It’s late May and I’m watching the Elden Ring credits. After more than 150 hours of wandering Lands Between, I feel the familiar bittersweetness that happens every time I complete a game I love. I had conquered unimaginable horrors and become Elden Lord in my own personalized adventure, while cruising atop a cool double-jump steed; Now what? Recovering from that peak would become a personal struggle for the rest of the year.
Elden Ring has dominated my life. When I wasn’t playing it, it was the only thing I wanted to do. When I was snacking on other games for work or pleasure, tasks like gaining access to Raya Lucaria Academy or conquering Malenia were in the back of my mind. I quit eating red lobster because it gave me terrible flashbacks to being spat out relentlessly by the giant crustaceans of Liurnia of the Lakes. Elden Ring joins the ranks of Grand Theft Auto III, Skyrim, and Breath of the Wild as games that became borderline obsessions for me, and the lull that followed was harsh.
Ring of Elden
I played games out of obligation for my job, but nothing caught my attention. It’s no light on the games themselves, but they had one hell of an act to follow. I also had no idea what kind of experience I wanted since Elden Ring ticked so many boxes. Should I keep snacking on another massive title like, say, Dying Light 2, or enjoy something much smaller and more experimental? Worse still, the answer couldn’t be “Just keep playing Elden Ring”. Although I loved it, I didn’t want it to be an anchor that kept me from enjoying all the year had to offer. I had to move on.
Luckily, the first game that got me back on track was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. As an old-school TMNT fan, I’ve been looking forward to Tribute Games’ throwback for a long time, and it successfully delivered what I wanted by offering a lovingly modern take on a beloved formula. The insane but satisfying beat ’em up action was a refreshing break from the more calculated and stressful battles of Elden Ring. Then you add a retro soundtrack and tons of nostalgia. It may not have offered much in comparison, but that comforting familiarity told me that playing Elden Ring left me too mentally fatigued to tackle a more mechanically dense title. The moment I kicked Shredder to the curb, I was hungry for something a little bigger, a lot bolder, and a lot tougher.
Enter Neon White. While Shredder’s Revenge gave me something familiar, Neon White won me over by delivering something original and refreshing. I love platformers, and the ingenious implementation of the card-based shooter and emphasis on speedrunning gave me something new to obsess over: leaderboards. How many seconds can I save on a platinum-rated race? Can I continue to assert the dominance of my ranking on my list of friends? My competitive side has found a new challenge. Like Elden Ring, Neon White offered a rewarding sense of “me versus game,” a challenge that forced me to hone my dexterity and timing to overcome its obstacles. Or, in more confusing layman’s terms, I needed to “git good” again.
After leaving my mark on Heaven, I had just found my groove and felt ready to tackle something a little more offbeat. Seemingly out of nowhere, a small indie game called The Looker had attracted positive buzz online as an entertaining parody of Jonathan Blow’s enigmatic puzzle game The Witness. I liked The Witness enough to want to try The Looker. I’m glad I did because within minutes it won me over as the best comedy title I’ve played in a while. The game is a humorous deconstruction of the 2016 Blow mystery, highlighting its pretension and the confusing nature of puzzle games as a whole. The gags are not only funny, but The Looker’s riddles, which are mockery of The Witness’, are genuinely clever in their own right. Like a totally free game, I highly recommend anyone who has played The Witness enough to give The Looker a try. Its playful inventiveness reignited my excitement to see what other weird experiences were out there, and the Elden Ring fog gate hampering my enthusiasm for other games completely dissipated.
Elden Ring treated me so well that I convinced myself that I wouldn’t find a game that did the same. I guess that’s still true to some extent; it’s my game of the year with a ball. Sometimes a game is so exceptional that you forget everything there is or don’t want to look for it. Looking back, I was also afraid to appreciate something less simply because it wasn’t Elden Ring. To that end, it pays to walk away and not immediately try to fill that void with something else, which is probably what I should have done first. There’s probably some breaking advice here somewhere, and I’m grateful to have discovered that there were indeed plenty of other fish in the sea.