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The RPS Advent Calendar 2022, December 23rd

The big one

Behind today's RPS Advent Calendar door is a game that was only just beaten into second place. Luckily, after said beating it can just pop back to life at the last Site Of Grace it visited and then dive back into the fray again.

Fight a monster with too many limbs in epic RPG Elden Ring!

Liam's beginners tips for Elden Ring are actually beginner friendly, and very useful

Ollie: After my first session playing Elden Ring, I felt as though the Souls formula had always been heading towards this particular point. FromSoftware's first foray into truly open world games has, rather unfortunately, tarnished (heh) my opinion of just about every other open world experience.

If you've ever played a Souls game, you'll be in familiar territory. Elden Ring is a combat-focused RPG where you explore a creepy decaying world, rest at campfires (or in this case, Sites of Grace) to upgrade your character, and fight oodles of masterfully designed enemies and bosses. You begin life as a lowly Tarnished warrior trapped in The Lands Between, a world of undying spirits and corrupted demigods. Your nebulous eventual goal is to become the next Elden Lord, the all-powerful deity of this strange and strangled fantasy world. This you do by exploring the world atop your spectral steed, Torrent, meeting enigmatic and morally ambiguous characters, challenging mighty beings, and dying lots and lots and lots and lots and-

Elden Ring is a 2022 action RPG from FromSoftware.

In practice, the goal doesn't matter. The beauty of Elden Ring is the freedom to just explore and get into trouble. The map, wonderfully bereft of icons and map markers, steadily unfolds over time. Each new map fragment you find in the world expands the map's borders so that you're never quite sure if you've seen everything. Make no mistake: The world of The Lands Between is postiively gigantic. And everything you can see, you'll eventually reach.

As with all FromSoft games, Elden Ring is immensely challenging, and even the lowliest footman can dispatch you with woeful ease if you're not careful. The game also has a rather twisted sense of humour, and likes to play tricks on you. Some advice for any new player: maybe don't open that underground chest in the Dragon-Burnt Ruins. It contains a teleporter trap that transports you to a challenging late-game area, and resets your spawn there so you can't escape without fighting your way out.

It's that kind of playfulness which makes The Lands Between such a joy to explore. Set off in any direction, and you truly don't know what you'll find. The game will always manage to surprise you in some way. Sometimes in very big ways. This is meant to be a key selling point of pretty much all open world games, but no other game manages it quite like Elden Ring does.

Elden Ring screenshot showing a player holding a lightning-imbued sword and striking a Tree Sentinel with a lightning bolt
The Volcano Manor in Elden Ring
Ranni the Witch is an NPC in FromSoftware's action RPG Elden Ring
Elden Ring cutscene shows a large stone landmass hovering in the air, as chunks of stone fall from the side and tornados hover nearby.

Liam: As far as I'm concerned, Limgrave is Elden Ring. I've progressed very slightly past the game's starting zone but like, I didn't care for all the wizard shit? So I just hopped back to Limgrave as soon as I could. Limgrave is Elden Ring in minature. Everything the game has to offer is right there, tucked away in seaside cliffs and behind crumbling walls. A large dribbly rat boy? Check. Stoic knight with a spear? Check. Weird guy with terrible posture and a sinister laugh? Check, check, check. I may not have gotten very far with Elden Ring, but Limgrave alone is a game in itself. A pretty good one. When it isn't stomping on my head with its minging troll feet or whatever.

Alice0: Elden Ring bleeds magic as it continues on for far too long, but luckily it has a whole lot of magic to safely lose.

Ed: Alice O's thoughts sit closest to mine. Elden Ring is a special thing but oh my god is it an exhausting thing. Still, the density and scope of its open world is something to behold. I mean, it made a seemingly innocuous elevator ride one of the highlights of my year, so I can't complain too much.

Limgrave in Elden Ring

Hayden: I’ve had two very different experiences with Elden Ring. My first was a sprawling 300 hour venture, in which I smacked every wall and examined each corner of the map to find new secrets. Such is the way of guidestown. But Elden Ring made that experience far more fun that it has ever been (and likely ever will be). Despite having never played the main Dark Souls series, Elden Ring has taught me that FromSoft are all about those juicy secrets hidden behind a series of three secret walls.

My second run was a mere 25 hours, consisting of a sprint to get the Bloodhound’s Fang weapon before setting off on a sadistic scramble through each region. I challenged every main boss with barely a level up between, possibly bringing it more in line with the tighter experiences found prior to Elden Ring’s gargantuan open world. I had to analyse attack patterns in far more depth than was previously required, honing down the frames in which to dodge until I was able to scrape by with a sliver of health. It was a gruelling slog at times, but it was also one of the best weekends of the year.

These playthroughs were completely different, with the first embracing its freedom of exploration and the second treating it like a brutal boss gauntlet. Despite those differences, though, both experiences felt entirely valid, like they were the true purpose of Elden Ring’s design. No matter how I chose to play, it managed to exceed my expectations. Perhaps most importantly, it still somehow leaves me wanting more.

A screenshot from Elden Ring which shows the player look over a vista of Limgrave, and beyond.

Months have passed since I last got properly lost in the Lands Between, but it’s now morphed into something of a comfort game. If I have a spare couple of hours, I’ll load it up with a new Wretch and dart through Limgrave to quickly challenge Margit, like heading to the pub with an old pal for a quick catch up. I show them my cool new sword, and they smack me with a cane. Very normal friend things. It’s become cosy, a warm way to pass a dark evening while snuggled up in a blanket with hot chocolate. Or maybe I just have Stockholm syndrome.

Alice Bee: I ran up against the wall that is Elden Ring a few times - I got on pretty well with Dark Souls 3, but my favourite of the FromSoft games is Bloodborne, and in comparison to those dark, cramped tunnels and streets, Elden Ring is prohibitively open. But I think I've turned a corner with it, because a pal told me to just get on my horse and run past stuff that seemed too difficult. Thus, when I splashed down to get a look at a lake and a big fuck-off dragon appeared out of nowhere, I promptly cheesed it in another direction. I have felt more free to explore and try things. I ran into the main boss fella, the king with all the extra arms and that, couldn't beat him, and went off to do some exploring in stead. No bother.

Granted, I am only five hours in because I went into a mine full of what appear to be ambulatory garden statues on fire and am stuck there if I don't want to drop about 7k runes. But what a five hours they've been so far. That's kind of the process with Elden Ring though. You are beaten into harder shape by adversity. You just have to keep going back. The one-inch punch of video games.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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