How does the video game Elden Ring feel?
Over the past few years, I’ve had my wife,more boomerly known as The Lady I Live With,try out a handful of video games in order for me to get a better idea of what they are like for people who don’t spend much time playing them.
These informal experiments not only have given me a better understanding of some of the obstacles that exist for those with little to no experience with games but also have been intriguing explorations of what goes into learning the language of video games.
As a result of these experiments, my wife
went from being entirely unfamiliar with typical
game conventions and mechanics to having a
better grasp over how they work and what they
expect from the player.
She took interest in a couple titles, playing
them far beyond what she needed to do for
these videos, and she was well along in her
journey of going from a non-gamer to a gamer.
And now a year and a half has passed since
she last picked up a controller.
As it turns out, time never stops moving forward,
a fact that has become especially apparent
since adding a baby we live with to our household.
Life gets away from you fast, but now we’ve
had a few good nights of sleep and are ready
for another informal experiment.
While I assume she has retained some of the
skills she built up through her previous experiences,
this gap almost certainly will lead to her
being rustier than before, so clearly the
best way to ease her back into things is by
having her play Elden Ring.
Lady: I’m ready.
I’m ready for battle.
Can you get me someone to fight?
Lady: I’m not ready for battle!
I’m not ready for battle!
In just its first year, Elden Ring has already
become the best selling game Fromsoft has
It’s exposed a slew of first time players
to the soulslike genre, and is widely considered
to be the best entry point for people new
to Fromsoft games, but my question is how
approachable is it for someone who barely
plays games at all?
For this experiment, I didn’t give her a
specific goal to accomplish as I wanted to
see how she would naturally interact with
the game, but I did set a secret end condition
of beating a boss outside of the tutorial.
As always, I sat back as a mostly quiet observer,
only giving occasional reminders of things
she had learned and advice for what to do
when she got stuck on something for a substantial
amount of time.
So, this is how it went.
As some of you may remember, one of the very
first games I had my wife play for this series
was Elden Ring’s spiritual predecessor,
Dark Souls, and it went pretty much exactly
how you’d expect
it to go.
*Controller slamming onto a desk*
Lady: Can I be done yet?
Due to her lack of gaming experience mixed
with Dark Souls’ opaque and sometimes confusing
design, she had a ton of trouble just figuring
out how to do things, which led to her dying
Even when she did figure out the very basics,
she still couldn’t get past the Asylum Demon.
As there is no way to level up in the Undead
Asylum, her only way to move forward was by
using the tools she had to defeat him.
With enough practice, I am confident that
she could have done it, but she found losing
over and over again to be extremely demoralizing,
and after an hour straight of dying to the
same enemy, she had no more interest in playing
By presenting such a tough skill check for
players in its tutorial, it sets the tone
for what the rest of the game will be like
at the cost of turning some players away.
Elden Ring takes a much different approach
with its tutorial by having it be completely
Players don’t have to prove they understand
the basics to access the core of the game,
and instead can just head to the overworld
without any real challenge.
In fact, when the game first came out, many
didn’t even realize there was a tutorial
as it involves jumping into a dark pit whereas
the path to the overworld is brightly lit
and in the center of the screen when the player
character spawns, and this eventually led
FromSoft to include a tutorial message that
tells players about the tutorial area.
Given all of this, I was curious to see if
my wife would go into the Cave of Knowledge
without the prompt, so before I had her start,
I turned off all tutorial notifications, and
she very nearly missed it, but not for the
reasons you might think.
When she first began walking around the chapel
of anticipation, she noticed various bloodstains
and messages not knowing why they were there.
Without the knowledge that other players had
left them behind, she assumed they were made
by the developers—as if they were a core
part of understanding the game.
So instead of viewing them as the random ramblings
they are, she thought they were all important.
In Dark Souls all of the messages in the tutorial
are from the developers and largely layout
the basic controls, so it is possible that
her assumption of how they worked in Elden
Ring came from that, although she barely had
any recollection of her time with Dark Souls
as it was so long ago, so if that was the
connection she made, it was a subconscious
One of the first messages she read pointed
to the side of the cliff and said to jump
Incidentally she had clicked a bloodstain
that led to a figure doing just that, so wondering
if it was some sort of secret, she followed
Lady: Try jumping…what?
Are you kidding me?
What—what am I supposed to do?
So, when she got down to the Stranded Graveyard
and was told by another spirit looking thing
to take the plunge, she was very skeptical
and refused to jump down.
Lady: Are they trying to kill me again?
For a second I thought she was gonna continue
along the main path, but after running around
a bit though, she read another message that
said The Cave of Knowledge Lies Below.
This was the only one she had come across
that was direct and didn’t feel like a bunch
of gibberish strung together, so something
about it felt more official and she decided
to just go for it.
While this ended up being the only time the
messages influenced how she approached an
area, it was interesting to see someone engage
with them as if they really mattered and weren’t
just a sometimes helpful but often goofy online
The Cave of Knowledge itself proved to be
an okay tutorial, although it did have a few
All of the prompts for controls and mechanics
are shown in one of two ways.
Those being either a small pop-up in the left
side of the screen or a big text box that
momentarily pauses the game.
For the most part, this was fine, but as her
focus was on the center of the screen, there
were a few instances where she just didn’t
notice the instructions on the side, missing
pretty important information like how to lock-on
to enemies—the only reason she ended up
figuring that out was because she accidentally
pressed while panicking.
As for the more obvious text prompts, my wife
kept getting annoyed by being stopped every
few seconds to have something explained to
her, especially when most of them could have
just been communicated with a simple button
I am unsure why they use these two different
approaches to teach player’s the controls,
but I think as far as less experienced players
are concerned, the game would have been better
off finding a middle ground between the two
where the prompts show up in the center of
the screen but don’t halt the game completely.
It’d make things obvious without being nearly
On the topic of teaching players the controls,
one issue I have noticed throughout many of
these informal experiments is that a lot of
games on PC don’t allow players to customize
the UI of the button prompts.
Oftentimes, the only option is the Xbox gamepad
layout, which has also been adopted by Steam.
As I only own playstation controllers, this
has led to some confusion for my wife when
playing games on PC that don’t have that
kind of customization, which was the case
for Elden Ring.
I actually ended up having to make a cheat
sheet for her so she could have something
Now, I understand that the vast majority of
people who use a gamepad on PC will opt for
an Xbox controller as it is the most compatible
with Windows, but there are a substantial
number of people who use other controllers,
and it seems like a missed opportunity to
not support them.
Having more customization for button UI only
serves to make games more accessible.
And like I don’t know anything about how
to program video games, so it could be far
more complicated to incorporate than it seems
on the surface, but even if it is, given the
resources FromSoft has, it feels weird they
didn’t include it.
While this is not the biggest deal in the
world, it is a quality of life improvement
that would help a lot of players and save
me from needing to buy an Xbox controller
for future experiments.
Anyway, on the whole my wife had a much better
time navigating the Cave of Knowledge than
she did with the Undead Asylum, and I think
a big part of that was due to it ending with
a much more manageable boss fight.
The Soldier of Godrick is really just an average
enemy, but because he has a boss sized health
bar and intense music, it made the fight feel
more important and impressive than it actually
The challenge was pretty well suited for her
and only took a few tries to overcome, so
she left with the satisfaction of beating
what she found to be a tough boss without
ever getting demoralized.
All in all, Elden Ring’s tutorial largely
seems designed with inexperienced players
in mind, which is an interesting departure
from most other tutorial areas in FromSoft
games that rarely pull any punches.
She Entered the Lands Between feeling confident,
a feeling that unfortunately did not last
once she was introduced to the wider offerings
of the game
As she stepped out into the Lands Between,
she was immediately overwhelmed by how massive
it was, and at first questioned where to go.
Seeing the Tree Sentinel patrolling below,
she assumed that must be the way, and promptly
Lady: How do you beat that?!
How do you do it?
Raz: What do you think?
Lady: How do you do it?
Not wanting to have to deal with it, she decided
to head west instead where she then ran into
a demi-human giant and…
This time after respawning, she surveyed the
land a bit more, trying to determine the right
path, which is when she noticed the Erdtree
in the distance and figured that must be where
she needed to go, so she pretty much ran in
a straight line towards it, bringing her close
to the Gatefront Ruins.
And I think this is a great example of how
well thought out Elden Ring’s world design
While there isn’t really a wrong way to
go in the game, there is a main path for players
to follow in order to progress, although even
that technically isn’t mandatory.
This path pretty much starts at the Gatefront
Ruins that lead up to Stormhill and the first
major boss of the game, Margit.
Of the various ways the game tries to direct
players towards the Gatefront Ruins, this
was one I did not pick up on during my own
playthrough, but it makes a lot of sense.
The Erdtree is massive and its golden hue
stands out among the rest of the environment.
Many players will no doubt be curious to see
what is at the base of it, and while this
isn’t a goal players will be able to accomplish
at this point, it is still something that
can be used to influence player decision making,
so even if someone ignores the main roads
and the guidance of grace that literally points
them where to go like my wife did, all it
takes is being intrigued by the Erdtree to
be led to the main path.
Once getting to the Stormgate site of grace
and unlocking Torrent and the ability to level
up, she kept pressing forward, opting to ride
past enemies instead of actually engaging
As she made her way into Stormhill, she lost
track of the Erdtree as it was mostly blocked
by the ruins of a bridge and the fog in the
area decreased visibility a bit.
For the few moments it was in sight, she was
preoccupied by a pack of wolves that ambushed
her, so instead of continuing towards it,
she ended up following the road instead.
While I don’t know the full intentions of
the developers, obscuring it in these ways
seems like a very intentional choice so that
players head towards Margit instead of the
Erdtree itself which will just take them to
a cliff’s edge.
Watching her play made me appreciate the world
design of Elden Ring even more than I already
did, which I honestly didn’t think was possible.
There are so many subtle touches that help
guide players that manage to feel so natural
to the world that you almost never pay attention
to them, and it was really cool to see these
design choices lead my wife in a certain direction.
Moving along the main road now, she tried
to deal with the battalion guarding the gates
in the same way she had dealt with every other
enemy so far: running past it.
Her first few attempts of charging straight
in were met with failure, but as she examined
the area, she noticed that there weren’t
as many enemies along the side of the road,
so she rode around and slipped past them.
The ability to avoid conflict definitely made
the experience less frustrating for her as,
at least in the open-world, there was nothing
she really felt stuck on, and she had fun
weaving around enemies and finding clever
ways past them.
With that said, the flaw to her approach was
that the game doesn’t reward players with
experience or items for not fighting, so when
she got to Margit, she was woefully underprepared
both in terms of player skill and character
Lady: Oh no.
Oh n— This game is so annoying.
These sorts of skill checks are common barriers
in FromSoft titles; in most of them, as there
are only a few paths players can take, if
they want to progress and see new areas, they
will have to overcome difficult bosses pretty
regularly, either by taking the time to learn
their attack patterns and weaknesses or grinding
the same areas over and over again to level
up enough to make them less challenging.
As I mentioned before, in Dark Souls when
my wife ran into a barrier like this, the
frustration of losing again and again led
her to want to stop playing.
The only thing she could do was fight the
Asylum Demon and that got annoying quickly,
but her experience with Elden Ring in this
regard ended up being a bit different.
After dying a few times and realizing she
stood no chance, she just went off to look
for other things to engage with.
Due to its open-world structure, players have
an incredible amount of options of stuff they
This makes it so when they hit a spot that
they’re not ready for, instead of repeatedly
bashing their head against a wall, they can
While there still are a few chokepoints players
will need to eventually overcome in order
to progress, due to the sheer amount of content
that players can access from the moment they
set foot in Limgrave, it is unlikely they
will be forced to conquer a challenge before
they are ready to do so.
At least, that’s how it works in theory—when
my wife actually went off to find other things
to do, it proved to be more difficult than
She wanted to find enemies to fight in the
hopes of leveling up, but she struggled with
where to look.
She came across a few encampments, but they
all had a fair amount of enemies roaming around;
while she was able to pick off a few that
hung around the outskirts, any time she got
too far in and had to take on more than one
enemy at a time, it didn’t go well.
Lady: There’s a lot—okay.
So she rode around searching for things that
felt more manageable but struggled to find
anything of substance.
Occasionally she’d encounter some enemies
on their own that she could take out, but
this didn’t really yield significant results.
As she didn’t know how to take on multiple
enemies, especially in wide open areas where
they could easily surround her, her best bet
was finding a cave, but despite passing a
few, she didn’t notice them.
After aimlessly riding around for awhile,
entirely unprompted she said:
Lady: I liked Breath of the Wild better.
When I asked her why, along with saying it
was just generally less stressful, she also
remarked on how it was just easier to find
things, and I think that’s fair.
The shrines and shekiah towers stand out due
to their bright orange lighting and sleek,
almost unnatural design.
Also, they can be spotted from far away and
will draw the attention of most players.
Now, I personally think Elden Ring does a
good job of signaling to players where points
of interest are through the use of light sources,
but for her, these kind of lights didn’t
register as a sign that there was something
to explore; she just saw them as set dressing,
so she never paid all that much mind to them.
The style and visual language of a game has
a huge impact on how individuals interpret
things, and obviously especially for inexperienced
players, the less complex that visual language
is, the easier it will be to understand what
they can and can’t engage with.
As a lot of Elden Ring’s visual language
is more subtle than Breath of the Wilds’,
certain things stood out less.
Eventually, I gave some pointers on what she
should be looking for and she wound up finding
a cave, which is when the real challenge began
as she finally had to figure out how to actually
Of all the bosses she could have faced, I
was glad she came across the Beastman of Farum
Azula as he leaves a lot of openings and doesn’t
have that much health, and I figured if there
was any boss in the game she could beat, it’d
be him, and…
*panicked car horn noises*
Raz: Don’t break the desk or controller.
I don’t like this.
In general, she lacked patience and coordination.
Pretty much everytime she got into a fight,
she’d do a lot of panic pressing, leading
to her either attacking or rolling way more
than she needed to.
She would constantly attack without paying
attention to the enemy, get hit, and then
roll away as fast as she could in the hopes
of not dying.
For the most part, she was either all in on
attacking or all in on rolling away, rarely
putting the two things together to effectively
sus out attacks and counter when there was
She also had a fair bit of trouble with doing
various actions at the same time as moving,
so whenever she attacked, called Torrent,
or chugged a flask, she would let go of the
joystick first, leaving her extremely vulnerable.
Maybe most consequentially, she found every
battle to be anxiety inducing, leading to
her squeezing the controller super tightly
and accidentally pressing wrong buttons, resulting
in inopportune item use and crouching at the
worst times possible.
As she battled against the Beastman more and
more though, she started to do better; dodging
more effectively, getting attacks in without
trading damage, and even recognizing certain
She had a handful of attempts where she got
him down to around half health which was a
huge improvement over her earlier attempts.
With that said, despite the improvement being
encouraging, the repeated failure proved to
be immensely frustrating.
She kept trying for awhile as something about
the fight seemed more doable to her than Margit
had, but she eventually hit a point where
it was clear it would take a lot of grinding
in order for her to beat him, and she didn’t
really have the tolerance to go through that,
so it seemed like her playthrough would end
However, after she stopped playing that day,
I realized that there’s a pretty major mechanic
that she hadn’t engaged with in the slightest
that could help give her an edge: those being
the Spirit Ashes.
Unlike other iterations of summons in FromSoft
games, the Spirit Ashes feel more core to
Where summoning in the Souls series generally
requires the use of a limited resource, the
Ashes only require FP or HP, making it a far
more reliable tool.
Having beaten the game almost entirely without
using the ashes (I hate you Malenia), I’d
say that the bosses largely seem to be balanced
around them, especially the fights with multiple
enemies, and given that one of the most common
rewards for exploring is an item that upgrades
the spirits, it feels like the game was designed
with the assumption that they would be a part
of the player’s arsenal.
Naturally, there will always be a contingent
of Souls fans who refuse to use certain mechanics,
but not every player is looking for an extra
For folks struggling with the constant pressure
many of the bosses put on them, the Spirit
Ashes are great way to redirect attention
and deal more damage, so it seemed like the
perfect thing for my wife to use.
With that said, for it being such a helpful
item, especially for less experienced players,
it is surprisingly easy to miss.
It involves going to the Church of Elleh at
nighttime after getting access to Torrent
or buying it from the Twin Maiden Husks in
the Roundtable Hold after enough time passes.
I imagine there are a few reasons they opted
to make the item one the player has to find
instead of automatically given, but, after
watching my wife’s playthrough I can’t
help but think that it would be a bit better
if it was something that couldn’t be missed.
Anyway, I decided to have my wife give the
Beastman another shot, but this time with
the Spirits, soSo I pointed her in the right
direction in order for her to get the Spirit
Calling Bell and the Lone Wolf Ashes.
With a new tool at her disposal, she headed
back to cave to face-off again, and it was
a bloodbath; the Beastman continuously got
stunlocked by the wolves and my wife would
jump in every now and then to deal a bit of
Lady: They did it for me!
Lady: I didn’t do anything
Raz (feebly): That’s not true.
Lady: My wolves did it all!
After beating him though, she felt a little
She had spent so much time trying to beat
him on her own, but felt in this case that
the wolves did most the work.
And, yeah, I went to test it on my own afterwards,
and the wolves were able to take out like
75% of his health on their own.
She didn’t have a problem with the idea
of getting help from the spirits, but in this
instance, they were far too effective.
I had her go back to use them against Margit.
This time, even with their help, she wasn’t
able to beat him, and seeing them in this
context, got her to veiw them more like a
useful tool than a complete exploit.
While I do still stand by the idea that many
of the bosses are balanced for the use of
Spirits, clearly, the Beastman wasn’t and
unfortunately the way it played out robbed
her of some satisfaction.
So I decided to try one more thing.
Many of her struggles with the game came from
a lack of experience, but there was one aspect
that caused her a significant amount of trouble
that arguably got in the way of her improving,
that being her choice of starting class.
She went with the Bandit, which actually is
the same one she originally chose in Dark
Souls although it has a different name there,
and at the time I didn’t really think much
of it, but after watching her play and then
doing some research after, it become apparent
that it is one of the worst classes, especially
for someone learning how to play for the first
It has one of the lowest starting levels and
gear that is not well suited for new players
as the armor doesn’t negate much damage,
the shield is primarily used for parrying,
which she did not have the timing down for,
and the dagger is really short, so she always
had to get super close to enemies in order
to hit them, making it difficult to have proper
The character selection screen doesn’t show
any stats by default, and mainly presents
characters by their designs, so she chose
entirely based on which class she thought
looked the coolest instead of by comparing
With that said, even if she had compared them
all diligently, aside from seeing that some
classes had bigger numbers, I don’t think
that information would have been all that
valuable in terms of making an informed choice
about which would be best for her as there
is a lot of information without much context.
I understand that part of the FromSoft experience
is unknowingly making decisions that negatively
impact you, but I’d say the game could benefit
from being clearer about which classes are
more difficult to start with than others.
In fairness, it does have what is probably
the best choice for new players be the first
option and what is certainly the worst be
the last one, but this won’t be entirely
obvious for those less familiar with Souls
Anyway, in the hopes that this would make
a difference, I made a new character for her,
this time picking the vagabond and got her
back to the fight, and lo-and-behold, it felt
like more reasonable challenge for her.
Her attacks did significant damage that could
cause knockback and she was able to keep more
space between her and the beastman, all of
which helped her better apply the skills she
had been working on during all of her failed
The build gave her a bit more room for error
so when she did make a mistake, she wasn’t
punished as severely for it.
And then, after a handful of tries:
Raz: You did it!
Lady: Oh my god dude, that was a close call.
Raz: That one feel better?
Lady: Oh yeah that one felt better.
Raz: That’s a good middle ground?
Through trial and error, we were able to find
an approach that worked for her while not
oversimplifying things, and it was really
fun to see that happen.
And it made me want to see her overcome a
One that has been sitting unfinished for a
few years now.
One that required going back to the start
of all of this to complete.
Having seen the benefits of having a weapon
larger than a toothpick, she opted for the
warrior instead of the thief.
Now, as it has been a few years since we ran
the very first informal experiment, she had
forgot most everything in the tutorial, so
she fought the Asylum Demon for far too long
with a broken sword, got rolled by the boulder,
and was sniped by an undead archer, but when
she finally began some actual attempts on
the Asylum Demon, she looked more confident
and competent than she ever had before.
Having played a decent bit of Elden Ring before
trying this, she not only had gotten better
at combat, but also had gotten used to much
faster gameplay, so she found the Asylum Demon
easier to read than any of the bosses she
had faced in Elden Ring.
While she wasn’t always perfect at keeping
up with his attacks, she was able to better
capitalize on openings and avoid its big,
On her first attempt, she was able to do more
damage than she had ever done to him on her
On her second, she choked, but on her third…
*panicked yell followed by shocked yell*
Raz: You did it!!
There are a lot of factors that went into
her finally being able to beat the Asylum
Demon like using a half decent starting class
and just more general experience with playing
games, but I think a big part of it came from
her learning a lot of the basic skills in
Elden Ring, a game that, while far from perfect,
much more clearly teaches players how to play,
and then applying those lessons to its predecessor.
In short, Elden Ring helped her get good,
and that’s pretty cool to see.
So, is Elden Ring a good starting point for
people who don’t really play games?
I mean, no, of course not, although it was
far more approachable than I expected it to
Between its fairly detailed tutorial, thoughtful
world layout, and plethora of options for
how to approach a fight, it gives inexperienced
players a lot of tools to help them succeed.
It still contains the difficulty and obscurity
that has long defined the series, making it
people who don’t really play games will
struggle to get a grasp on things without
help from an outside source, but it does have
a few shifts with how FromSoft typically operates,
that seem to be there as a way to appeal to
a wider audience.
Of course, FromSoft doesn’t and shouldn’t
design their games with players like my wife
in mind as she is nowhere near their target
demographic, however, I do think its interesting
to see how they’ve tried to pull in players
a bit outside of their typical circle; how
they’ve expanded approachability, while
not losing their distinct identity.
Personally, I think they could have gone a
bit further with certain aspects to give a
better experience for players new to the genre,
but I also understand that they are trying
to maintain a delicate balance and don’t
want to push things too far.
All in all, I had a lot of fun watching my
wife shake off the rust from her gaming hiatus
and go on to take her skills to a new level,
and even though she did not enjoy playing
Elden Ring, it did push her to understand
games a bit better as well as overcome a challenge
that she hadn’t been able to before.
Lady: How long did it take me last time to
Raz: You didn’t do it last time.
Lady: Okay *laughs* Rude
Raz: But you’ve gotten better!
For those of you interested in seeing more
of my wife’s journey with Elden Ring, I
put together a highlight video of part of
her playthrough that you can watch right now
over on Nebula.
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but in case you don’t Nebula is a streaming
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Every time my wife and I do one of these informal
experiments, we record for hours and there
end up being far more interesting moments
than could ever fit in a video essay, so if
you’d like to hear my wife curse some more
at a video game, that’s the place to do
What’s happening, why—AH DIH DEH.
Lady: Crushed it.
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I’ve mentioned before that I love nature
documentaries as it is the closest I get to
going outside, and it is chalk full of them,
so whether you wanna hear about whales or
bison or pretty much any other animal, they’ve
got you covered.
Anyway, for less than $12 a year, you can
get all the great stuff on CuriosityStream
as well as tons of extra content from awesome
creators over on Nebula.
Signing up is one of the best ways to help
support the channel, and at just a dollar
a month, you’ll not only be helping me out
but also getting more high quality content
than you can imagine, so check it out.
Thanks again to CuriosityStream for sponsoring
For those still watching, thank you.
I’d like to give a shout out to my patrons
for making this channel possible as well as
WilliamGlenn8 and Kay Kay for being honorary
I appreciate you all.
With that, I hope you have a great day and/or
night, and I will see you in the next one.
Lady: I can’t play video games, babe.
I can’t do this.
It’s like—my heart rate is through the
roof, right now.
I just spit everywhere—I can’t do this!
I don’t like this
Raz: Keep going, you’re doing great.
Lady: Am I good?
Raz: You’re doing great.
Lady: Am I good though?
Raz: What do you mean?
Like good at the game?
Lady: Am I good at the game?
But you’re doing fine.
Lady: Oh that’s mean.