In Dark Souls, I almost always make a sad armoured boy perpetually hidden behind his shield. It's the only way I feel safe, and it saves me from constantly rolling around like a hyperactive tumbler. But, apparently like a lot of you, I've been seduced by Elden Ring's spells, and I now find myself playing with my first magic build.
A lot more people seem to be giving up their sword and board lifestyle for the esoteric charms of spell-slinging this time around. And it's understandable—building a magic character in Elden Ring is heaps of fun. Faith-based incantations that let you summon dragon fire or pummel enemies with magical claws are very cool, but I'm a sorcery lad. Sorcery is more about the direct damage than incantations, which have more of a support vibe, despite some flashy offensive spells.
For a long time, the simple magic glintblade spell was my go-to. It summons a magical dagger that homes in on targets and does a decent amount of damage, but the real hook is that there's a slight delay before it hurls towards its prey, giving you a few seconds to get your enemy into a better position. This was especially handy when I fought the tanky Crucible Knight, a tough opponent you'll probably encounter early on whose shield is always up unless he's attacking. So I'd cast the spell, and then draw the boss away from it, exposing his back to the glintblade. It took ages, but that made the victory all the more satisfying.
It's been a while since I had to do that. These days, I just throw rocks and watch bosses melt. See, I got myself the meteorite staff and the rock sling spell, and the two go together like insomnia and Elden Ring: they're made for each other. Not only is the staff by far the most powerful one you'll encounter until you can upgrade other staves beyond it (probably quite late into the game), it also enhances spells like rock sling and meteorite, which are already impressive damage dealers.
Combined with my high intelligence stat, this makes me a living weapon. And for the most part, it's been a blast. I just saunter through the boss gate, summon my skeletal militia pals—any skeletal Ashes you summon will keep being resurrected unless they're killed again during the resurrection process, making them very handy—and then I start throwing rocks. It's rare for me to get through even half of my magic flasks before the boss is down.
Hanging back and tossing rocks is pretty cheesy, but there's no right way to defeat an Elden Ring boss. They're cheesy as hell, too, so whatever you've gotta do to get them down is the right way. It's one of my favourite things about FromSoftware games: they let you feel good about finding an exploit or a cheap way to murder a tough opponent. The problem is that I'm not being pushed to find a new exploit or cheesy strategy; what works on one boss has mostly been working on all of them.
Somebody stop me
Until now, I'd viewed the difficulty of FromSoftware games as something I had to put up with to enjoy all the stuff I love about them, but at some point I must have caught the masochism bug, because it feels wrong to get through so many bosses with only the odd scrape or bruise. I miss feeling that awesome vulnerability that tough bosses evoke. I miss slamming my head against the keyboard after three hours and zero progress.
It's not just that sorcery is so effective—it's also a symptom of the open world. There's so much to do in each area, and so many opportunities to shoot off to a new location and get infinitely more powerful, that anyone who's trying to do everything is inevitably going to end up so much stronger than what they're fighting. I spent so long mopping up the map after completing Raya Lucaria Academy that they really should have just named me the Elden Lord there and then. When I finally started moving forwards again, I'd already outgrown what the game was throwing at me.
Radahn seemed like he'd be a big challenge, and at first he was. Before you can even get near the legendary general, he'll launch magic arrows that do a heck of a lot of damage. I thought Torrent was the trick to avoiding them and closing the gap, which is why it took me a few tries. Torrent is actually helpful, but not right at the start, where you really have to roll around and summon NPCs. After I got that down, it was once again just a matter of keeping out of reach of his huge swords and flinging rocks. He was dead in a couple of minutes.
I've spent the last couple of days searching for a boss who'll cut me down to size, but I'm just leaving a trail of bodies behind me. I've still got a lot more to find, of course. While the game is very much pushing me towards a climactic confrontation, I know that actually I'm probably only half-way done. But I'm only getting stronger and more competent as I go, and at this point can anything stop me?
Melee characters have a much tougher time, so I'm tempted to respec into more of a close-range build, but I'm genuinely still having fun with the magic. It's defanged the bosses, sure, but the flexibility, utility and power of a sorcery build makes it compelling stuff. And I do appreciate the novelty of a FromSoftware game where I'm kicking its ass instead of the other way around, even if I'm desperate to feel that fear when I meet a colossal nightmare again.
If you're just starting out, then, and you're looking for a classic Dark Souls challenge, consider saving magic for another playthrough. It'll make you awesome, but sometimes you just want to be shit.