Dark Souls as a series felt inhospitable before I started playing it. The narrative of these dark fantasy games is about loneliness and isolation, and they’re also notoriously hard. Why people would even want to play these games didn’t make sense to me until I started exploring them alongside my friends. Elden Ring almost makes that a requirement.
The games that have made FromSoftware a household name, like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, are designed with the idea that the player is going to have to do a little extra work to make sense of them. Unless you’re personally willing to spend a lot of time testing out each mechanic, some things are just going to slip past you. You don’t have to do that, though. For Souls games and Bloodborne, there are many, many fan run wikis and fan written guides to make sure you don’t miss hidden mechanics, like the item that can stun the first major boss in Bloodborne. The work has already been done as a collective because the task is simply too great to do on one’s own.
If you feel intimidated by the scope and scale of Elden Ring, a huge open world game without a quest log and with a similarly esoteric approach to explaining its mechanics to players as Dark Souls, don’t think you have to discover everything by yourself. The idea of keeping a notebook for this game might be intimidating, but it’s also not truly necessary. All of the other Elden Ring players are your notebook. Some of them are leaving notes in the game itself.
Elden Ring has a system that allows players to leave notes for others if they’re playing online, just like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Right now, a lot of these notes are troll-y or sex jokes—I have encountered so many notes that say “Try finger but hole” that for a time I stopped reading them. But the game makes it mechanically useful to leave notes and rate them. If you leave a note, every time it gets rated you gain health. If you’re at full health, you’ll gain runes. Even if the note you left is rated as “poor” you still get those boons, meaning that leaving either a particularly useful or useless message is something the game rewards you for.
This intimidating world was just not meant to be tackled as a solitary exercise, if the way the messaging system works is any indication. There’s too much of it. Sharing tips with a friend, watching a YouTube video, or visiting an in-progress fan wiki isn’t cheating or spoilers. It’s what the game is guiding you to do. There’s no way I would have learned how powerful two-handing a weapon is—or even how to do it—if I hadn’t watched a YouTube video explaining it (you have to hold triangle or Y and then press the attack button). Elden Ring isn’t going to explain how the game works beyond the most necessary components. I didn’t even know how to make my horse gallop without a little trial and error. It’s more than okay to say, look up what each stat means before you decide where you want to put points into as you level up.
In some cases, doing so led me to a fun discovery, like learning that putting points in Arcane makes loot drops from enemies more frequent. My favorite weapon right now, the flail, is extremely easy to miss, which is especially unfortunate as flails are new to this series of games. Being able to share the location of this weapon, which totally changed my experience of the game, has the same mental effect as leaving a note in-game does. I’m having fun, playing the way I’m playing, with the particular tips and tricks I’ve sussed out through trial and error. Sharing that fun—minus the frustration—will make everyone’s experience of Elden Ring more fun, and easier to boot.
Players of previous FromSoftware games have all already benefited from the collective research of the community for those games. They have obsessively read item descriptions to understand the games’ lore, or discovered ways to cheese hard encounters through trial and error. Eventually the same will be true for Elden Ring players who didn’t play the game at launch. Those players are relying on you to discover the secrets of this realm, and then share them with the world.