On July 9, late into the night, Twitch streamer Ainrun roared in relief after beating Elden Ring’s final boss. After a grueling two-and-a-half hours he had finished the game without taking a hit from any enemy or spending a single rune to make his character stronger. “Oh my god it’s over dude, let’s go, yes!” he said deliriously. “Oh my god dude fuck this game. Elden Ring rune level one no-hit run, yes!”
Elden Ring can be a frustrating but rewardingly difficult game on its own terms. Once complete, however, die-hard fans have had to find other ways to keep the challenge alive. Speedrunners finish the game as quickly as humanly possible (currently just over an hour without using glitches). One has defeated every major boss using only their ass. Even among these feats, the no-hit, no-leveling runs hold a special place. There’s something both straightforward and incredibly old-school about the endeavor.
“I’ve been doing no-hit runs and speed runs of FromSoftware games ever since 2020, starting with Dark Souls 1,” Ainrun told Kotaku in an email. He’s since done no-hit runs of all three Dark Souls games, as well as Sekiro, and even completed a “trilogy” run where the no-hit playthroughs had to all happen sequentially. He’s now focused on Elden Ring, whose open-world design allows for some interesting choices and more room for strategizing.
While well known Souls streamers like The Happy Hob have already completed RL1 No Hit Runs, those skip the game’s first boss, the Grafted Scion. You have to jump over a cliff and die to progress to the start of the game, regardless of whether the Scion is defeated. But where other streamers bypassed the initial fight, Ainrun considers it an important part of the run (he cheekily refers to his as the “best” version of this type of run).
“I personally feel like this breaks a sequence that the developers intended you to go through to progress with the game, so I opt to do the fight,” he said. In his opinion, that first Scion is actually one of the more difficult bosses in the no-hit run. “I spent a lot of time practicing it, looking for openings to take advantage of,” he said. “I was also motivated by the fact that a majority of other players choose to skip this boss. In my opinion, a ‘challenge’ run like what I’ve done is supposed to be challenging, [so] using shortcuts doesn’t really make sense.” Players like YeetsMeMario have also incorporated the Scion fight into their runs.
From there it’s about executing a few key strategies against a couple of specific bosses. Since there’s no leveling, character builds are pretty minimal, but still play an important role. Ainrun prefers to wield the Serpent-Hunter great spear since it’s quick, deals lots of damage, and requires little investment. After picking that up from Rykard’s boss arena, he further optimizes with the Ash of War Flame of the Redmanes. It does a lot of posture damage, and Ainrun’s goal is to stagger bosses and then punish them as much as possible while they’re stunned.
While that’s a tried-and-true strategy in Elden Ring in general, it’s especially important in the boss fight against Rykard, Lord of Blasphemy. In his serpent form, his ”groundshock” attack is incredibly hard to dodge, so Ainrun makes sure to kill him before he can ever get it off. “A member of my community called Arham came up with a brilliant strategy of using sleep pots on Rykard at the start of his phase one that would sleep him for around two seconds,” he said. “This fight was the most precise fight of the run where I had to execute perfectly.”
Gideon Ofnir is another doozy. The sorcerer has an arsenal of splashy spells that have to be faced head on. Previously, players would skip him using an out-of-bounds parkour trick. In the latest patch that’s no longer an option. One runner called Vswed devised a strategy to stunlock Gideon using a bleed-spec Rapier. That didn’t work for Ainrun, however, so instead he and his community settled on utilizing crouch poking, which is more often used in PvP to roll-catch invaders. “This meant that I could just kill this boss depending on my execution rather than rely on [an] extra buff,” he said.
But even with practice and planning runs can still end in disaster. In an earlier RL1 No Hit run attempt the same night, Ainrun executed everything perfectly only to run into a needle attack in the final moments of the final boss fight. “The Elden Beast was supposed to do another attack (Rings) that I usually use to figure out where the boss will appear next and kill him as he comes up, but he did a needle rain attack instead, which is very difficult to avoid and the last few needles clipped me and ended my run,” he said. Without missing a beat he started over and nailed everything.
One of the most amazing things about the run isn’t even finishing as a level-one scrub, but doing it so quickly. At just over two hours, the playthrough unfolds at a breakneck pace. Next, Ainrun is focusing on completing the no-hit run trilogy by adding a successful All Main Bosses attempt. Once that’s done he’ll tackle it with the “no leveling” requirement. While Elden Ring will get DLC in the future, players like Ainrun show that even after hundreds of hours there are always new mountains to climb.