Elden Ring is a daunting experience. Unlike many open-world games, it doesn’t give you a laundry list of objectives to chase. When you first step into The Lands Between, there is no marker telling you where to go next. You won’t find a quest log in the menu or an encyclopedia of tooltips explaining how its myriad systems work.
If you’re the kind of person who appreciates a little guidance in your games, you’ll find parts of the game confoundingly obtuse. That’s a feature, not a bug. The game rewards players for their curiosity and there’s really no such thing as getting “lost” in this world.
Still, there’s some basic knowledge you might want to know heading into the game. Here’s what I wish I knew when I started Elden Ring.
Mark the areas you’ve cleared
In Elden Ring, you’ll find several caves and castles with a big boss hidden at the end. These are scattered all around the world and can vary in difficulty. There’s a good chance you’ll hit one with a boss that feels way too powerful for your level and want to come back later.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have a system that tells you what areas you’ve cleared. If you leave an area and forget where it is, good luck finding it among a sea of grace sites on your map. You’ll probably want to keep a pen and paper handy to write down any locations you want to come back to later. It’s archaic, but that’s FromSoftware for you.
Don’t get attached to your starting weapon
When you start the game and pick a character, you’ll get a set weapon loadout. For my prophet, it was a finger seal and a basic lance. Naturally, I began leveling those weapons up the first chance I got, which made me a little hesitant to switch them out later. After all, anything I was picking up was less powerful at that point.
Unless you sincerely love your starting set, don’t get that attached to them. You’re going to find tons of gear in Elden Ring, from swords to whips to shields that look like a monster’s gross face. While weapons might initially have lower stats than your powered-up starting weapon, the long-term gain tends to be higher. Make sure to experiment with different weapons and focus on what feels best, not what does the most damage. With the right amount of upgrades, everything will be viable.
Explore caves early
There are several caves scattered around the map where you’ll find miners toiling away. These areas are the best place to find Smithing Stones, a resource that’s used to upgrade weapons. If you’re finding the opening of the game especially tough, you should focus your attention on seeking out caves and gathering as many stones as you can. Pumping up your weapon a few times should be priority number one if difficulty is a concern.
Luckily, you can see where caves are by looking at the map. When you open the map screen, look for small black holes on cliffsides. That usually represents a cave. Once inside, look on the walls for glowing resources. You’ll generally find them anywhere you see a miner working, so kill the poor laborers and steal their work.
You can change stats
If you’re agonizing over what stats to increase when you level up, don’t worry too much. Midway through the game, you will get a way to change those stats. Following a key boss fight, you’ll be able to use a certain item that wipes all of your stats clean and lets you reallocate. You’ll still want to be thoughtful early, but you won’t be locked in.
Similarly, you’ll also get a chance to change your appearance eventually. So if you’re not feeling your face or want to change genders, you’ll be able to do that freely at any point. All of this is to say, don’t get hung up too much on customization choices.
When the going gets tough, leave
The great thing about Elden Ring is that it’ll never railroad you into doing anything. There’s never a point where you’ll be unable to fast travel unless you beat a boss. That’s great news, because you’re going to want to routinely bounce off of bosses that feel too hard.
If you’re barely doing damage to a boss or find yourself dying in one hit, leave and come back later. At various points, I’d smash my head against a boss for four hours before deciding to finally leave. Within an hour of leaving, I’d level up five times and get a great new weapon. When I returned, the fight was suddenly much more manageable. Focus on building your character when you get stuck and come back when you feel like you’ve made a significant change. Just note that you won’t really notice a difference when you just level up once. You’ll need a few more to feel the effects.
There’s an explanation button for stats
When you open your stats menu, you’ll see a lot of unclear words. What does the Arcane stat control? What’s the difference between Dexterity and Strength?
It’s a little confusing if you’re not already acquainted with Dark Souls, but there’s an easy way to check. When in the stat menu, press the pause button. You’ll get an option to “View Explanation.” When you press that, you’ll get a text explainer on every single word when you hover over it. Don’t assume you know what each stat means already. They usually control multiple things, so you’ll want to confirm what does what before upgrading.
You don’t have to fight enemies to level up
Like previous Souls games, you’ll need to get experience points (Runes, in this game) to level up. If you die, you’ll drop all the Runes you’re carrying. You can pick them back up, but if you die, they’re gone forever.
You might think that the only way to level up is to fight enemies, but that’s not true. Throughout the world, you’ll find consumable items that give you a whole bunch of runes. You can level up quite a lot without touching a single enemy. These items are hidden everywhere, but the best place to find them is in graveyards. Throughout the map, you’ll find rows of graves. These tend to contain multiple runes (and a few enemies). You can actually see these spots on your map if you look for little gray boxes in a few uniform rows. Head to those areas and grab some runes for some stress-free levels.
There’s an endless number of starting tips I could list off, but those will make your life much easier in the opening hours. Once you get into the flow and are used to the obtuse nature of the game, you’ll find the general rhythm much easier. Happy hunting, Tarnished.
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