Elden Ring is massive, filled to the brim with all sorts of murderous creepy crawlies seemingly designed to make your stay in the Lands Between as unsettling as possible. But the enemies that keep giving me the most trouble are also the most banal.
It hit me while I was dispatching Elden Ring boss Astel, Naturalborn of the Void — a “malformed star capable of calamitous destruction” that looks like the Mr. DNA mascot from Jurassic Park was reimagined as an eldritch abomination — at the climax of the game’s poisonous Lake of Rot swamp. I’d figured out the timing on the only truly dangerous move in its arsenal and was absent-mindedly going through the motions when I realised I was having a much easier time defeating this terrifying creature than I had during encounters with Elden Ring’s more realistic wildlife.
OK, sure, “realistic” might not be the best word for monstrous bears built like Popeye the Sailor Man, alpha wolves that use magic soul arrows, and birds with swords strapped to their feet, but it’s the closest thing Elden Ring has to regular animals apart from those hilarious rolling sheep, so give me a break.
Astel, on paper, should pose a more substantial challenge. It’s a boss, for one, located at the tail-end of one of Elden Ring’s more frustrating environments, and second, its unnatural form makes it much harder to comprehend. Like Dark Souls and Bloodborne before it, success in Elden Ring often comes down to recognising attack patterns; one would think that normal animals like bears, wolves, and birds should be easier to read due to their analogues in the real world, but that’s not always the case.
I can’t recall ever defeating one of Elden Ring’s gigantic bears during my 90 hours (and counting) with the game. The sorcery-wielding, red-furred wolves scattered throughout the Lands Between continue to be the bane of my existence. I break out in a cold sweat every time I hear the tell-tale chirps of an unseen attack bird preening itself in a tree or on a castle rampart. But when I faced a second boss like Astel much further into my adventure, I walked into the battle with confidence and took it down in one try.
Of course, what’s difficult for me isn’t always difficult for someone else. I’m pretty sure I have some sort of mental block that immediately puts me on tilt while fighting Elden Ring’s more realistic animals, implanted by previously frustrating encounters.
Whatever the case may be, I just can’t wrap my head around them. The birds can at least be caught by spamming attacks and I can take down the magic wolves after repeated attempts if I get lucky, but every time I come across the gold poop that indicates one of the larger bears is somewhere nearby, I high-tail it out of the area as soon as possible. Forget becoming Elden Lord or defeating super-bosses like Malenia without any support, finally facing a bear is probably going to be my greatest Elden Ring challenge.
Pray for me.