I never beat Elden Ring. After defeating the first major skill check of a boss, scuttling about the seemingly endless open world, and getting killed by birds repeatedly on the rafters, I never logged back on especially since there was a Destiny 2 around the corner. I had been on the receiving end of a very humbling experience and perhaps one day I will go back.
However, during Destiny 2’s Season of the Deep’s natural lull at the end of the season, I ended up picking up Remnant II to fill the time. I wasn’t originally going, but the promotion videos looked intriguing and some friends said they were picking it up, so I copped the pre-order. Over the course of three weeks or so, I eventually managed to crawl my way to beating the game’s final boss alone…
…on the lowest difficulty…
…after intensive research and recruiting some random folks from the clumsy matchmaking in the early game.
And I have very little intention of returning to the game unless my friends want to give it a whirl, but let me regale you with the tale of how this Roguelike enthusiast facetanked their first Soulslike to completion.
This is not a review
I’ll be upfront and tell you that this isn’t an assessment of whether or not I think Remnant II is a good game. I think the million copies that it sold in the first month and the litany of accolades serve as more than ample evidence of Remnant II’s quality. This is about my specific experience which was heavily influenced by the fact that I played the totality of my time on the Steam Deck. This was not my intent, but my laptop refused to launch the game and the game played well enough on the portable PC (after increasing the FoV a smidge and reducing the graphical fidelity to compensate).
We start our travels in post-Apocalytpic Earth where “the Root” has taken over, and we are in search of the last bastion, Ward 13. And after some fumbling around, I meet up with fellow survivors, immediately get felled by the introductory boss even with three NPCs dealing damage (although I think my instinct to hipfire which led me to melee the angry monster was more at fault than me I’d argue) and make it into town where I make the first critical decision.
My close quarters inclinations led to the Challenger archetype; however, the main reason I selected the class was its prime perk “Die Hard” which acts a self-revive. Considering that I never made it far into Elden Ring, I figured that it was hard to argue with the efficacy of not dying, a sentiment that would be reinforced again and again. Further fumbling led me into a High Fantasy Fae Castle and my journey armed with a shotgun, a pistol, and the ability to stomp.
I died within about three minutes upon entering the library hall for the first time as I was greeted by several units, about half of which were straight up flying. It took a couple of attempts, but I eventually learned how to switch between the service pistol for flying enemies, the shotgun for everything else, and the melee as a last resort. If I was in melee range ,that also meant that I was in range to get melee’d myself, and my inability to dodge in any game continued to haunt me. Death after death, I slowly worked my way through the castle and then found myself in a straight up low fantasy Victorian town. At this point, I’d gained enough resources and levels to feel somewhat comfortable proceeding until I got to the sewers where I met my first boss: a weird floating ball.
That floating ball completely destroyed me, at which point I realized that my loadout was not going to cut it. At this point, the YouTube algorithm had picked up what I was playing and offered “FANTASTIC EARLY GAME LOOT,” and I was able to pick up an SMG with many more bullets, better damage, and generally easier to use. It still took several tries and learning how to manage my Dragonhearts (one of the only sources of healing) and my self-revive. (At this stage of my progression, my plan was to save hearts for after healing thinking that I could outlive the 10 minute cooldown, something that I’d quickly realize would never actually happen.) Finally, I won, entering the last node of the biome.
At this point, I figured that if I was playing the purported melee class I should invest in a melee weapon. After scouring wikis, one of the world boss rewards was a melee weapon. I went in to challenge of the two Fae Imposter kings and I proceeded to die repeatedly. The highly mobile floating boss proved to the antithesis of my loadout, but through trial and error, I could get to the last stage. However, after an hour of attempts one day and another hour the next, I decided to enlist help. My friends weren’t available, so I opened my instance to a friendly handler who brought a dog into the fray. The three of us managed to barely fell the king. I was dead when the final blow was struck, but finally progress.
My loot ended up being a long gun called Deceit, the fundamental opposite of a melee weapon, but this ended up being a blessing in disguise as Deceit ended up my primary weapon for the rest of my playthrough.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Match
At this point, I wanted a couple of more resources and levels, so I rerolled my instance of Losom to become familiar with my weapon and tried a couple instances of matchmaking. Remnant II’s online co-op is cumbersome at best, and you also load in dead until the team reaches a crystal. I managed to load in as two players two levels above me were going on a rampage and when they refreshed at the checkpoint, I managed to get a veritable cornucopia of trait points and resources that helped kickstart my ability to play solo.
After more research and more fumbling, I realized I was close to being able to add a secondary archetype and prepared to mutli-class into a medic becoming a Die-Hard Guardian / depending on which archetype was my primary. I did this because the medic uniquely had access to sustain and again, really difficult to argue with the efficacy of not dying.
Although all of the healing in the world doesn’t stop instantly dying from being crushed by a rotating block in one of the most infuriating puzzle bosses I played, although a helpful map helped resolve my instinct to chuck my Steam Deck onto the lawn.
First Act Woes, Second and Third Act Triumphs
Between the kickstart in elementary build, some luck finding an SMG that seemed to be the love child of Riskrunner and Anarchy from Destiny, I managed to systematically work my way through the drab sci-fi world of N’erud and the generic jungle world of Yeasha.
At this point, I discovered the cadence and had enough experience to endure the combat challenge. Most mini-bosses I could successfully tank and out DPS, and the world bosses felt like fair fights now that I was equipped with gear that let me position myself slightly better. The challenger’s trait reducing encumbrance let me dodge at a standard penalty. The final boss proved a little more difficult to parse, but even then I eventually slayed the root of the root.
And then every urge I had to play this game solo slowly evaporated into the ether.
Epilogue Apathy or a Roguelike a Soulslike is not
I think the reason I managed to finish Remnant II (in addition to having more time before the Destiny 2 content than I had when I picked Elden Ring) is because I was more more familiar with shooter mechanics over hack and slash. And the fact that I could reduce my need to dodge by outhealing things and not lose resources on death.
But as I played through Remnant II, I became more intimate with the unique elements of Soulslike and also why they don’t resonate. The slow vertical progression meant it took a long time to feel incremental jumps in powers. The limited resources made lateral progression even more tedious and felt terrible when I found a new piece of gear that I ended up leaving in my inventory because I didn’t want to grind out for more sources after already grinding for the first piece. The combat sequences had weird intervals where some transitions had a few minutes and others were brutal crawls that were several times longer (which made it all the worse when I failed right before a world crystal). The narrative was… there although in true souslike form, most of it was in item descriptions.
But in the perfect form of a circle, the thing that cemented for me that while Remnant II is a good game it was not going to take anymore of my time were the extraordinary amount of secrets hidden literally everywhere. Some I did find. Some I would have never found even if you gave me an infinite amount of time and energy. One was hidden by the devs who knew that their community was going to datamine their game which is objectively an awesome move. But like how I described in my ode to my aversion in the open world, exploration is not for me. I like the combat challenge. I like knowing what the objective is and then figuring out how to solve that specifically.
After researching all of the things I had missed and yet to discovered, I tried starting a new game, but quickly realized that unless I had some companions. I was not going to enjoy replaying the game to no fault of the game but because I enjoy a different experience.
Maybe during the next lull I’ll retry Elden Ring just to see if I learned anything from my time in the Labyrinth. Or maybe I’ll try Baldur’s Gate III or Armored Core 6. Who’s to say? Although it’s nice being able to articulate all of the reasons why, it’s even nicer than that the Remnant II lasted just long enough for me to return to my main game.