Who needs to “get good” when you can stay terrible? That’s the massively suspect philosophy that drove my first foray into FromSoftware’s Elden Ring. Because, having died again and again in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I reasoned that I might as well start with a losing streak. But as it turns out, trying to be bad at Elden Ring is rather good.
My first step was to select a character class that, in my mind at least, was just the worst. Running around in my pants was an option, as was wearing some sort of wooden box on my head. But the moment the word Astrologer flashed up on screen, I knew there could be no other choice. Sure, in FromSoftware’s world, astrologers probably do more than write massively general newspaper horoscopes, but all I could think of was confronting some colossal behemoth with their birth chart.
As for a name, it was a tough call between Derek Cackorah and Mystic Smeg, but the latter won out. And my bonus item? A handful of prawns. Yes, you can select five prawns as the item you’re going to take into Elden Ring’s massive, monster-filled world. I did consider that, after witnessing YouTuber Larry Bundy brought low by their power, they might be too powerful. But the prospect of running around reeking of seafood was too hard to resist.
I resolved that I wasn’t going to fling myself at enemies, but that I was going to be as ineffectual and as poorly armed as I could be. Elden Ring was having none of that, arming me with a magic staff and a sword. What kind of astrologer carries a sword? Sure, maybe when pushed they might be able to brain someone with a piece of rose quartz in a sock, but a sword? Was FromSoftware determined to make me get good?
Fortunately for my quest to the absolute worst, there was a loophole. The Astrologer’s magic staff can be used to cast spells (which, naturally, I didn’t use), but it can also be used to hit enemies. It hurts them, but it does such a low amount of damage that it takes a ludicrous amount of whacking (insert your own mucky gag here) to kill them. As soon as I discovered this shocking secret, Mystic Smeg’s fate was sealed. She would become… the Horribly Slow Astrologer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon. As it turns out, it was an awful lot of fun.
I decided to start small. Really small – slaughtering-sheep small, which wasn’t my proudest moment. I also discovered that there’s a reason a group of crows is called a murder, as I died to more beaks than I cared to count. When other players were roaming around places like the Infernal Poison Swamp of Everlasting Misery, I was paddling around in a pond, mauling dragonflies and clubbing a farty haggis to death.
Yes, there was dying. And there was running away, lots of running away, partly because Elden Ring takes an almost sadistic pleasure in just plonking down boss monsters, letting you run into them. Step in the woods and you’ll end up being murdered by an armored giant on an equally gigantic horse. Stroll on the beach? Land squid. Cliffside walk? Abomination with a club.
But the thing about being the worst is you learn to be better at being the worst. Having to withstand or dodge an awful lot of enemy attacks has taught me more about spotting enemy attack patterns and how they telegraph those patterns.
I never got to murder someone with out-of-date crustaceans, but I have learned how to kite enemies away from their brethren. Taking on three Godrick Soldiers was a little too much, but without their brethren, I could afford to take five minutes to smack them senseless.
I’ve never dodge-rolled so much as I have trying to batter the living daylights out of a bad guy with the equivalent of a cardboard tube. But seeing foes crumple after my admittedly silly onslaught has been worth the effort and left me feeling very smug. If there’s an afterlife for NPCs, they’ll get to tell the grimdark version of St. Peter that they were basically tickled to death.
And while I set out trying to be just terrible, it’s ultimately positioned me well for a new run. Yes, as entertaining as it’s been stepping into Mystic Smeg’s sandals, and nowhere near as miserable as I thought it might be, seeing what Elden Ring has to offer has left me craving more. I feel a little guilty about leaving her in limbo, but I’ll return one day to cardboard-tube my way to Elden Ring’s final boss. Till then, we’ll always have the prawns.