It’s the end of May, and I’m watching the credits roll in Elden Ring. After more than 150 hours roaming the Lands Between, I feel the familiar bittersweetness that occurs anytime I finish a game I love. I’d conquered unimaginable horrors and become Elden Lord in my own personalized adventure, all while cruising atop a cool double-jumping steed; now what? Recovering from this high would become a personal struggle for the remainder of the year.
Elden Ring dominated my life. When I wasn’t playing it, it was the only thing I wanted to do. When I chipped away at 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 stopped eating Red Lobster because it caused me to suffer terrible flashbacks of getting relentlessly spat on by the giant crustaceans in 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 rough.
I played games out of obligation to my job, but nothing sustained my attention. That’s no slight on the games themselves, but they had one hell of an act to follow. I also wasn’t sure what kind of experience I wanted since Elden Ring checked so many boxes. Should I continue chipping away at another massive title like, say, Dying Light 2, or enjoy something much smaller and more experimental? Worst of all, the answer couldn’t be “just keep playing Elden Ring.” As much as I loved it, I didn’t want it to be an anchor that prevented me from enjoying everything else the year had to offer. I had to move on.
Thankfully, the first game to get me back on the rails was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. As an old-school TMNT fan, I’d been looking forward to Tribute Games’ arcade throwback for a long time, and it successfully delivered what I wanted by providing a lovingly modern take on a beloved formula. The mindless-but-satisfying beat ‘em up action was a refreshing break from Elden Ring’s more calculated, stressful battles. Then you tack on a killer retro soundtrack and oodles of nostalgia. It may not have offered much by comparison, but this comforting familiarity revealed to me that playing Elden Ring left me too mentally fatigued to tackle a more mechanically dense title. By the time I kicked Shredder to the curb, I was hungry for something a little bigger, a lot bolder, and substantially tougher.
Enter Neon White. While Shredder’s Revenge gave me something familiar, Neon White won me over by delivering something refreshingly original. I adore platformers, and the game’s ingenious implementation of card-based gunplay and an emphasis on speedrunning gave me something new to obsess over: leaderboards. How many more seconds can I shave off a platinum-ranked run? Can I continue to assert my leaderboard dominance over my friends list? My competitive side found a new challenge to sink its teeth into. Like Elden Ring, Neon White offered a rewarding sense of “Me vs. The Game,” a challenge that forced me to sharpen my dexterity and timing to overcome its obstacles. Or, in more jerk-flavored layman’s terms, I needed to “git good” again.
After leaving my mark on Heaven, I’d just about gotten my groove back and felt ready to tackle something a little more off-kilter. From seemingly out of nowhere, a small indie game called The Looker had been attracting positive buzz online as an entertaining parody of Jonathan Blow’s enigmatic puzzle game, The Witness. I liked The Witness enough to want to give The Looker a shot. I’m glad I did because, within minutes, it won me over as the best comedic title I’d played in some time. The game is a humorous deconstruction of Blow’s 2016 mystery that makes sharp jabs at its pretentiousness and the befuddling nature of puzzle games as a whole. The gags are not only funny, but The Looker’s puzzles, which are mockeries of The Witness’, are genuinely clever in their own right. As a totally free game, I highly recommend anyone that’s played enough of The Witness to give The Looker a shot. Its playful inventiveness replenished my excitement to see what other strange experiences were out there, and Elden Ring’s fog gate hindering my enthusiasm for other games dissipated entirely.
Elden Ring treated me so well that I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t find a game that did the same. I suppose that’s still true to some degree; it’s my Game of the Year with a bullet. Sometimes a game is so exceptional you forget everything else that’s out there or are unwilling to seek it out. In hindsight, I was also afraid of enjoying something less simply because it wasn’t Elden Ring. To that end, it’s beneficial to walk away and not try to immediately fill that void with something else, which is probably what I should have done first. There’s probably some break-up advice in here somewhere, and I’m grateful I found that there was indeed plenty of other fish in the sea.
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