Hope you're sitting down for this one: Elden Ring is a pretty brutal game.
That said, while we love the arcane trickery that the Souls series is known for, sometimes it can be a little frustrating to discover that you can sprint 20 hours into the game. (Yes, that's a true story: I beat the entirety of Dark Souls 1 at a steady jog; when I saw a streamer sprint like it was no big deal, I wanted to scream.)
With that spirit in mind, here are a few things I wish I'd known about Elden Ring hours earlier. Just a general note: while we've tried to keep these tips as spoiler-free as possible, if you're really worried about it, you probably shouldn't be reading articles like these at all, you know?
1. Do the tutorial. No, really.
If you're a manic little worm like me, you probably have the tendency to button through tutorials, especially when it's a sequel to a game you've mastered. Resist that urge. Elden Ring's introduction shows just how far FromSoftware has come from the days of Dark Souls 1's "we put the controls in messages on the ground, now face this giant demon!" approach. Elden Ring's tutorial explains important new mechanics, like jump attacks, the new shield counter-strike move, and how stealth works, so take five minutes to learn the basics.
2. Yes, you can run past most enemies. Abuse this.
Over the years, I've met a lot of people who stopped playing a Souls game because of mounting frustration, and most of them have one thing in common: They never tried running past the mobs of enemies. Brutal boss runbacks are not really a hallmark of Elden Ring like they were in previous FromSoftware games, but the overworld is dotted with tons of foes who will chase you down if you give them the chance. If you've already looted an area for secrets, and you aren't trying to push for a level-up, it's usually just best to run away from the hordes. The enemies in Elden Ring are smart, but most of them can't keep up with you, and they'll give up after a while.
3. Tired of undead enemies coming back to life? Just whack them again.
I spent the first few hours of Elden Ring running away from skeletons, ghasts, and necromancers, because I couldn't figure out how to stop them from resurrecting themselves. I thought I needed some kind of white magic or miracle to stop them. Nope. Turns out you just need to hit them again while they're coming back, and they'll stay dead. Learn from my mistake.
4. The first major boss is hard. Really hard.
In previous Souls games, the first boss serves as a test of your basic competence, and one that you can overcome easily on subsequent playthroughs. Elden Ring's Mergit the Fell Omen is more like an intensive three-day entrance exam. He has an enormous health bar, an expansive moveset, and a second phase that's specifically designed to get you rolling, not blocking. Since the game does everything in its power to shuttle you to Stormveil Castle in its first few hours, don't stress if Mergit is stomping you again and again; it's not just you. I recommend exploring elsewhere, leveling up a few times, and upgrading your weapon to +2 or +3 before you take him on.
5. Experiment with new weapons and gear, and don't worry about your build too much.
If you've never played a Souls game before, the stat screen can be pretty intimidating. If you're going melee-first, you generally need to focus on Vigor (health), Endurance (stamina), and the attack stat of your choice. While many people like to do balanced strength/dexterity "quality" builds their first time through, I personally recommend just picking one and sticking with it. Elden Ring showers you with so many new weapons per hour that you’ll likely want to switch multiple times. Speaking of that, you can grind easily for upgrade ore in the optional mines around the Lands Between, so do that if you need to catch up with your new favorite sword.
6. Explore south or north first, not east.
The rotting grass and crimson rivers of Elden Ring's eastern reaches aren't just for show: they're a warning. If you're a true master of Souls, maybe you can head that way first, but for the rest of us, stick to Limgrave for a while. The region south of where you first appear has a lot of weapons and resources to exploit, and almost all of it is optional.
7. Use your pouches.
While Elden Ring lets you equip up to 10 items in quick slots, if you really need to access something quickly — for example, your horse-summoning whistle — you should use your pouches. To put an item in one of your pouch slots, pause the game and go over to the right-hand side of the screen — it's really easy to miss. Once it's in there, hold the use button and press the directional pad to pull it out. It's a small thing, but it's a really handy way to keep your favorite tools available at all times, especially if you use a lot of crafting items.
8. You can change your gender or appearance at any time for no cost, but only after a certain point.
I reached that point after about 20 hours of gameplay, and it's part of Elden Ring's core progression, so don't worry about missing it. No more grinding for resources just so you can change your character's haircut. It's a nice touch.
At its heart, this is a game about exploration, and there are secrets around every corner. If you approach Elden Ring with that goal in mind, instead of rushing straight into the next leg of the main quest, you'll have a much better time with it.