A Genuinely Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: I finally beat ELDEN RING

I finally– FINALLY managed to put Elden Ring to bed just now, after a completely ridiculous 122 hours of gameplay over roughly a month and a half (the game came out on February 25) of my actual life. I’m not doing the math to figure out how many hours a day that represents; I can tell you I did actually take a couple of days off here and there, but not many.

Here’s the review: this is easily one of the best games I’ve ever played, and I’m probably never touching it again. Now, there are plenty of other games I’ve put more than 120 hours into– there are other Fromsoft games I’ve put more than 122 hours into (Sekiro and Dark Souls III, definitely, and while they aren’t Fromsoft, Nioh and Nioh 2 as well) but those have all been on multiple playthroughs. Even something like Skyrim, which is legendary for the amount of content it contains, wasn’t close to 122 hours on my first playthrough. 122 hours is twice the length of a really big game, and I am one hundred percent certain that there is a ton of stuff left to do in this game that I left on the table– even if it’s just as simple as the fact that I was playing a strength build and so I went basically the entire game without casting a spell. I’m sure I missed dungeons. I probably missed entire quest lines scattered here and there, and who knows what other little landmarks or interesting bits of content I just never noticed.

It’s difficult to explain to people who don’t play video games just how big this game is, and how– much as I predicted, about 90 hours ago– that kind of scope ends up actually being detrimental to the game. Because, okay, this was my first playthrough, and subsequent playthroughs won’t need to be nearly as long, because 1) I really won’t feel the need to do every single thing that I can possibly do on a second playthrough and 2) Since I know the general layout of the world and the basic path for exploration I won’t need to do as much fiddlefarting around as I did on the first playthrough, where there were big stretches where I didn’t really know what to do next so I just sort of wandered around until I stumbled over something. So I’m not in for another 120 hours, but even 50-60 for a second playthrough of something I’ve done before is just a big investment of time. That’s literally multiple days of playtime. Like, I loved it, it’s delicious, but if I eat any more I’m gonna throw up, and that’s not what I want.

I am uploading the final batch of episodes now; episodes 88 and 89 will go live today, so that’s 22 more episodes, meaning that the last episode will air on the 21st, since I don’t intend to bump up the release speed at all. I need to decide what I’m doing with the channel now; I’m closing in on a year that I’ve been doing this (I started in June of 2021) and I was really hoping that this series would goose my follower count a bit. I started the series with 116 followers on YouTube. I currently have, after 88 episodes of what at least to me seems like quality content about the hottest game on the market, have … 116 followers. I think a year of an hour of content every single day— I didn’t miss a single deadline once I started– is probably enough to determine whether I’m 1) going to blow up or 2) want to blow up on YouTube as a platform. I think the first answer is no; I had heard all kinds of stories about how follower counts pick up a lot once you get your 100th follower and your first video with 500 views; I’ve done both and they haven’t. The second … I’m tired, y’all. Video games and reading are my two big leisure activities and I effectively converted one of them into a job over the last year and I’m really not sure I want to keep doing it. I’m going to take those eleven days and play a game or two and not record at all, just to see if I feel differently about it, and we’ll see if I pick things back up in a couple of weeks (I could always just finish that year out and make it official) or if I decide to walk away from the channel for a while. I mean, I could always just record stuff when I want to, or cut down on the recorded episodes and do more livestreams or something. There are avenues in between “keep doing exactly what I’m doing” and “completely shut down.”

God I hate this guy

I have spent a couple of hours over the last two days struggling to beat this sonofabitch so I can move on with my Dark Souls III Let’s Play, and I am defeated; I just had to upload an episode that was nothing but me losing, because I’m not as far ahead as I usually am and the alternative is having no video at all to upload.

It is possible you recognize the picture! I have griped about the Nameless King before; this is a boss I have only beaten (twice, I think) with magic, long-range characters. I have never beaten him with a melee character, and my current build is a Strength build. Again. The big difference here is that the first time when I wasn’t able to beat him I wasn’t recording my ignominious failure to put it on YouTube. I’ve gotten close a couple of times, but no success yet, and I am at the point right now where if I can’t paste him tomorrow within half an hour of getting home I’m going to just give up and go beat the game.

I love this game, but Christ do I hate this boss.

EDIT: Got ‘im. On the very next try, as a matter of fact. With nine heals left. I could see the fucking Matrix.

ELDEN RING post-Network Test impressions

One thing is absolutely clear: I need to clear my calendar for late February and probably all of March, and I am going to take a personal day the day this game comes out and I’m not going to feel even the tiniest bit bad about it. I will flat-out tell people that I am staying home to play video games. Deal with it.

I recorded five hours of footage from the network beta test of this game– three hours on Friday night and two more on Sunday night, before hitting a situation that ended the stream so perfectly that continuing to play (and cost myself sleep the night before work) seemed wholly unnecessary. During that time I explored a pretty good chunk of the map we had available to us, defeated several bosses including Margit the Fell up there, who appears to be the first major storyline boss in the game, found but did not seriously attempt to kill the dragon, and cleared out three caves. I dipped my toe in multiplayer a bit, letting myself be summoned to help one player (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) defeat a boss, and summoning people myself to take out Margit and one other boss. I also got invaded once and killed the invader. I only really tried out the one class, deciding to get deeper into progression with a single character rather than repeat the same content with a bunch of them, but I chose the Enchanted Knight class, meaning that I had access to melee and magic abilities.

This game is a fucking blast, y’all, and while I have some scattered concerns here and there I think they mostly fall into either “this was the beta test” or “you will get used to it” categories. I’m going to switch to bullet points now; note that any references I should happen to make to the development of the game come from a position of nearly total ignorance, so I may have the idea that very complicated things are easy or that easy things are very complicated. Take everything with as much salt as you’d like.

  • The combat and basic game itself is pure Dark Souls, which is a good thing (because that’s my favorite game series) and a bad thing (because they are literally reusing tons of animations from Dark Souls 3.) This is one of those places where I’m wondering if a lot of the animations are placeholders that are going to get swapped out later. Other things, like fonts and such, are also pretty similar and I suspect might see some polishing in the next several months. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a Dark Souls game; it’s a whole new IP and while nobody’s complaining about the obvious shared DNA it does need to have more of its own identity.
  • The look of the game is fantastic, and the network test covered a diverse enough swath of environments (and weather conditions!) to give you a good idea of how all sorts of things are going to look. Graphical fidelity is not going to be a problem here.
  • The game was very, very clean. The only bugs I noticed (and didn’t bother reporting) was that sometimes player messages were floating off the ground rather than being where they were supposed to be. I had no crashes at all, no glitching, nothing like that, and I haven’t really seen any reports of major bugs either. AI seemed on point across the board, although sneaking up and backstabbing enemies is maybe a little easier than it ought to be.
  • That might not be true. There were a couple places during the Friday session where I was trying to summon people and having no luck at all. That could be a bug issue or could be a result of summons getting snatched up the second they got placed; it’s hard to say from this end. But if it was a bug, it was the only one, and I wasn’t having those issues nearly as much Sunday night.
  • I didn’t feel like there was enough variation in weapons and armor available. There were next to no drops from humanoid enemies, and nonhuman enemies mostly dropped crafting materials. Five hours into any other Fromsoft game other than Sekiro would have given you tons of different weapons and armor. I found a twinblade really quickly that I used for most of my run, but by the end of the five hours I only had maybe four or five weapons, which is ludicrously low. This is something else that I assume they’ll correct by the time of the game’s full release. No reason to give everybody full customizability right off the bat.
  • Similarly, the demo had no initial character customization at all, and made sure to put most characters’ faces behind helmets. I figure they left it out on purpose.
  • Other than the fact that there is an Elden Ring out there and it is destroyed and you’re looking for it, there were no real hints at the story at all. Which is, to be clear, absolutely fine.
  • Changes from the Dark Souls model: the ability to charge spells is awesome. I also really like being able to replace special abilities on weapons with others that you’ve picked up, and turning enemy summons into an item is a fantastic move even if I thought the three wolves summon was flat-out unfair by the end of the second stream. There will be rebalancing; there’s no doubt about that. It’s inevitable. I also really like the mechanic where wiping out entire groups of enemies can result in recharging your heals. This does two things: one, it encourages more aggressive gameplay, and two, it adds another element of risk/reward to the game, which is something Fromsoft games have always excelled at. If I only have half a health bar and no heals left, do I attack that last enemy or two knowing that if they hit me, I’m dead, but if I beat them without any mistakes I get all my heals back?
  • Boss difficulty and design is pretty solid, and Margit the Fell is one of the most complex early bosses I’ve ever encountered in one of these games. I was pretty sure I could take him sooner or later by myself, but went with summons to help out because with a clock ticking I felt like I didn’t have time to fuck around learning attack patterns that could change by the time the game comes out. Better to steamroll the bastard so I can see what’s after him. ūüôā
  • Recording this game is going to be tricky. Open-world games lend themselves better to streaming, but I don’t have a lot of time to stream, and half-hour episodes are going to feel really inadequate, especially considering how frequently I was getting distracted. Assuming I’m still running the YouTube channel by then, I may have to reconsider how I present the episodes. Luckily I’ve got plenty of time to figure that out.
  • EDIT: Just discovered there was an whole entire-ass tutorial area that I completely missed. Oops?

I may add some details here and there as I continue to think about this, but I figure this is enough to get started with. Damn, I need more friends who play video games.

#REVIEW: Salt and Sanctuary (PS4)

Part of me feels like reviewing this game is pointless, because it came out way the hell back in 2016, but I never pay attention to the year books came out before I write about them, so to hell with it: I first downloaded Salt and Sanctuary for my PS4 a couple of months ago, played it for a couple of hours, and for whatever reason it felt unreasonably hard and didn’t click. I jumped back into it for no good reason a week and a half or so ago, and it immediately proceeded to eat about 20 hours of my life between then and beating it on Sunday. So I’ve been playing quite a bit of it later, and watching videos about it when I wasn’t playing it. I don’t know why it didn’t hit at first, but maybe running a mage build made all the difference.

Anyway: S&S is a 2D Soulslike combined with a Metroidvania, which is an utterly impenetrable sentence if you don’t speak fluent Gamer Nerd, so let me unpack it for you: difficult combat, tons of different ways to build your character that will lead to you fighting with anything from magic and giant hammers to whips and guns and scissor-swords, difficult boss encounters, penalties at death, collecting materials (in this case, salt) from defeating enemies that you can use to level up and are lost if you die unless you defeat the beast that killed you, and an absolutely enormous map (that’s only maybe 2/3 of it, if that; I don’t think there’s a complete map on the internet anywhere yet, which is unreal) with tons of shortcuts and secrets and replayability and lots of backtracking. Combine all that with a seriously cool, unique art style and we have something I’m going to be very into:

It’s an interesting combination of cartoony with gory; killing enemies results in a surprisingly satisfying explosion of blood and body bits, and the overall aesthetic is just Lovecraftian enough that it never got old, although in general I found it a bit too dark a lot of the time– you will be lighting a lot of torches in this game, and there’s a particular enemy that lives in completely dark areas and keeps a light on its forehead like some sort of bipedal angler fish, and the way my build worked out I often had to choose between being able to see and being able to attack it, because you can’t hold a torch and a two-handed weapon at once, and all of my weapons were two-handed. Which got complicated.

Another thing the game does well is the addition of what it calls Creeds, which are basically your character’s religion; there are about seven of them, three or four of which are available at the start of the game. When you find a safe area in the game (a “sanctuary”, where you can level up and there aren’t any enemies) sometimes they are already dedicated to a creed and sometimes you can choose what creed to dedicate them to; you collect items throughout the game that can let you add things like blacksmiths and vendors and fast-travel points to sanctuaries, but you can only add them to sanctuaries that belong to your creed. Sanctuaries can be converted between creeds, too (and you can change yours,) but that can lead to violence if done too many times to the same creed. Connecting vendors to a collectible item leads to a bit of strategic thinking about where to place them, but if you find all of the guides you can put a guide at nearly every sanctuary, so it’s not as big of a deal: more important is that the vendors and such also add bonuses to areas, so you get a salt bonus if you add a Stone Leader at a sanctuary, for example.

I just finished my first run, and it’s distinctly possible that I’m about to dive right in with a second, although I’ve got my eyes on a couple of other games too. But any game I play through twice before heading off to something else is pretty special. If you’ve found that your tastes in games line up with mine in the past, check this out.

In which I’m playing SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE

sekiro-shadows-die-twice-wallpaperFor the last who-knows-how-long– a year? ¬†Close to it? ¬†I have used my PlayStation for nothing other than games made by From Software. ¬†I’ve been basically playing the three Dark Souls games and Bloodborne¬†(together, Soulsborne, a phrase I’ll be using a lot) on a loop, and I’ve beaten all four of them multiple times with several different builds during that time. ¬†I went a really long time where I didn’t ever really replay video games all that much, so to stay with these four games for, again, close to a year (with, granted, some interruptions from other games) was really unprecedented. ¬†I mean, it’s saved me money, but still.

FromSoft released a new game on Friday, the ridiculously-named¬†Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. ¬†I am … I dunno, a dozen hours in? ¬†Fifteen? ¬†And I have yet to see a shadow die, either once or twice, although a random character just decided to name the player character Sekiro. ¬†I don’t get the subtitle.

This isn’t a review, unless “this game is insanely difficult (seriously, the Soulsborne series is renowned for its difficulty and Sekiro puts them to shame) and a lot of fun and I had to stop playing it to type this” counts as a review. ¬†No, instead it’s a post about how I’ve been sort of watching the way I deal with this game from a distance and I’m kind of fascinated by it.

First of all: I can’t play video games without YouTube any longer. ¬†I’ve been simultaneously playing the game (well, okay, in series, not simultaneously) and watching a YouTuber by the name of FightinCowboy play through it for the first time himself. ¬†Cowboy’s helped me through all the Souls games too, so there was no way I wasn’t watching his series on this game.

Now, you may find yourself quietly (or perhaps loudly) mocking me for the idea of spending a lot of time watching someone play a video game on YouTube.  And until I started doing it, I might have felt the same way.  Now, my opinion works this way: have you ever watched anyone play sports on TV?  Could you, instead, have been playing sports yourself?

Oh, the people you’re watching are entertaining and are much better at the sports than you are, and that’s what makes it okay to watch them play instead of playing yourself?

Huh.  Weird how that works.

(Also: you cannot get better at basketball from watching other people play it. ¬†You can get better at video games by watching pros. ¬†You need to develop muscle memory on your own, of course, but strategies and item locations and things like that can absolutely be easily and efficiently discovered online. ¬†There’s also something cathartic about watching someone else get their ass handed to them by a boss that you’re having trouble with, especially in this game.)

So anyway, that’s different. ¬†I’m trying to mostly play before I watch, but the game is wide open enough that he’s going about things in a different order from me, meaning that I’m seeing some stuff in the videos before I get to it myself and I’m also yelling JESUS GO HERE THE ITEM YOU NEED IS OVER IN THIS PART OF THE GAME WHY HAVEN’T YOU GONE BACK HERE YET MY GOD COWBOY or similar things quite a lot. ¬†He can’t hear me; I’m yelling them anyway.

Another interesting thing is that this game is absolutely in dialogue with the Soulsborne games in a way that I find kind of fascinating.  The Dark Souls series is all about playing defensively and looking for openings to attack.  Overt aggression will often get you quickly killed.  Bloodborne shook up the formula a bit, getting rid of shields and blocking and introducing a mechanic where some of the health lost from taking a it could be regained by counterattacking, which led to much more aggressive gameplay overall.

You will die a lot in Sekiro until you stop playing like you’re playing a Soulsborne game. ¬†If you back off an enemy, chances are they’re going to regain everything you just took away from them when you attacked them. ¬†There’s no stamina mechanic– you can block and attack constantly, to your heart’s content, and while the game punishes button mashing harshly they definitely want a scenario where a fight is a couple of dozen quick button pushes in perfect timing and perfect order, which might manifest itself on-screen as several sword strikes, a few blocks, jumping over a sweep, stomping someone’s spear into the ground and then ramming your sword through their neck to end the fight.

Also, stamina played a role in movement in the Soulsborne, because energy to run and energy to fight came from the same pool. ¬†You might find yourself rushing over to an enemy only to discover that once you got there all your stamina was gone and you didn’t have any left to attack or, worse, defend yourself, so measured approaches to everything were prioritized. ¬†This tends to get into that muscle memory I was talking about, quite a bit– and I trashed a boss who had been destroying me repeatedly once I finally realized the game wouldn’t punish me for chasing him. ¬†You can run forever if you want. ¬†Turns out that matters!

So yeah: this isn’t a review, but assuming I don’t chuck my controller through the screen halfway through the game it’s probably a safe assumption that one’s coming eventually. ¬†If nothing else, there’s probably more navel-gazing to be had in the near future, right?