In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
Look, I admit it. I thought Elden Ring was going to be complete bullshit. In my defense, it was a reasonable position to take: I detest soulslikes, and since this was being built-up in pre-release to be the Ultimate Soulslike Ever, it wasn't a stretch to wave it away. And when it came time to make a new year's resolution for 2022, it was an easy joke: I'll play Elden Ring.
The time came, I leapt in, and boy, was I right: It was complete bullshit. The tutorial was mildly intriguing, but playing with a controller (which I'd also committed to doing) was a sin against PC gaming. I quickly cast the thumb-crippling contraption aside—and then discovered that Elden Ring's mouse and keyboard controls suck bananas too. What a surprise! A bullshit game with bullshit controls. Still, a commitment had been made. I soldiered on.
The opening areas of Limgrave were, again, a little intriguing—promising, even—but clumsy and thin and senseless. And stupid! I kept dying! It's not easy being a low level character in a rough world, sure, but I was getting my ass handed to me by every trash mob I ran into. Falling back on backstabbing and bows got me as far as the first enemy camp, but after a half-hour of dicking around on the edges, I got sloppy—and once again, I was back at the Site of Grace with zero runes in my pocket.
That's as far as I got in two weeks, and that was enough. I was right all along: The whole thing was hot garbage—an arena for masochists who think Diablo is too complicated. I was ready to quit.
Two timely interventions convinced me to get back on the horse one more time. Senior editor Wes Fenlon took me on a guided tour of the Limgrave countryside, showing me the soulslike ropes, and online editor Fraser Brown made the bold pronouncement that magic in Elden Ring is grossly overpowered. I'm not generally a magic-using kind of guy but by that point, "massively OP" was exactly what I was looking for. Mainly to indulge them (but also, fine, yes, I was curious), I whipped up a full-on mage and steeled myself for one more go.
Then, everything changed.
It was like a dam broke. I made more progress in my first night of spellcasting than I had in weeks of daggers and arrows. I grew in strength, I gained confidence, and I pushed outward, to what I thought were the distant boundaries of the Lands Between. And then I learned that I had grossly underestimated the sheer scale of Elden Ring: The map kept stretching, on and on into astonishing new realms that I insisted on describing excitedly to an online friend who found my sudden enthusiasm for the whole thing very tiresome. (He hasn't played Elden Ring yet, and so has not seen the light.)
My romp across the twisted verdancy of the Lands Between was, to quote the great Keanu Reeves, breathtaking. And then I discovered the Lands Between, beneath: A whole separate underground world that lay under my feet, massive and weird and filled with all kinds of new wonders. How does one single game has this much real estate crammed into it—and how is it all so goddamned good?
Finding that world-within-a-world was, I think, the moment that convinced me that Elden Ring was really something special. It was the point where I finally, fully let go of my expectations: I was lost in this sprawling, magnificent magical place that was absolutely brimming with surprises, and I was loving every moment of it. Not the combat, which I'd be happy to skip if I could (sorry, "real" soulslike fans) but the way the Lands Between felt alive in a genuinely fantastical sense. It was a place that I could believe was once "normal," before being riven by divine madness into an eternally broken state, trapped forever between life and death—decaying, but not dying.
I wish Elden Ring was more coherent. I wish it was more explicit about what the hell was going on, and what role I was meant to play in it. I still don't really understand what happened. But I also love the way it's a big, beautiful fuck you to the kind of RPG conventionality we see in games like The Elder Scrolls: Here's the world, here's your pointy stick, good luck. Because beneath all the strangeness and confusion, Elden Ring really is a tapestry, just one that demands you pay attention—or, as I did more often than not, consult online guides. It may not make much sense, and frankly I think the suggestion that Elden Ring has a well-told narrative of any sort borders on ludicrous, but all the pieces fit—loosely in a lot of places, but well enough to tell a tale.
I did not encounter the famous Let Me Solo Her in my quest to take down Malenia, but I did meet another hero of equal measure: Stand Back I Do. I stood back, they did. Holy cow.July 23, 2022
I also found an unexpected level of respect and admiration for the Elden Ring community. I actually dealt with most of the bosses on my own, but there were some I had help with: Wes messed up Godrick the Grafted for me, and I called in for help with Rennala, Radahn, and of course Malenia, an encounter that led me to the best summon I have ever summoned. And as these heroes answered my call, did my dirty work, and then slowly faded away with nothing more than a friendly wave, I realized that the true genius of Elden Ring's multiplayer is that it's entirely altruistic: There's no reward (except perhaps to show off a little bit), just an opportunity for strangers to help strangers. Man, I like that a lot.
In the end, I didn't just stick with Elden Ring, I obsessed over it, and then I crushed it. I poured more than 282 hours of my life into the game, ringing up 100% of the Steam achievements on the way and playing basically nothing else for months. And now, even with all that done, I want more. I think that may be the most impressive thing about Elden Ring: I dug in deep, from corner to corner and top to bottom, and never did I get tired of it. For me, that's a rarity. In games like Bethesda's Elder Scrolls and Fallout, the Divinity series, and the Grand Theft Auto games, I tend to run out of steam and then either grudgingly power through to the finish, or just walk away completely.
But that was never an issue with Elden Ring. Even though it's unremarkable mechanically (and again, apologies to all the dodge-roll-slash types out there), the game world continued to serve up magic and surprises from start to finish. It is remarkable, incredible design and execution.
So I took on Elden Ring as a stupid joke, and ended up blowing—quite literally—the first half of 2022 on it. It' s the best thing I've played in years, captivating me in a way that no game has since maybe as far back as Morrowind—a full 20 years ago. And maybe, without a hint of irony, that's the real magic: A reminder that even after all these years, it's possible for new games to be that kind of special experience, even when I expect them to be complete bullshit.
(For the record, Elden Ring—our 2022 Game of the Year, by the way—is a unique case. I still think soulslikes are hot garbage. Sorry, Mr. Miyazaki.)