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Blood, sweat, and tears went into writing guides for Elden Ring. I still hear guides writers from outlets across the internet celebrate and complain about that week. On the one hand, it provided unprecedented traffic for almost every website that covered it, and on the other hand, it was so very obtuse that it would take hundreds of working hours to get a complete walkthrough written up – as proven by the fact that part one of the official Elden Ring walkthrough launched recently, several months after the game. You read that right, part one.

Being a games writer – and a guides writer specifically – can really distort your perception of video games. How people play them, what they enjoy about them, how much they cost – work within the industry for long enough and how you look at all these things will alter drastically. So I completely understand those poor guides writers who played Elden Ring until they couldn’t any longer – but I was on that guide grind too, and it was incredible.

I was excited for Elden Ring, but fully prepared for it to not live up to the hype. When code came in and I started playing, I felt optimistic. My first session lasted just a few hours before I decided to take a break. The next session lasted a few hours more. The first few days were slow and steady progress – and then suddenly, everything was Elden Ring.

I went to sleep late because I was playing Elden Ring. I woke up too late to go to the gym because of Elden Ring. During work hours, I wrote and spoke about Elden Ring. It consumed me, and that was fine, because even if it wasn’t what I was doing for work, it was what I would be thinking about anyway.

How the world pieced together, how character stories intertwined, what each icon emblazoned on each piece of armor symbolized – for at least two months it was constantly on my mind, my feeble brain attempting to unravel the tangled mess of plotlines in ways that reputable YouTubers wholeheartedly disagree with. Typical, really.

Some of Elden Ring's bosses are unforgettable encounters.

Some of Elden Ring's bosses are unforgettable encounters.

Now, let’s be clear: Elden Ring launched unfinished, as proven by post-launch patches literally adding in characters and scenarios. Even the most recent and robust update is heavily implied to have been intended to be in the game at launch, but it wasn’t. That certainly put a downer on theories and the overall plot, since now it seemed like a portion of the mystery could be put down to the game just not being done. Heck, even the in-game map has been updated multiple times since launch to make it line up with the actual world.

And despite all of that, I wouldn’t trade my time with Elden Ring for any other video game this year. Elden Ring evoked something that only the best open world games do, and that’s true exploration. There is a path – a literal road leading from near the starting area to late-game battles – but my heading was dictated entirely by my curiosity, until I found a bunch of enemies that were way too tough for me. At that point I picked another direction and made a mental note to return later. This is quite literally how the original Legend of Zelda worked, yet open world developers hate to stray too far from the waypoint-marked intended path.

Top-tier atmosphere and visual design make for some iconic moments.

Top-tier atmosphere and visual design make for some iconic moments.

Elden Ring, by eschewing modern game design, created something truly memorable and unlike anything else you can play right now. That’s not to say an amazing amount of design work hasn’t gone into this, of course. The fact that, at launch, in an “unfinished” state, I was able to make my way through the world, judging for myself which foes I should be competing with, is a miracle, and can only be achieved with hundreds of hours of playtesting.

Elden Ring isn’t a perfect game, as proven by every patch that has released since, and a PVP community that was about ready to go back to Dark Souls 3 before the most recent update, but it’s easily the best game of the year. I’m sorry, it really isn’t a competition. I love the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Splatoon 3, and Bayonetta 3, but none of them could possibly take over my life for two months straight like Elden Ring did. I can only pray the next game that I work on for over a month is half as enjoyable.