Judged solely on its sales numbers and the breathless praise across the internet, you’d think Elden Ring is a matchless masterpiece – impossible not to love. Not only is it From Software’s bestselling game but, at the time of writing, the bestselling game of 2022. I hated it. I think I’m the only one?
Look at my PlayStation trophies, however, and you’ll spot the sheepish shine of Elden Ring’s platinum. Does that mean I have a story of redemption to share? One in which I go from hating Elden Ring to loving it?
This is all a terrible accident.
I’m not a trophy hunter. Rather, I use trophies to motivate me to return to games I love – and it happens that I loved the majority of From Software game since Demon’s Souls and platinumed them all. If that sounds like an achievement, it’s not. I hated Dark Souls 3, too. But I spent weeks farming ears in Anor Londo because the gap in my collection bothered me. This is me having a problem.
But I’m older – maybe even wiser. When Elden Ring released, I promised I wouldn’t put myself through that again if I disliked it. So, how did the platinum find its way into my collection?
The moment I started Elden Ring, I knew something was wrong. Apathetic as From Software is towards accessibility, Elden Ring represents a new low. When the opening cutscene started with barely-readable subtitles I knew I was in trouble.
But there was a bigger problem. From Software games come with rhythm. It’s not the same from title to title: the monotonous movement of Dark Souls is wildly different to the hectic beats of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But it means, for most, the game will click as they synchronise with the natural rhythm of the game. A moment that appears to have struck many – including myself – is fighting Genichiro atop Ashina Castle in Sekiro, and feeling the whole world suddenly become easier as we melted into the underlying beat of the game.
It’s part of how I overcome these games’ inaccessibility, by focussing on rhythm rather than what I see – or don’t see. Elden Ring loses that rhythm; that avenue seemingly blocked off on purpose in an open-world devoid of feature. Where the beat echoed off the tight confines of previous entries, here the tone-deaf world is punctuated with silence. Long stretches of relative inaction that rob the player of even the barest hint of musical undertones of From Software at its best.
With Godrick, Renalla, and Radahn crumbling in the dust, it became apparent there is no clicking point in Elden Ring: it’s a game built on discord. Where enemies are significantly faster than the player and their own rhythms, pulled from multiple previous titles, differ wildly from one another.
I realised the futility of what I was doing. After hours of not having fun, I put the game down with no intention of coming back.
But Elden Ring’s presence on my homescreen bothered me. I felt guilty. For years, From Software games had provided a sense of artificial progress in a life made otherwise inert by disability. Now, I felt like I owed them something.
I watched videos of other people having fun in Elden Ring, and it made me wish I could. I made a promise: I’d explore every region of the Lands Between. That, at least, would represent a genuine effort to find something to love in the game and fulfil whatever obligation I felt towards From Software.
Like dipping my toe in cold water, I returned in increments. A few minutes here, half-and-hour there. I admit, I felt a twinge of awe when I entered Leyndell. For all its faults, Elden Ring can be pretty. But then, so can I – it doesn’t make me compelling.
The combination of Elden Ring’s increase in size and familiar camera issues necessitated a change in playstyle from my usual dexterity builds. To have any hope of tracking boss movement – whether in the tight confines of Leyndell or the vast arena of the Fire Giant – I was forced to shift to magic just to get a reasonable look at enemies.
By the time I reached the Haligtree, most enemies were just old bosses. Even the first “boss” of the area was an exact copy of another from Liurnia (only rendered less blue). All of which led to Malenia, who promptly delivered a Sekiro-paced attack I couldn’t hope to defend with my slow movement, and something did finally click.
I summoned a phantom optimistically monikered “IllHandleHerAlone” – clearly fashioned after “LetMeSoloHer” but who, unlike their illustrious counterpart, was definitely hacking. I watched as they made short work of Melania, and moved on.
Having grown apathetic to the one thing that sets From Software games apart, I felt I’d done all I set out to. I’d explored, finished quests I’d encountered, defeated countless bosses, and seen much of what Elden Ring had to offer. All I had to show for it was dispirited frustration.
Back on my homescreen, however, I saw I was only four trophies from Elden Ring’s platinum. Somehow, in trying to find something to like about the game, I’d killed everything I needed to kill and collected everything I needed to collect. I wanted it to be over, but a tiny, greedy voice in the back of my head said, “You may as well!”
Before I knew it, I was burning a big tree and returning to a now dusty Leyndell. Together with my new best friend, Mimic Tear, I defeated Godfrey and his WWE alter-ego and headed to the final boss. I elected to ask for help from three phantoms to speed things along – and by “help”, I mean I watched them beat up a guy with a hammer and the final boss from Sonic Adventure.
There was something perverse about watching people who clearly got more out of this game than I did beating bosses for me. I felt like a meme; standing off to the side while they wailed on Elden Beast, thinking, “They don’t know I hate Elden Ring.”
It’s apt, I suppose, that my final obstacle in Elden Ring was falling down a hole. Even with a dedicated jump, Elden Ring’s platforming still consists of optimistic falling. I’d anticipated the final ending would take a few moments, but somehow it took over an hour of tumbling to my death before I finally made it to the bottom unscathed. Perhaps the piles of merchant bodies have lore-significance, but I didn’t care. I got naked (in-game only, promise) and embraced some fingers. One last boop of the statue and it was over.
I’d platinumed Elden Ring. I hated every second of it and 85% was an accident – but I did it. I don’t know if there’s a lesson to be taken from my journey. Probably not. But I do know that the moment the platinum popped, I closed Elden Ring and deleted it from my console.