Elden Ring reminds me why I love video games

I'm a jaded games journalist, but Elden Ring makes me completely forget about that.
Elden Ring
Elden Ring / FromSoftware, GLHF

Like most game journalists, I thought ahead and started a fresh Elden Ring save ahead of attempting the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC. My main character that I had previously seen through to the game’s conclusion was now in a New Game+ world with more difficult challenges, and it seemed silly to have that be my first DLC experience. When the Shadow of the Erdtree game code finally came in I downloaded it, booted up my DLC save, and realized I hadn’t actually played it much.

I was level 30 and had just defeated Godrick in Stormveil Castle. Sure, Limgrave, Caelid, and a bunch of Liurnia of the Lakes had discovered Sites of Grace dotted about to help me move around the map quickly, but I hadn’t ascended the Grand Lift or witnessed the golden glory of Leyndell. Game reviewers are often on tight time constraints – games are long, and even if you put in eight-hour shifts during your work day, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll see the end of a game like Elden Ring by the time it’s time to put words on a page. Seeing my incomplete DLC character immediately made me nervous, and I started looking for help.

My friend, luckily, has spent hundreds of hours as a dedicated PVP player and has duplicated all of the fully upgraded weapons and runes you could ever wish for. Unluckily, the moment I redeemed the DLC code my PS5 account had been placed on a different server, meaning there was no way that he could hand these items over to me. Being on a console version of the game, there was no way for me to download a cheat table mod and add the necessary items to my inventory. There was no choice – I was going to have to play Elden Ring, properly.

A Furnace Golem in Elden Ring, with Furnace Visage in full view

First things first, I needed to be able to access the DLC. I quickly started Varré’s questline, and needed to hunt down the offline NPC summons to complete it (that different server ensured I couldn’t find any real players to invade). This gave me access to Mohgwyn Palace, where you enter the Land of Shadows. Problem: I wasn’t strong enough to beat Mohg. Like, not even close. There is an infamous cliff nearby that people use to farm runes, and while that would’ve been an efficient method of leveling up, it doesn’t solve the litany of other problems I still had. For example, what would I do to upgrade weapons without the Smithing Stone Bell Bearings? Unless I collect the good Talismans, all my builds will be punching below their weights. If I don’t hunt down the Sacred Tears from across the map, my Flasks simply won’t heal much health.

After I’d finally managed to discern the fastest way to enter the DLC and get started, I realized that I would inevitably be totally overwhelmed by every enemy I met – and that was if I could even get past Mohg first. There was no choice. Even with the time pressure, I was going to have to play Elden Ring – all of it – in order to cover the DLC. And the DLC was bigger than we thought.

But that’s where having already played Elden Ring comes in handy. If I just need a few thousand extra runes, I already know how to find that aforementioned cliff. I needed tough weapons, but a quick search online will reveal which weapons scaled with which stats, and where to find them. Those Bell Bearings are pretty easy to grab if you know exactly where to look first. Knowledge is power, and in Elden Ring, knowing what every weirdly named item actually does puts you at an advantage. A Gold Pickled Fowl Foot? Nonsense to any normal person, but to me, a man with severe FromSoft brain poisoning, that’s a key to getting 100k souls from beating on a big dragon’s butt for a few minutes. 

A wizened crone with a bulbous glowing head stalks a dark forest in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
A wizened crone with a bulbous glowing head stalks a dark forest in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree /

So my adventure began with research – what’s where, why I want it, etc. – and moved onto absolutely slapping every boss that came against me. I’m not a speedrunner, but I needed to get this done fast, so I didn’t hesitate to pull out NPC partners and Spirit Ash summons for any and every boss, whether or not I felt like I needed the help. Knowledge is power, but having several other dudes with clubs help you out is even better. Rennala didn’t stand a chance. Loretta didn’t know what hit her. Radahn? Well, he put up a good fight, but it’s actually not too tough if you just focus on resummoning your NPC allies instead of getting up in his face. Is this cheesy? If so, call me Chester Cheetah.

After beating Radahn I made a beeline down underground to pick up the Mimic Tear Spirit Ash – you know what I’m about – and marched on Leyndell while taking a detour to Volcano Manor to remind Rykard who’s boss. Beelining through stages, sprinting past pretty much every optional enemy, was a shockingly valid tactic. Each boss was dropping enough runes for me to level up several times as I simply trotted from location to location like the Lands Between’s hitman. When holding nothing back and maxing out a popular Strength build, the base game content is actually pretty simple. You should want to take things slow and explore the first time you play, but when you go in with a singular goal, Elden Ring almost feels… simple? I wasn’t learning which build was best and memorizing boss patterns as I did the first time around, instead I was just gliding through.

Once I’d set the Erdtree on fire I was more than powerful enough to mow down Mohg, and at that point I went in for the Elden Beast just for the extra runes. I’d skyrocketed in terms of strength, and with the Mimic Tear at my side? That thing might’ve been nerfed since launch, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. 

A headless Marika statue with an Elden Ring Scadutree Fragment in front of it
A headless Marika statue with an Elden Ring Scadutree Fragment in front of it / FromSoftare/GLHF

I’d sailed through the main game content of Elden Ring in just a couple of days, and when I was finally playing through the DLC, it felt like a breath of fresh air all over again. As I said, knowledge is power, and suddenly, I was stupid. While I knew all of the tricks of the base game’s enemies and bosses, I squealed as Messmer the Impaler morphed into a twisted serpent, like Rykard was getting revenge after I embarrassed him so brutally. It was like I was playing Elden Ring for the first time all over again, and despite the considerably smaller landmass, the Land of Shadows took me far more time to overcome than that playthrough I just waxed on about ever did.

And the crazy thing? I loved it. Not just the game and the experience, the return to the Lands Between, but the time I spent playing. As a games journalist I’m in the incredibly rare position where a time constraint can completely justify my job being to play a video game, full time, with very few distractions. That is very rarely the reality of the job, but even after more than a decade of doing this, it felt like living the juvenile dream.

As a games journalist I play too many games. There are always more games to play, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. This can absolutely make me overly critical at times – my time feels so finite, so anything that seems below par isn’t going to be looked at fondly. This is not how a normal person enjoys a hobby, and sometimes I need a game like Elden Ring to remind me of that. It’s not about tracking each hour, analyzing the pacing, eyeballing the pixel grid, and moaning about audio quality. It’s about getting lost in a world and struggling to pull yourself away, fully immersing yourself and, in a game like Elden Ring especially, acting like a bold explorer. There’s an aspect of Uncharted’s archaeological discoveries in Elden Ring, except it happens when you read an item description and discover a piece of lore about the place or person you got it from. Luckily, even if you’re not into that, you can just level up a big sword and swing it at people.

Elden Ring's Rellana, brandishing two magic swords
Elden Ring's Rellana, brandishing two magic swords / FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

That’s a lot of words to say I love Elden Ring. It’s the kind of game that reminds me why I love games, and I need that after spending so many hours of my day being cynical. I’m a games journalist, for all the good and bad that entails, but when I play Elden Ring, I’m just a silly little fan with a very large Greatsword.

Dave Aubrey


GLHF Deputy Editor. Nintendo fan. Rapper. Pretty good at video games.