Elden Ring is a delightful game. You ride a goathorse around its hills and valleys, avoid anything that might do harm to you, and scamp your way around the creatures and critters that populate a little fantasy universe. I am sure that there are people out there dedicated to crushing some bosses and getting straight up brutal with it, but I am here to tell you that there is a simple pleasure at the heart of Elden Ring that you need to embrace if you haven’t already: flower picking.
The Lands Between, the big ole open world of Elden Ring, is a ruined place. Empires rose and fell sometime in the past, and it’s sort of a big open sore where some people are still trying to pretend that things are working out. Like the rest of the games in the souls-like genre from developer From Software, Elden Ring is story-light and driven mostly by player action. You see that mountain? You can fight a guy there. You see that swamp? You’ll die there. That kind of thing.
Dotted constantly across this big world are flowers, rocks, fragments, and other glowing things that you can pick up to add to your bag of crafting items. Like every other game these days, there is an extensive crafting system that allows you to make a panoply of items, 75% of which you will never use. When I see these flowers and whatnot, I beeline my horsegoat right for them and start smashing the Y button on my controller, desperately trying to pick these things up.
I don’t need them to craft with. I don’t have any use for them. I just like picking the flowers and all the other things that are like flowers.
I’ve been playing Elden Ring since somewhere in the middle of the review period, and I can confidently say that I have spent more time gearing myself toward random ground garbage than I have spent fighting bosses. The siren song of trash that I do not need, want, or have to use is too compelling for me to simply not seek it out. I want to accumulate this crap and hold it in my digital hands, knowing that I have approximately 450 berries that I will never use for anything.
Elden Ring’s flower picking simulation dovetails with a huge number of the game’s systems. After all, this game encourages exploration and thrill seeking. Moving from boss to boss in a race to the end of the game seems like literally missing the dangerous forest for the murderous trees. Instead, stopping for a little while and seeing if you can get that flower or that other detritus that is on a ledge you just might be able to jump to…that’s the business that really gets me excited to boot up the game.
Flower picking has also introduced me to characters and enemies that I never would have stumbled on if I had stuck to the main roads of videogame plot. People are constantly chuckling about my death and resurrection or whatever, and I am listening to them do this as I sprint by to pick up my 150th Erdflower that will allow me to summon up a buddy who, against all odds, seems to do no flower picking whatsoever.
My flower picking has also created moments of pure appreciation for the artistry that is going on in this game. I am not sure that I would have approached certain regions from the angles that I did without the slow trickle of random things into my field of vision. Seeing a massive skull poking out of a crumbling cliff? Flower picking took me there. Looking down onto a beach with jellyfish Death Stranding around and waiting for some poor sucker to die there? Flower picking got me to that spot.
Flower picking in Elden Ring is ultimately a way of producing an unmotivated and voluntary movement into the world. I just move from node to node, casually surveying the world, and Elden Ring seems overwhelmingly dedicated to helping me constantly find new dungeons, people, or just weird stuff while I am on that exploratory journey. So far, in my extremely partial playthrough, I simply have flower picking to thank for my extreme enjoyment of this big weird game.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman.