Episode 466 - Canonical Wolf Tornado

Gita Jackson is back on the pod to join Patrick, Ren, and Cado on their long adventure into the depths of everything Elden Ring. We talk about Elden Ring's immense reach compared to other FromSoft titles, moments of dubious boss balancing in the late game, and that ever present cycle of difficulty and accessibility discourse that we return to with each new iteration of the Souls formula, and the ways we all approach difficulty differently in isolation and within community.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://shows.acast.com/vicegamingsnewpodcast/episodes/episode-466-canonical-wolf-tornado
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Renata is such a great addition to the team and not just because she can apparently manifest Waypoint into reality. Thinking of walkthroughs and wikis as annotation is one of those ideas that seems self-evident once I heard it. Within that framing I think my worry about wikis and walkthroughs is similar to my worry that an overzealous search for context can obscure the text itself. Reading the context of a work can lead to a search for the context of that context, and then the context of the context’s context, et cetera. So reading a few pages of Ulysses leads quickly (at least for my ADD brain) to putting a history of Norman Ireland on hold at the library.

Similarly reading wikis and walkthroughs can quickly lead to tier lists, theorycrafting, and premade optimized builds which in turn lead players to not engage with items, bonus, areas, or entire subsystems of the game. Does that use of extratextual context take away from the player’s experience? Personally I’ve fallen off of the Civilization games because I know that there are ideal ways of playing them and so I don’t experiment with the systems or play as any “low tier” civilization. What value is there to experimenting with a build when a wiki has already told me it won’t work?

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I can’t recall where I heard this idea before but I really liked the idea of a different kind of walkthrough/guide that gives you 3 hints before telling you the answer. A lot of times I don’t want the solution to a problem just a hint. When you start looking for that you run a high risk of spoilers in either narrative or mechanics. For example if I’m playing Resident Evil I want a puzzle hint not a walkthrough of the puzzle because that defeats the entire purpose of the puzzle. Right now you basically need a friend who can act as your research assistant to either already know or look up something for you so you don’t get spoiled which is why I think a lot of my favorite steams have been things like Rob and Patrick playing Resident Evil.

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Similarly reading wikis and walkthroughs can quickly lead to tier lists, theorycrafting, and premade optimized builds which in turn lead players to not engage with items, bonus, areas, or entire subsystems of the game.

A few things I want to mention about this. Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

  1. Theorycrafting is one of my favorite parts about Souls games (and other RPGs) and tends to make me more engaged with exploring and engaging with subsystems. I want to find things that help my current build, let me try new builds, and enemies that let me test my build and play with subsystems to understand them better.

  2. All of the Souls and Monster Hunter wikis I have seen do a lot of editorializing about “The best build” and most of the time they’re clearly wrong. A large part of the appeal of those games is that they are pretty well balanced, so there are a lot of viable play styles, but everyone has a playstyle that works better for them. For both of those series, the actual correct advice from veterans to new players is “Use whatever you think is fun. Oh, you want to use X? Here’s how it works.” However, there will always be some random person who is wrong who says something like “Sword and Shield is D tier because of it’s low damage”. That specific example is a thing I saw recently that Monster Hunter speedrunners were dunking on because SnS is one of the best speedrunning weapons, different weapon types don’t have significantly different DPS like that in MH, and you can easily tell this statement is false by watching a tutorial or speedrun video.

  3. I agree that seeing how good other people are can make it feel like your own efforts are worthless. When I was going through the story for Monster Hunter Rise, I was disappointed with how long each hunt took me because I was comparing myself to extremely good streamers with endgame gear and up to a decade of experience. I am good at these games, but I couldn’t compete with them directly, in part because they simply had better weapons because they were farther in the game. The thing that helped me enjoy the game again was focusing on what it is I like the game, which is bonking monsters on the head and making them fall down good. Also, I got really into a weapon type that is fun, but not very popular, so I was no longer directly comparing myself to the people I was watching. They were no longer playing better than me, they were playing differently than me.

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The talks about the optional mega boss at the end of Elden ring being “night unbeatable” is far overstated in this podcast. Speedrunners have trivialized her with OP magic builds and I myself cleared her yesterday after 3 tries with my incredibly large axe build.

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Ren alluding to a gimmick build and then literally describing the build I’ve played the entire game with had me cackling. I love my dual katanas and mimic boy. I have like five different ones I cycle through and try different weapon arts on. I have a wolf helmet and look like Inuoske from Demon Slayer. It’s great.

But more seriously — the comment that the latter half of Elden Ring feels less carefully balanced and guided than the first half sounds extremely familiar because that’s also every other game in this series (except maybe Sekiro and Demon’s Souls, which has no second half). I’m convinced that Fromsoft does not give themselves enough time. Because there’s also the inevitable DLC that they make from the stuff they didn’t have time to make and it always ends up being the best part of the game.

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are you thinking of https://www.uhs-hints.com/ ? describes what you’re talking about, but focuses mostly on point n click adventure games. i would not have been able to get through grim fandango without it.

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I really appreciate Cado shouting out this video from Steve Saylor, I thought the conversation with Grant Stoner was really nuanced and insightful, specific to Elden Ring but also generally, definitely don’t miss it if this is of interest to you:

Also recommend this piece by Grant Stoner:

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Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking of. It’s a shame to see it doesn’t look like it caught on outside of point and click adventure games besidesf a few titles. Looks like it hasn’t been touched in about 7 years either. Curious if it’s just a lack of visibility that didn’t bring people to the site or if the majority of people genuinely prefer a full walk through with spoilers.

I actually don’t mind seeing a movie all alone, but I get the point. But affords me the option to go alone is the fact I can just gush about Cyrano online. (It’s great, no one saw it, you all missed out.) I got nobody to discuss Triangle Strategy with in real life, but I got thousands of people who can help.

My real issue with the Souls games is they’ve traditionally been so intense, so relentlessly aggressive and against me, I just am endlessly frustrated and miserable. I don’t like my action RPGs this hard. I’ll beat any Kingdom Hearts super boss, but every encounter cannot be that tempo, I get real anxiety.

I would have nothing to do with Souls, and that’s fine. Everybody else can have their thing. But now it’s ever-present thanks to the basically unavoidable, nigh infinite discussion around them. This is just an Elden Ring podcast now? They haven’t even mentioned Triangle Strategy yet. :frowning:

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The pod always goes through stretches where they talk a ton about a single game. Which makes sense, they play what they like and are as prone as anyone to having a game grab their attention. I totally get being the one on the outside looking in, though it does feel inevitable when you’re listening to a general gaming podcast. The new Monday Waypoints format seems to help this issue, forcing the crew to change things up each week, at least.

As a side note, I will say that Elden does feel less intense than previous From games just due to the open world. If you got through Breath of the Wild (and internalized the lesson to explore and grow strong), I think Elden would be a reasonable challenge. But also, it’s not for everyone and that’s totally ok!

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I have to ask, are you also a person who goes to a restaurant by themselves? Because I can not do either of those things. I think I could do a movie by myself before restaurant because it’s socially less awkward then having to explain to your waiter/waitress “No I’m not waiting for anyone, it’s just me by myself”.

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I’ve eaten alone but only because I’m traveling on my own. Otherwise I’ll just get take-out and eat at home, doesn’t really make sense to eat out alone.

A theater is just a dark place where you watch a movie. Nobody can really see you, and nobody cares either way.

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I don’t mind eating at a restaurant or watching a movie by myself. Usually just bring a book to the restaurant with me to bide my time. The only thing I don’t like about seeing a movie by myself is that I don’t have anybody to discuss the movie with immediately afterwards, so i usually just look up some reviews or pods about the movie.

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You are not alone in waiting for the Elden Discourse to die down. Gita can talk about how Souls games are “not that hard” all they like but I will politely disagree: anything where every enemy in the game must be approached like a boss in a ‘normal’ game, in that it can probably one hit kill me, and will most likely respawn if I do something like rest at a save point… nah, I’m gonna call that “hard” and not for me. I said something similar recently on the Waypoint Discord about running Destiny raids: I ran Vault of Glass once. It was an extremely good experience, truly transcendental versus basic Destiny. I never did it again because it’s far more intense an experience than I want from a videogame. I do not want to be “on” for the entire time I’m playing, it’s not what I go to games for.

To your other point: pre-Covid, I’d probably go see a movie by myself at least once a month. Sure, I’d go with my partner if they were interested and I had a colleague who would reliably show up for Marvel films, but beyond that, if I wanted to see something in theatres I’d probably have to see it myself.

I don’t rely on this, but for whatever reason it has always stuck with me: I remember being in a college class where this came up and someone said she assumed anyone going to a theatre alone was a critic. If you’re feeling self-conscious, maybe lean into that: rest easy knowing if people are even thinking about you at all - and they’re probably not - that they just assume you’re meant to be there.

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Yeah I also strongly disagree with that assessment, to the point of being bothered. If it’s not “hard” because you just have to be careful, or “just” try the same thing several times over to figure it out, then our definitions of the word are quite different.

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Same. I feel like it’s more accurate to say that the Soulsbourne games are more approachable than they appear. While they will always be difficult, they provide many more paths to overcome that difficulty than some unpleasant parts of the community would have you believe.

That statement points to one of the many sticking points of the difficulty discourse. That getting good at a game usually means internalizing systems to the extent that you no longer need to consciously consider them. I think we’ve all encountered this when watching someone who doesn’t play games control a twin stick first person game. An control scheme that I haven’t had to think about since 7th grade is a puzzle for people unfamiliar with it.

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I’d push back on this a bit in that very few bosses can actually one-shot you, let alone regular enemies. I run around with much less Vigor than many people, and was using a talisman that increased damage taken (in exchange for buffing several stats) for a while, and very few attacks were actually one-shots. I feel like the Souls games have a reputation as being much harder than they actually are, especially because you can just grind levels if you have the patience. I’m not saying everyone should play them, or that the same game being the centre of discussion for weeks can’t be frustrating, I just think the hyperbole is unhelpful in this instance.

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I think it’s totally fair to say that the games are more approachable than they appear - or than their reputation suggests - and I’m familiar with suggestions that most Souls-like games have ‘difficulty’ that can be modulated by over-levelling or using specific builds. I’ve even thrown myself unsuccessfully against Dark Souls and Bloodborne because of this!

Something else that came up in this pod was the opacity of games in the series, the lack of quest logs or the way game systems are obscured, and how that’s a kind of difficulty. And, sure, I guess it is. But to be clear, that’s never what I’m talking about when I’m saying these games are hard: I’m saying that if an enemy hits you, it will do so much damage you will probably die after suffering a very limited number of attacks, especially if you get knocked down or otherwise locked into animations that leave you vulnerable. The difficulty is in mitigating that through memorising attack patterns and mastering skills that rely on timing like blocking, dodging, and parrying. That to me - and many others - is a difficult set of skills and why I’m so baffled by Gita’s comments.

(@JennySighs I may have used some mild hyperbole, but it’s not like I haven’t tried to play these games. I know what happens when an enemy hits you in a Souls game. And no, I do not have the patience to grind until they can hit me more. Fun is subjective, but that isn’t fun to me.)

EDIT: I’m worried this post comes off as a bit too confrontational so I’ll add - anyone enjoying Elden Ring or Souls-like games in general, I’m happy for you. I’m not even complaining about Waypoint spending a lot of time on it. It’s clearly going to remain one of the most important games of the year and a conversational touchstone going forward, even if it’s frustrating being on the outside of that conversation. And, I’ve enjoyed stuff like watching Ren, Patrick, and Natalie stream it, even if that convinced me that Elden Ring was still not the Souls game for me (it was specifically at the point where the first boss they approached wrecked them and I was like, “ah, I recognise that. The feeling of playing a Souls game. Nope.”) despite looking really appealing in other ways. If it ever hits Game Pass or PS+ I’ll probably give it a shot like I gave Dark Souls and Bloodborne a shot, but I’m not risking £50 or £60 on what would probably be a miserable experience for me.

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You can describe the 2d Mario games, and most 2nd platformers, in the same way. They are challenging, but it is a challenge that can be overcome with practice.

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