Elden Ring - a spellcaster calls up magic as an undead giant bears down on them

Elden Ring and Embracing the Joys of Fighting Dirty

Elden Ring is a ruthless game. Enemies have complex, clever attack patterns. Foes hold off their strikes for a few more seconds than you might anticipate, throwing off your ability to dodge roll away. Traps lie in wait around blind corners. Junk covers up holes that will send you plummeting to your doom. Messages promise treasures and secrets, but often lead you into deadly hazards. It is a game that is out to get you in any way it can. As it’s willing to pull out all the stops to get me, I’ve found myself willing to play just as dirty right back. And I’m ENJOYING it.

I love finding dirty, underhanded ways of beating bosses and games. I’ve spent hours playing Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII to break the game. The cards you win at that mini game can unlock end-game spells and weapons, if you’re patient. Unlock them before facing the first boss, that is. I’ve let Koudelka sit idle for hours on end, doing so because the game rewards you with ultra powerful weapons in certain places after a set amount of time has passed. I’ve cheesed the Yellow Devil with the pause trick in Mega Man (your weapon will keep hitting it with every pause).

Why would I do these things? Well, to me, there’s a fun hint of pleasure in breaking a game while still following its rules. While the Mega Man trick is a bit underhanded, the others are all systems that are within the game. Yeah, the developers probably didn’t expect you to play cards for ten or twenty hours at the start of Final Fantasy VIII, but you can, and it pays off if you do. These tools exist to be used, and it can be downright funny to abuse them to demolish foes. So, I’m more than willing to trap an enemy in a doorway in Elden Ring to win. And it’s pretty funny when it happens.

A multi-armed creature looms, holding an axe

I don’t even know if I’d call it dirty play when working through the Lands Between, though. Like I said, your foes don’t fight fair. During my playtime, enemies have hit me from around corners. I’ve had giants dropped on top of me while I was dealing with four archers. Been slammed with a ballista bolt while dealing with six or seven knights. I was trampled by a massive boss moments after setting foot outside the tutorial area. The game revels in catching you by surprise. Hell, I even laughed so hard at a barrel-rolling goat that I didn’t see an enemy and got killed. Even the goofy wildlife is a trap. Sorta.

Elden Ring is always trying to catch you off-guard. Every area has been explicitly designed to be full of traps, holes, and enemy placements that you’ll miss. To make you blunder into danger or off a cliff. To lure you into a room with a glittering treasure, only to have you get hit by some knight flinging tornadoes around. It will use any tool in its arsenal to get you. And since you can’t take much of a beating before you die, unless your reactions are flawless, it WILL get you. So, you need to do the same.

I was initially hesitant to use some tools. I don’t know why, as I love to break a game with the mechanics inside it. However, something about using the summons or your horse companion felt a bit like I wasn’t playing fair. It was like I was ‘cheating’, somehow, by not facing the foes head-on by myself. Like I should only use certain tools and items to play purely. I did feel this way, at first. I wanted to savor the challenge.

Elden Ring - a character walks through a dark room, severed limbs hanging from the ceiling.

However, Elden Ring is designed with these tools in mind. You have these mechanics and abilities BECAUSE the game is hard. Yes, a summon many make a boss a lot easier. Your horse can give you a big advantage if you rush down a group. The game has been built around these available options, though. You might get a bit of an advantage here and there, but if you’ve been playing for any period of time, you’ve likely seen how a handful of hits can take you down. A moment’s hesitation will see you launched off a cliff. One mistake is all it takes to kill you for much of the game.

Talking as someone who’s played the previous Souls games a fair bit, this one goes ALL OUT to kill you. Enemy attacks have been built to really catch people who roll a lot. They have moves that hit behind them. Regular foes block and strike at unexpected angles. The enemies in this game are far smarter than they’ve been in past games. A single basic enemy can feel like fighting a miniboss in this game.

A giant calls up a runic spell as smaller creatures rush toward a figure in a hood

So, you keep dying to basic guys in Elden Ring. Do you want to keep bashing your head against the problem and learn patterns? Avoid using your summons, magic, or other tools? If that’s fun for you, go for it! I’m happy you’re enjoying it. If the game is making you mad, though, you should do anything that works. Bring magic creatures to help. Stay on the horse. Buy a ton of firebombs. Use a bow. Hit them with magic. Move so that the enemy tracking traps them in a wall. Lure them close to cliffs. This is a game about surviving, and if it works, you should do it. Because your enemies will do the same to you.

That’s honestly been part of the beauty of these games over the years. The Souls series is hard, but it always gives you many, many ways to deal with its challenges. Go level up for a while. Get a different weapon. Abuse stunlock from heavy weaponry. Call in a human summon to help in a fight. Change up your equipment. You’re free to find SOMETHING that works for you, whatever that happens to be. The games give you a variety of tools to win. You just have to pick which tool suits you best. And sometimes, that tool just happens to be a dirty one.

I get the biggest kick out of beating a boss or area in Elden Ring. I get that feeling no matter how I win, though. Because surviving and overcoming these challenges feels good no matter how I do it. If I stop feeling that sense of satisfaction, though, I change what I do. There ARE games out there where I’ve purposely made them harder for myself by ignoring systems and tools. That can come later, or if I feel like it. So, go tackle your enemies in whatever way you see fit. Embrace fighting dirty, because that’s the way of the world you’re in.