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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Elden Ring’s invasions have turned me into a monster

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I didn’t set out to become a murderer. Like many others, my Tarnished was content to set themselves against the denizens of The Lands Between in jolly cooperation, helping strangers fight tough bosses and leaving handy reminders about dogs. In all that time I’d maybe been invaded twice, and not once considered that I could be the jackass ruining people’s fun in Elden Ring

And yet, for the last three nights, I’ve ritualistically laid down my evil marker at the foot of Nokstella and dared to step into strangers’ worlds—greatsword in hand and ill intent in my heart.

Dressed to kill

Our path towards carnage starts, as all things do, with fashion. As per our group post on Elden Bling, I’ve been experimenting a lot with how my Tarnished, Mary of Psamathe, should look—largely swapping between different styles of rags and rusted armour. That was before I spent a day underground in Nokstella, and ran into the Night Maidens of the Eternal City.

Here’s the thing about Souls games. If a monster is even vaguely humanoid and wears clothes, there’s a good chance they’ll drop that look for you to try on yourself. I fell so immediately in love with the flowing, assassin-priestess look of the Night Maiden armour that, after stumbling into half the set, I spent a straight 30 minutes grinding out the rest off one mob next to the zone’s shrine. For fashion, it was worth it.

But fashion doesn’t just let you nick the look of a given foe. Souls characters are defined by what they wear and how they fight, and through invasions and co-op we can effectively roleplay as NPCs, bosses and mooks. It’s never been rare to see boss room hallways filled with summon signs for characters dressed like fan-favourites Solaire or Siegmeyer, or duellists clad in Artorias’ garb. 

So, over the weekend, after a full day of battling major bosses, I decided to do the unthinkable. I pulled out my Recusant Finger and signed up to join the (disarmingly tall) warrior women of Nokstella.

Murderous intent

Cards on the table, I’m not great at PVP. Souls games have an absurd variety of builds, and I’ll frequently be pulled in to fight some absolutely beefed-up wizard who wields the power of gods in one hand and a sword for killing gods in the other. 

Elden Ring is also skewed hard in favour of the defender. While in previous games you risked invasion just for using a humanity or ember (items that potentially enabled co-op), Elden Ring only puts you on the invasion list if you’re actively cooperating, or else used the “I would like to be invaded please” item. Many players are also using a ring that, when worn, summons “hunters” into their game on invasion, turning a 2v1 into a 3v1. 

This is all to say that in the past few days, I have been absolutely clowned on more than I’d care to admit.

But that makes those cheeky victories all the better, and even just getting one of the rascals is a win in my books. I’m also now convinced that invasions are quietly the funniest part of Elden Ring—from three co-op buddies glaring and shimmying angrily at me over a ravine to the pot-bellied knight hiding in a bush despite his orange glow, or me and a Host fatally stabbing each other in the chest at the same time, PVP is hilarious.

The thing I’m really coming to appreciate about invasions is how they let me simply inhabit a space. Invaders aren’t perceived by monsters, and so I’m free to explore this corner of Elden Ring at my leisure. Make it my home, learn its routes, figure out great ambush spots, or simply vibe with a giant orb at the top of the stairs.

During the day, Mary of Psamathe will continue her path to Elden Lord like a good Tarnished. She’ll keep lending her blade to strangers, asking her friends for help with troublesome bosses, and unravel more of the secrets hidden in The Lands Between. But I’ve embraced the call to PVP, and when the sun goes down I plan to descent once more into the Eternal City for another night of ritual murder with the Night Maidens.

Even if that murder is more often than not my own.

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