Exploring the Expansive Wonders of Elden Ring: A Personal Journey


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The Hidden Joys of Elden Ring's Telescopes

Of all the untold riches that lie within the staggeringly huge world of Elden Ring—the treasure chest tucked away in the unlikeliest of places, the NPC with a labyrinthine quest standing in some gazebo in the middle of nowhere for some reason—the discovery that's really excited me over my 40 hours of playtime are these seemingly daft wee telescopes dotted around each major area of the Lands Between.

Telescopes as Markers of Progress

Originally writing them off as offering little in the way of actual mechanical benefits, they've become as much a marker of my progress through the world as the Lost Grace checkpoints I've been activating along the way. Reflecting a playstyle that has focused less on Elden Ring's near-perfect action than I thought would be the case when I started, in favor of a mindset where more so than any Souls game before it, exploration of the world is both the tactical, satisfying challenge and reward in and of itself.

The Delight of Surviving the Unexpected

See, after being trapped by a random treasure chest ridiculously early in the game and emerging in basically hell, a completely different, altogether more sinister skyline appropriately signaling the threats that lay before me, wondering what I was actually meant to do but somehow making it out alive, that delightful push-and-pull between being somewhere I shouldn't be and yet realizing I could survive it—at least long enough to cowardly escape to relative safety—sparked in me a need to see how far I could venture into Elden Ring's hostile world, regardless of how ready I was to actually be in those areas.

Navigating the World with Torrent

To trek through the fog of war to get a map marker, analyze the topography to get a sense of the path I'd need to take to get to the next area, and just ride into the distance on my trusty steed, Torrent.

The Interconnected Beauty of the World

It's important to understand that one of my favorite parts of most of the Soulsborne games is that knowledge that the world is so naturally interconnected that at multiple points you're able to gaze into the distance from some newly gained vantage point and think, "I started way over there, and now I'm here. That's what I fought through to get here." A true visual indicator of what felt like a major accomplishment. But those telescopes in Elden Ring, completely unassuming in their placement within the world, take that feeling and amplify it to a degree that's kind of hard to comprehend.

The Expansive Map of Elden Ring

No longer are you merely thinking, "Wow, I was at the top of that rickety pile of wood and now I'm at the bottom." You instead think, "I previously conquered that massive fortress over there that felt like it would constitute an entire level in Demon's Souls, traveled miles and miles since, and seen all this utterly majestic stuff just dotted along the way that makes that previous fortress feel tiny and bland by comparison. And what's more, I still have all of this ahead of me."

The Endless Expansion of the World

Somehow, this already terrifyingly huge landmass just keeps expanding. The actual border of the map just keeps growing. Where will it end? I have to know.

The Wonders of Late-Game Areas

I've ridden past large-scale battles involving multiple unique factions with minion-level enemies fending off towering giants. I've constantly fought off and run away from untold monstrosities that honestly wouldn't feel out of place in Bloodborne and that would surely annihilate me in one hit were I to slow down and figure out what they actually were.

The Infinite Horizons of Exploration

I can ride and ride and ride and not come close to hitting an actual border. Not a message saying "available, wary of left" and a daft wee monster would pop up to have a go, are now the realm of huge armored beasts just waiting around the corner of some giant vertical rock face.

The Grand Scale of Elden Ring

On every level, Elden Ring represents a shift in the kind of scale of grandeur that we've come to expect from these games. And just witnessing it all happening around you takes that familiar Soulsborne sensation that you're merely a speck in this world that cares little about your presence—that the beauty you're experiencing is always mere steps away from violently turning on you—and cranks it up to 11.

The Guiding Light of the Erdtree

You can perhaps see this most acutely in the game's central pillar, your destination: the Erdtree. Again, in prior Souls games, it can sometimes be difficult to really know what it is you're fighting towards, what your ultimate objective might be. But here, you have a landmark that is so imposing, its golden light so searing the entire landscape, that it's easy to see why the people of this world seem to so fervently worship it. Despite the rest of the environment being so riddled with decay, the Erdtree's glow is downright cleansing, rendering said decay as almost fairytale-esque points. You can't help but be enticed by this thing, the growing extent to which it fills up your screen again a keen reminder of how far you've progressed, despite knowing full well that in typical Souls fashion, it isn't going to be some happy ending when you get there.

Artistry Beyond Previous Work

It's just—there's an artistry to how all this stuff is created and presented that goes way beyond FromSoftware's prior work. It means that even in the game's most truly cursed areas, the ones in other Souls games whose grime and rot generally see players wince upon having to go through them, desperate to feel something as previously insignificant as the sun of Firelink on their character's face once more, as the oppression of their surroundings grinds them into the ground—here retains such grandeur, bathed in such rich, violent crimson tinged with that dazzling golden hue, that I could come across places with names like the Stench-Rock Gullet, Hut of Corpses, and I'd still be wistfully gazing out into the distance as if I'd come across some beautiful vista as opposed to the bloated, bulging mass of debris that actually lays before me—the earth's intestinal lining erupting out of the ground.

Humbling Sights of Destruction

The scale here is so humbling that I'd look upon all these wretched sights with absolute awe. A field of crucifixes upon which hang multiple dead giants, upside down and hacked to bits. These are enemies that previously crushed me as if I were an ant under their boot, and yet something out there, something whose size or shape or strength I have no way of even envisioning at this point, is able to tear these beasts to shreds and put them on display as a warning for would-be trespassers. I shouldn't be in this area, and yet I'm desperate to know more. These sights are utterly gruesome, and yet I can't look away. I know that what awaits me at my destination is pain and despair, and yet I am endlessly drawn like a moth to a flame.

The Joy of Riding and Exploring

Long story short, I've kind of just spent most of my time riding around a lot and looking at stuff the same way I might play a game like Journey or Sable, and it's been ridiculously fun. But that's not to say that riding through these areas I haven't been doing any fighting—quite the opposite, in fact—and it's been an absolute blast to be able to get to these late-game areas and see how long I can hold my own against the onslaught. A true triumph when I use what limited skill I've developed over years of playing these games to take down the vastly over-leveled enemy in my path.

Overcoming Insurmountable Barriers

It's just that when I do come up against that insurmountable barrier, one that simply won't budge no matter how hard I push against it, I can not only run away from most encounters should I so choose, allowing me to save the runes I built up while getting there, but I also now have a wealth of Lost Grace checkpoints built up along my journey, so it doesn't take long for me to go back through and find the point where I can really hone my current combat abilities and find all the many pathways and entire areas I'd missed my first time through.

The Perfectly Connected World

In a way, they finally did it. FromSoft finally made a game where the ability to warp between any checkpoint at any time didn't hinder that gloriously organic, interconnected world design that some fans, myself included, have been lamenting since Dark Souls 1. And in fact, given the nature of the "every nook and cranny" approach Elden Ring takes with exploration, it actually enhances that feeling when you come across a seemingly random tiny trinket in this massive expanse of land and realize it reminds you of a similarly minuscule object you saw on the completely opposite end of the map, and you immediately get to connect those dots.

A Sightseeing Tour of Action and Exploration

Mechanically, for me, Elden Ring has been as much a sightseeing tour as an action game. One where the sights in question rival the most sublime visuals

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