Elden Ring May Take You Hundreds of Hours, But The Year’s Best Video Game Is Worth It

The story of this game is co-written by George R.R. Martin, not known for his brevity. Be prepared to invest serious time in exploring a world full of laser-blue-eyed undead, operatic bat creatures, and more.

Elden Ring’s rich environments mean exploring the open-world game for hours (and hours) isn’t tedious Bandai Namco/FromSoftware

In open world games, the celebrated selling point is that you can go anywhere and do anything. But it’s a gamble. If you’re bored, you quickly wretch and move onto something else. If you’re lucky, though, you’re a wide-eyed traveler moving across vast stretches of new lands in experiences that take up to 300 hours to complete. If the adventure is compelling, as in the constantly amazing Elden Ring, you continue. So far, I’ve indulged for 81 hours.

The Bandai Namco offering, downloaded to a PlayStation 5, has enchanted and bedeviled me. I actually thought I’d play a little, become utterly frustrated as I did with the last two FromSoftware games and vow never to play one of their long-ass games again. That’s because FromSoftware is known for outsized monsters who can be next to impossible to kill. If you can’t get rid of them, you can’t progress. Instead of aggravation, I discovered what’s currently the best game of the year, despite its well-worn trope of finding all the pieces of an ancient ring to finish the game. My fascination, among other things, includes occasional dialog with peculiar characters that you might find in Alice In Wonderland in books or Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption II in games.

Early on, I decided to become as strong as my female warrior character could be before I battled Margit, the frighteningly huge, fast boss with a giant gold-shimmering hammer who guards the entrance into gloomy Stormveil Castle. So I roamed the strange world full of riffs on Irish myths to search for glow-eyed skulls which I cracked to procure a rune. I’ve collected enough to reach level 50 in what’s partially a scavenger hunt to become powerful enough to vanquish enemies who die in a flourish of heaving flesh and memorable thumps. Rune farming could well have gone beyond rote into the banal. Each skull gave me, on average, 200 points. Runes near creepy crypts in graveyards gave me more. Tedium was avoided because the of rich environments.

I often watch life go by from mile-high cliffs, witnessing with the brutal rain and wind, characters in themselves. Small trees in a rainy storm seem to move in a hah-hah-hah left, hah-hah-hah right rhythm, laughing at me. The ingenious movement was akin to black and white Merrie Melodies animation if you mix in Game of Thrones darkness. In this story co-written by George R.R. Martin, you undertake the daunting tasks of dealing with laser-blue-eyed undead with long spears and well-armed giants who, once they attack, seem to move faster than Usain Bolt.

I found an anthropomorphic pot with spindly arms and his clay butt stuck in the ground. I had to kick him a number of times to release him. Thankful, he gave me something for my time. Pot Boy looks like a tarnished work of archeological art that might be found in the Metropolitan Museum of art. Could it be from ancient Rome or Egypt? (Rock, Paper Shotgun had a compelling story about Pot Boy’s potential origins.)

Pot Boy Bandai Namco/FromSoftware

That level of characterization for a minor entity shows the lengths persnickety Japanese game makers are willing to go to provide a rabbit hole of enticement for players. It is Thackeray, not Hemingway. After all, Martin is someone who isn’t prone to brevity. And FromSoftware’s games are developed by detail-conscious creators whose games average in the dozens of hours. Personality lies within everything you see and hear. Look at the way a giant bat goes lifeless when you protect yourself with your morning star hammer. Check out the leathery wings as they offer up their last flaps of life and its anguished face, fanged mouth open, as it dies. Here’s a world where life can be, as Hobbes once pointed out, “nasty, brutish and short.” Well, maybe not so short.

Through a YouTube video, I found a way to level up a bit more quickly. Now, I get at the stomping Giants 10 times my height by whapping at their ankles. And I could take on the many shadowy harbingers of death with their faces hidden and their long scythes ready to attack. I just wanted to explore, but they formed from nothing as the evening fell on a dusty dirt road near a castle full of portly ghosts with powdered hair wigs and one Flash-fast bug who cut with blades. He wanted to Edward Scissorhands me to death. To help, I’d found a powerup which allowed a pack of four wraith-like wolves. But the fast thing put up a great fight. With level 50 power, I could easily fell almost anything except for impressive dragons and gross folks like Margit. Those would require much more effort, especially because I gave myself an extra task: no blocking with a shield.

It’s been suggested that you keep a journal because the world, called the Lands Between, is so immense. I’m not against the idea of organization for the sake of completion. But I consider Elden Ring a place to travel, vacation from daily horrors and sadness that I can’t control. On any vacation I’ll plan some, but journaling is kind of like making a complete dossier for your trip in real life. It makes sense if you want every moment to be heavily choreographed. I prefer to wander with completion far in the back of my mind. So I’ve made some notes, but not many. I still want to be shaken by the sights I encounter. 

The Chanting Winged Dame sings an operatic oratory of Elden Ring lore Bandai Namco/FromSoftware

I stop and marvel at everything. Goats roll away in a ball when you get too close. A beetle gives powerups, but can also explode and injure. Most moving was a bat-like woman, a Chanting Winged Dame, sitting on a cliff protecting a nest with two babies, her eyes fixed on the night sky. She sang an operatic oratory of Elden Ring lore in the most plaintive way imaginable.

I don’t know when I’ll be finished with Elden Ring because I don’t want it to end. As an occasional author, I’ve savored novels and non-fiction with a kind of sloth-like over-appreciation. So it can take me a year to finish a beloved 700-page book. I expect the same will happen with Elden Ring. Elden Ring May Take You Hundreds of Hours, But The Year’s Best Video Game Is Worth It