Elden Ring, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and other FromSoftware titles are beloved for their penumbric narrative style, trademark grimdark settings, and their incredible sense of scale and opportunities for discovery. They are also infamous for being punishingly hard.
For some dedicated players, this last part is all that really matters. The difficulty, and their subsequent investment of time and energy into mastering the game's melee combat system, is what makes FromSoftware's games what they are. Many of those same players would tell you that this is just the way they play, and they don't begrudge other players their different play styles or where they find satisfaction in the game.
And then there are the other ones. The ones who would – and do – tell everyone whether they ask or not that unless you play as they do and reach their level of skill in lightning-quick parries, dodge rolls, and precisely executed combos, you aren't legitimately playing.
For some, Elden Ring's various systems like summoning Ashes to help take down difficult encounters, spamming Comet Azur from a distance to melt away a dragon's HP, or even bringing in multiplayer cooperators for boss fights is tantamount to breaking the game. If even those tactics are illegitimate, then "cheesing" is the true Cardinal Sin of Elden Ring.
Cheesing, broadly, is using unconventional tactics to advance through the game that some argue is exploitative and violates the game's spirit. If that grafted scion is too big to physically fit through a doorway and you stand on the other side, whittling down its health with arrows or Glintstone Shards while staying out of reach of its attacks, well then, you are little better than a cheater.
I'm here to tell you that not only are they wrong, but that cheesing your way to the Elden Throne is more true to the spirit of the Soulsborne genre than their precise dual-wield katana builds and dodging prowess could ever be.
Exploiting weaknesses is what winners do
You didn't beat her. You used summons. You used bleed. You spammed ranged attacks. You used ashes of war. You upgraded your weapon. You leveled up your character. You used a controller. You turned the screen on. You used electricity. You used the concept of time. pic.twitter.com/sgie5Zu7EQApril 3, 2022
The way you win in a Soulborne game is you ruthlessly exploit enemy weaknesses. For a melee build, that means getting in close, learning attack timings, and parrying and dodging your way into exposing an enemy's weak spot so you can hit it hard while you have an opening.
But FromSoftware didn't make a game just for melee builds, they made a game with a rich magic and affinity system and environmental damage that applies to enemies just as much as it does to the player.
Some enemies are immune to poison, but weak to lightning. So, you're encouraged to hit them with every lightning spear you can throw at them. Pump enough points into arcane and faith and you'll never need to worry about the Fire Giant's tankiness because it absolutely melts under a stream of Glintstone Breath.
If you figured out that some boss can't reach you in some spot or that a boss might actually roll its gargantuan ass down the side of a waterfall to its death, then exploiting that is perfectly legitimate.
FromSoftware can and has put an invisible barrier around an arena to keep an enemy from falling off a ledge, so if it forgot to put one up along the edge of the waterfall in Nokron's aqueduct for the twin gargoyle fight, and one or both of those gargoyles are stupid enough to roll over the side to their death while impossibly dodging your attacks?
Well. If there's one lesson you must learn in any FromSoftware title, it's that a small mistake can be instantly fatal. There's no reason why that should only apply to the players.
Soulsborne games are not exclusively about playing in a very specific, melee-oriented fashion with perfected attack timings. You can do that, if you like, because this will get you to the real goal of any Soulsborne game: win by whatever means necessary. The point is perseverance, in enduring and overcoming the challenge. How you do that is up to you.
Anyone who tells you that using the game's built-in mechanics to win is cheap or somehow beneath the dignity of a true Soulborne player is telling on themselves. Winners beat games. Losers complain about how other people beat games.
Elden Ring is made to be cheesed
I'm sure that the developers of Elden Ring spent a lot of time and effort to make the game's punishing combat mechanics beatable by anyone who invests the time and patience to master them. It's been a trademark of the entire Soulsborne genre since Demon's Souls was released on the PS3, and that tradition has carried on through every one of FromSoftware's games ever since.
You know what else has been there since the beginning? Enemies who were too big to follow you through a door which you could then turn it into a porcupine of poison arrows. That spot along the wall where that one spider boss's flame breath attack couldn't get to you, but you can still hit it with ranged attacks? That was in the original Demon's Souls and it was still there in the PS5 remake, unchanged. If FromSoftware considered such tactics as out of bounds, they've had several games to fix them.
Yet, I can still whittle down a punishingly difficult boss battle by raining down Rotten Breath on them from a rooftop in Lyndell and there's absolutely nothing a pair of mounted Tree Sentinels can do about it but die slowly like the computer-generated, golden-glad dogs that they are.
You'd think that experienced developers who have made arguably one of the best games ever would have thought about that possibility and done something to keep you on those steps where the twin Tree Sentinels could get to you in a fair fight. But you know what? FromSoftware did think about it, and they undoubtably approve of such innovative problem-solving to overcome a challenge.
That giant Rune Bear can't climb a cliff to hit me in Caelid as I rain down spell after spell until it's dead? Tough. Git gud, Rune Bear. It's not like I can do this to every single one of you, so I'm sure as hell going to do it when I can. If developers didn't want you to climb up cliffs to lay waste to overpowered enemies, they wouldn't let you go on the cliffs above enemies.
Elden Ring cheats. You owe it nothing.
Anyone who has tried to swing a large sword in a narrow hallway knows that you're in for a world of hurt from that giant rat in front of you.
As your claymore bounces harmlessly off the wall, that puny little rat and the one behind you take bites out of you and wouldn't you know it, do just enough damage that your SL100 character goes down like you were a SL10 character fresh out the grave.
You know who doesn't have that problem? Pretty much any enemy in Elden Ring. We've all seen a Putrid Tree Spirit swing a claw right through the wall's geometry to take off 60% of your HP in one hit – if it doesn't kill you outright.
FromSoftware clearly knows how to program actor hit animations to interact with the level geometry. Yet one of those freaky Abductor Virgins in Volcano Manor can send their little scythe shots right through a cliff face or wall ledge and kill you even though physics should still work in the Lands Between. Unfortunately, it only really works for you. Everything else gets to live in its own personal singularity where matter is too abstract to be an obstruction.
Do we call this cheating? Sometimes we do, in especially egregious cases, but we mostly just accept that in addition to being overpowered from the get-go, our enemies will also get all the borderline calls from the ref in their favor. The deck is always stacked against the player in these kinds of games, so any advantage you can gain helps bring things closer to parity, though never completely.
Consider it justice if you'd like, but unless you are outright hacking a game, using cheat codes, or taking advantage of an obvious bug (knocking an enemy off a cliff and knocking an enemy through the floor geometry are two very different things, for example), nothing is off-limits in a Soulsborne game.
You can tie one hand behind your back and say never-shall-you-ever use a magic spell on an enemy that can't reach you, but you better believe that if the roles were reversed, that enemy would be merciless in its assault. As Tarnished in the Lands Between, we are at war with the world because the world is at war with us. There's no shame in recognizing that and being as ruthless in kind.
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John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY.
Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.
You can find him online on Threads @johnloeffler.
Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 (just like everyone else).