshot
Rather than fight a losing battle, I decided to explore. Now I just need to find a good leveling spot. | Screenshot by Parkes Ousley

Instead, I decided to go back to that first dungeon. And to my pleasant surprise, I cleared the whole thing on my first try, including the boss. Then I cleared a cave in the same manner. Then I traveled to the Roundtable Hold and defeated Mad Tongue Alberich, who had previously made a fool out of me on my first visit. I was unstoppable.

Next, I explored a while and found a portal to an underground world with a semi-invisible reptilian boss monster. Half an hour later, I cleared that, too, and made his weapon my own.

There is still much for me to learn about the world and its bosses and its secrets (and I literally only have one Steam achievement out of the 42 available), but I am falling in love with the exploration and pattern-based nature of Elden Ring. I’m just 15 hours into the game, and I’ve yet to try slaying Margit again, but I know I’ll soon be ready to give it another go.

Elden Ring screenshot
This is me now. I have a horse, I have this curvy sword and a +7 spear, and I have a whole lot of room to grow. | Screenshot by Parkes Ousley

If you’ve gotten the game and already lost hope, just don’t give up. If you’re on the fence about making the purchase, know the game gets better and better as you play. It is incredibly frustrating and confusing, and you’ll need to take some breaks, but it truly does become a masterpiece if you just give it some time.

Most of all, remember this isn’t Hades. This isn’t Torchlight. And it’s definitely not Nintendogs. This game requires perception, precision and a whole lot of patience. But if you stick with it and give this gorgeous game a chance, you will be rewarded just like I was.

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