While the Soulsborne games have always let you summon in aid, I - along with a subset of the series’ community - felt like it was taking a cheap way out. FromSoftware’s games demand skilled combat, throwing you at enemies and bosses who punish your mistakes, cutting through your health bar in a single cleave of an ax. Getting good enough to beat those bosses with nothing but a big weapon and a strong will was the point. Or, at least, so I thought until I played Elden Ring.
That mentality almost broke my experience with Elden Ring. My early hours were spent getting beat up by the first major boss, Margit, The Fell Omen. It was frustrating to repeatedly fall to such an early boss, not just because it had me annoyed at my own abilities but because I wasn’t finding the fun in what my friends are calling one of the best games in years. I felt like I was being robbed because I couldn’t get on Elden Ring’s wavelength.
My first mistake was choosing the prisoner class, a magic/melee hybrid. I’ve never used a magic build in FromSoftware’s other games, leaning more into melee-focused characters in games like Bloodborne and Sekiro. If I wasn’t running around bosses, parrying their moves, and whittling down their health with a huge sword, it didn’t feel like I was playing in the spirit of the game. It’s about getting up close and personal with your enemy, not torching them with spells from afar.
Elitism ruins the fun - even for yourself
That perception of the games isn’t something I just came up with, it’s ripe within parts of the Souls community. If you’re using magic, a summon, or, god forbid, asking for help from another player, you are cheapening the experience. Thankfully, that’s a viewpoint I’d only imposed on myself. However, it’s one some are all too glad to impose on other players, disparaging the achievements of those who didn’t get the ‘real’ experience.
It’s an attitude that was famously on show (by meme standards) in a response to PCGamer’s article about beating Sekiro’s final boss using cheats. A reader responded saying: "You cheated not only the game, but yourself. You didn't grow. You didn't improve. You took a shortcut and gained nothing. You experienced a hollow victory. Nothing was risked and nothing was gained. It's sad that you don't know the difference."
It encapsulates that elitism in its obnoxious po-faced seriousness. That all said, I still imposed that standard on myself.
I put a spell on you
After a pause to cool down, I decided to face Margit again, this time using Elden Rings Summons mechanics. These spells let you spawn AI characters to help you in encounters. I walked through the gold barrier into the Margit boss fight and used the Lone Wolf Ashes. This brought three wolves to my side, who all attacked the boss, distracting him long enough for me to run in, and cut him with a mighty swing from my sword. Margit still killed me but I was so much closer than my previous attempts.
On my next attempt, I went against all my instincts; not only did I summon the wolves again but I struck at Margit from the sidelines with my projectile magic. The wolves didn’t survive the fight, but by the time Margit turned to face me, he was in terrible shape. I made quick work of hulking man using what I’d learned of his attack patterns when I was fighting him in the one-man-army approach.
Before this, I was close to the end of my tether, on the cusp of quitting the game entirely. I would have ruined Elden Ring for myself because I had a complex about playing the game in a particular way - one that’s entirely supported by FromSoftware. Those summons aren’t there by accident.
Embrace the magic
It would have been an enormous shame, too. Elden Ring is becoming a unique Soulsborne experience for me. It’s a game where I’m spell-slinging at huge bosses, using an Ancestral Follower Summon and the powerful Rock Sling to brutal efficiency. I’m playing in a way that’s radically different from the other FromSoftware games and I’m having a great time. I’ve found a versatile melee magic build that is satisfying my sword swinging needs but allows me the space to do massive damage from a distance, too. Ultimately, that toxic need to ‘be good’ has melted away to reveal something better - fun.
When I met Godrick the Grafted, the first of the ‘main bosses’, I expected a tough fight. His hulking frame made bigger by all the abnormal grafted limbs that adorn his every appendage. It only took me two attempts to beat him. My Ancestral Follower summon and I used almost entirely ranged damage, meaning I was basically never within six feet of him. That is blasphemy to Souls purists. It would have been to the old me. Being stuck in a mindset that these games are only meant to be played one way is so reductive, and I missed a lot of the joy built into the game by FromSoftware
Don’t rob yourself of the experience of Elden Ring because you think it has to be played one way or another. I’d still love to go back later and try the game as a melee warrior, but for now, I’m having a blast blowing through the enemies in Elden Ring using the 'cheesier' tactics with a magic staff in hand.