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The joy of Elden Ring's Limgrave, a Souls game in miniature

My favourite Elden thing

A naked man runs through a grassy fantasy landscape in Elden Ring, with the RPS 100 logo in the top right corner
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/FromSoftware/Bandai Namco Entertainment

What lies beyond Limgrave? I honestly don’t know. I’ve muddled my way through Elden Ring’s starting peninsula three times now, but have yet to step foot beyond the crumbling gatehouse of Stormveil Castle. The second Godrick The Grafted is reduced to a sickly pile of wobbly limbs, I turn the game off and walk away.

It’s not that I don’t like Elden Ring. I’m not struggling to connect with its open world take on the Souls genre. I’m not put off by the difficult encounters that await me, or the obtuse challenges I’ll be forced to overcome. The answer is weirdly simple. Limgrave provides me with everything I could ever want from a Souls game to the point that when Godrick croaks his final rancid breath and his (presumably) four tongues comically lop out of his stupid mouth, I’m left with the deep satisfaction that comes with the end of a journey, rather than the beginning of one.

Admittedly, a lot of my time in Limgrave was spent making tips videos, but my point still stands.Watch on YouTube

I’ve often heard Limgrave compared to the Great Plateau from Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, a walled-off area that contains everything to be found in the wider game for the purpose of organically teaching the player how to interact with its world and systems. A truly interactive tutorial that replaces pop-ups with carefully placed enemies, puzzles and biomes. I guess there’s some truth to the idea that the pair serve the same purpose. Limgrave, too, presents the player with Elden Ring’s greatest bits, albeit smaller and less grand. Caves full of horrible bosses. Crypts full of horrible bosses. Vast swathes of quiet, decaying landscape full of horrible bosses. You are taught how to summon ashen effigies of common enemies to fight alongside you in battle, a mysterious woman converts your runes into strength, and a bangle allows you to charge through the mist on the back of a horned steed.

But Limgrave is so much more than a simple tutorial zone. It’s paced differently, for starters, and contains more depth than you can comprehend at first glance. You can easily spend 25 hours within its forests, poking around its cliff faces and underneath its crumbling churches, and still find new (and probably awful) secrets lurking within them. There are characters to talk to. Weapons to wield. A hulking stone quadruped with a house on its back. Roaming bands of soldiers. Fierce warriors on horseback. This isn’t just a simple starting zone. Limgrave is an entire game.

A scene from Elden Ring showing the player character looking out over the Limgrave region. This shows the Maximum graphics preset.
Limgrave's rolling green hills are beautiful despite the decay. A bit like England, I suppose. Hahahaha. How witty.

Over the last few months, a friend of mine has been helping me play through Bloodborne. He patiently sits next to me as I stumble my way through Yharnman, politely pointing out how shit I am at dodging in a way that doesn’t hurt my feelings. Although I’m very much enjoying (if that’s even the right word) my time with the game, I can’t help but remember how inaccessible Bloodborne - and, indeed, every other Souls game I’ve played over the years - felt when I first started playing it alone at launch. They are relentless, miserable things for those who struggle to engage with their specific design principles. Overcoming even a single obstacle can be a nightmare, and not one many have the patience to persevere with.

But Elden Ring’s ridiculous scale makes Limgrave a micro-Soulslike by virtue of it being the first bit you experience. All of the touchpoints of a Souls game are here and accounted for. Mini-bosses. Two big bosses at the end. A dungeon. Looping pathways that lead to helpful shortcuts. New weapons. Obfuscated story beats. Cool upgrades. Everything folks would whisper excitedly about when they recounted their time with Dark Souls or Sekiro is here. Finally, I can be part of that wider conversation in a way that isn’t immediately obvious that I got stuck at Father Gascoigne before grumpily returning to Batman Arkham Knight.

That’s a whole Souls game! Right there! In Limgrave! What more could you want? Another one? There are like, four more waiting for you after this if you choose to keep moving forward. Fill your boots, pal. For me, though, I’ve got everything I could ever hope for from Limgrave alone. The perfect Souls game, contained within arguably the best and biggest one ever made. The haunting melody of that dreary area will forever be playing in my mind as I recall the way those golden leaves would lazily drift toward the festering dirt.

You know, before a big bear smashed me so hard into a tree all my bones disintegrated in an instant and I crumpled to the ground like a tarnished shaped water balloon full of crispy bolognese sauce. It’s still Elden Ring, after all.

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