I am spectacularly rubbish at Elden Ring.
After around 8 hours with it, I’ve already died more often than in an entire playthrough of Skyrim, and mostly at the hands of the relatively weak starter region enemies.
Every time I set off from a place of relative safety, I end up being chased by a trio of torch-wielding zombies or a gigantic crab or some other lovingly-designed grotesquerie, which always ends up with my poor frustrated Tarnished disintegrating in a cloud of magic death dust.
So I am rubbish at Elden Ring.
And I am loving it.
And the reason I’ve not ragequit, or gone back to something less traumatic?
Every death matters.
I’m treating it like a roguelike, which is — I like to think — exactly what From Software wants players like me (i.e. rubbish ones) to do.
With each death, I’m not only training my muscle memory to execute a guard counter or a precisely-timed dodge, but the game is more often than not giving me a shred of reward before unceremoniously killing me.
Sure, it takes away all my hard-earned runes and puts them tauntingly in the same spot I died in, meaning my chances of regaining them are slim to say the least.
But before I die, I’ve usually discovered something. Maybe it’s finding another fast travel point, helping me inch my way forward in this most savage of environments. Maybe it’s a few crafting materials (most of which I don’t have recipes for yet, but never mind). Perhaps it’s a new weapon, even if I don’t yet have stats high enough to wield it.
Occasionally — and marvellously — it is sometimes something even better. The location of an unmarked dungeon, promising treasure within. A golden seed that will allow me to carry more healing charges. An Ash of War that lets me put some esoteric and mostly baffling special effect on my sword. Or — and these are my absolute favouries — a new spirit summon that lets me conjure up some meat shields to prolong my inevitable demise for a few extra, tortuous moments.
And as with all the best roguelikes, each restart following a death feels a tiny bit less hopeless. My Tarnished is improving, ever so slightly, at about the same pace as my protesting reflexes.
Most of the big beasties (who, needless to say, are nothing when compared to the actual bosses I know are out there) are still out of my league. But I’m cutting through more zombies and soldiers than I was six hours ago, and I can imagine a hopefully not-too-distant future where I can actually take on a knight on horseback and not get gored to death before I’ve even placed my trembling fingers on the shoulder buttons of my controller.
Elden Ring hates me, and loves me in equal measure. It’s a game that has an exquisite design loop baked in, one that has my back as much as it enjoys stabbing me in it.
The world is huge, and the promise of riches and the slightly dubious reward of facing off againt some hideous abomination of body horror keep me going.
Keep making me want to fail forward, to push myself, and to die over and over again.
With the almost metaphysical knowing that in Elden Ring, every life lived matters, no matter how brief it is.