Matt Bird writes all sorts of nonsense, but he dedicates a large chunk of his time to writing game walkthroughs.
A subterranean wonderland of pinching horrors, the Ainsel River is one of the earlier side dungeons you're likely to tackle in Elden Ring. A great place to visit if you're in the 40 to 50 level range, the Ainsel River has items and Runes aplenty, so long as you don't mind a case of massive creepy-crawlies.
This guide will take you through the Ainsel River in Elden Ring. It's an appropriately difficult area for where it's located, and good practice for later, much tougher dungeons.
Finding the Ainsel River
The Ainsel River is located beneath Liurnia of the Lakes, and the entrance is a quick jaunt from the southern entrance to the region. Head north through the water until you're past the Academy Gate Town. You'll find a shoreline surrounded by forest. Leave the water here, head east along the road, and take the northern path. So long as you stick to the lowlands you'll soon come to the Ainsel River Well, the entrance to the Ainsel River. There's a Golem out front, but you can easily sweep past it and get onto the elevator.
It's worth noting now that you cannot access all of the Ainsel River from this entrance. There's a sub-section of this sub-region that can only be reached during Ranni the Witch's quest. If you want to see everything the Ainsel has to offer you'll need to complete her quests. We won't address the remainder of the region here.
Ainsel River Well Depths
Upon leaving the elevator you'll see the river itself winding along ahead of you. Head down to the shore to grab a Golden Rune . On your right is a path to a waterfall; you'll find three Magic Greases at the base of the waterfall and a dead end. On the left are... ants. Giant Ants. They're stuck to the wall above the southern path, and they'll drop down on your head if you try to pass under them. Pick them off of the wall with ranged attacks and kill them one-by-one.
Follow the flow of the water. There are eight Grace Mimics ahead, and just past it there's a small divot in the wall on your right where a Giant Ant waits to ambush you. Two more will appear from the southern tunnels to attack along with it. Draw them in and kill them, watching out for ranged acid attacks.
The path splits ahead. Take the left tunnel first to find a Smithing Stone . An ant will rise out of the ground near the Smithing Stone, so wait a moment for it to appear. Another will show up behind you as you turn to leave. Return to the intersection and go right this time. The tunnel has two ants clinging to the ceiling, so try to shoot them down before they drop on your head.
The room ahead is grisly, but there aren't any ants in it. You can grab two Silver Fireflies and a Golden Rune  off of the corpses. Here the path splits again, and if you walk down the left split you'll find an ant feasting on a Smithing Stone . The two paths ultimately lead in the same direction, though if you want all of the items you'll want to go left and hop up onto the rock to reach an upper path.
The next room is teeming with ants, almost all of them stuck to the ceiling and keeping an eye on their queen on the ground. Shoot the ants down and fight them from the entrance doorway so they can't surround you. Once they're all gone, run in and pop the queen's enormous egg sac. You'll receive a Golden Rune  and a Rune Arc for killing the queen.
Follow the path beyond the egg-laying room and you'll wind up on a ledge above the grounds of the Uhl Palace Ruins. If you'd taken the other path earlier you'd be down on the ground right now. Before you jump down, cross the support beam on your left to find a Smithing Stone . Look on your left and you'll see some raised rock that you can fall onto to find a Celestial Dew.
There are a ton of Claymen in this area, and though they're slow they can be a pain if they gather around you in significant numbers. Hop down and you'll find a Smithing Stone , then look to the right. There's a Golden Rune  nearby and an elevator just past that. Check the right side of the doorway for a switch that will bring the elevator down.
The elevator takes you up to the entrance of the Uhl Palace Ruins. Check down by the water to find a Ghost Gloveworth , ten Shattershard Arrows (Fletched), and a Smithing Stone . Right beside the top of the elevator is a small chamber with the Ainsel River Sluice Gate Site of Grace.
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Ainsel River Sluice Gate
The front of the Uhl Palace Ruins just leads back to the ant chambers, so hop back on the elevator. You'll now need to check the rest of the Clayman chamber, doing your best to avoid the things. Check under the waterfalls for a Golden Rune , along the left wall for a Ghost Glovewort , and against a broken hunk of architecture on the left for a Golden Rune .
There are two entrances to the Uhl Palace Ruins inner area. The first, guarded by the Claymen, is obvious. The second, a hidden passage through the water on the right, is less obvious. You want to take the hidden passage to avoid trouble.
Follow the water and you'll emerge in a vast cavern. If you look to your left you'll see a huge, insectile creature hanging from the ceiling. This is a Malformed Star, and if it spots you it will fire meteoric rocks at you every couple of seconds. This gets annoying in a hurry, though there are plenty of hiding places throughout the cavern. Take cover whenever it begins to attack.
Check to the left of the water when you emerge from the cave to find a Smithing Stone  on a ledge, then return to the water. Follow the water a bit longer to find a Ghost Glovewort , then hop onto the fallen pillars on the left. Look behind you when you reach the top of the tallest pillar to find a Smithing Stone  on a crossbeam. You can use the remainder of this path to get up to the Malformed Star. Hide behind stonework whenever it opens fire and run whenever it lets up. Pretty soon you'll be right beside it. You can easily snipe it from the rocks, but it's easier to jump down and hit it in the dome with melee attacks. A good smack will stop it from firing rocks. Killing the Malformed Star will earn you a nice chunk of Runes.
With the Malformed Star gone you can explore this area with less pressure. Use the right side of its platform to return to the ground. There are a number of items to grab:
- Near the bottom of the drop down from the Malformed Star's perch is a Smithing Stone , overlooking a tunnel we'll get to in a moment.
- Inside the temple with the Nomadic Merchant, below the Malformed Star's hanging spot, is Map: Ainsel River.
- Out front of the temple is a Golden Rune  on a body.
- To the east of the temple entrance, near some stairs, is a Golden Rune .
- On the stairs leading back to the Uhl Palace Ruins front entrance is a Golden Rune , two Magic Greases, six Throwing Daggers, and a Furlcalling Finger Remedy. Check the wall next to these stairs for some Shield Grease.
- At the base of a waterfall on the north side of the cavern you'll find a Ghost Glovewort  and a Golden Rune .
Got all that? Time to go deeper. If you follow the river southwest you'll find a cave, mentioned earlier, and on your right are rocks that will take you up to a summoning pool and the Ainsel River Downstream Site of Grace. This is the last stop before the boss, so if you need to go stock up or just spend your Runes, now is the time.
Ainsel River Downstream
Drop off of the ledge near the Site of Grace to find a Ghost Glovewort , then keep following the river. Pretty quickly you'll be back in ant territory. They don't seem all that interested in one another's plight so long as you're not getting too close, so try to pick off each of the seven Giant Ants in this first room from a distance. Check the chamber for a Ghost Glovewort , a Ghost Glovewort , a Smithing Stone , a Formic Rock, five Crystal Darts, and an Immunizing Horn Charm before you move on.
If you follow the river you'll be headed towards the boss, but before that, climb the hill of bones on the left. The tunnel takes you into Basilisk territory, and though the Basilisks won't cause you any damage their breath builds you towards an instant, unavoidable death. Kill them quickly before they can fill the area with noxious clouds, and check your left and right for hiding spots as you walk down the tunnel. You'll find a Somber Smithing Stone  at the end of the tunnel, on a cliff edge, and four Soaps in a small side tunnel.
(And yes, the horrifying red area on the other side of the cliff is a place you can visit. Not from here, mind, but... eventually.)
Return to the river and follow the water downhill. You'll run into one last intersection at the bottom. Go left to find three Melted Mushrooms, then go right. There's a Ghost Glovewort  as you trek towards the exit, which leads to a huge open area... a massive humanoid on a chair... and the boss.
Dragonkin Soldier of Nokstella
A beefy drawler who seems to have some leg problems at first, the Dragonkin Soldier of Nokstella is not the same as the other Dragonkin Soldiers you'll fight in Elden Ring. He starts off the same, sticking to melee swipes with his massive arms, but once you get the Dragonkin Soldier down to half health he'll sprout a pair of wings, develop ice attacks, and suddenly become much more mobile. It's a tough fight at lower levels, and a worthy end to your trek down the Ainsel River. Some tips:
- If you're fighting the Dragonkin Soldier with a melee weapon you'll want to stay on its sides or behind and hack at its legs. This will keep you out of the way of its arms, for the most part. Ranged fighters just need to keep ahead of the arms and, preferably, continue circling. In either case you can get yourself tangled in the Dragonkin Soldier's legs, and it will drag you around with it, unable to hit you while you beat its health down.
- If you're fighting with a melee weapon, don't try to aim for the Dragonkin Soldier's guts. The ribcage looks like a decent target, but most of your attacks will whiff unless you have a very large, very long weapon. Go for the legs for maximum effect.
- The fight gets more dangerous in the second half, when the Dragonkin Soldier starts to use ice attacks. Watch your Frostbite buildup whenever you take a hit and back off to avoid getting tipped over the edge. In particular you want to watch out for sparking patches of magic in the water, a sure sign that an eruption is about to take place. Get out of the way immediately.
- Help is always welcome, and summons work well against the Dragonkin Soldier. This is one fight where it's not a terrible idea to bring in a small crowd of lesser Spirit Ashes, as they can drag the Dragonkin Soldier's attention around and give you time to hack its legs to pieces. If you're having more trouble with the second half of the fight, however, stick to a single, stronger summon that is more likely to last through the first half.
You'll earn 12,000 Runes and the Frozen Lightning Spear for defeating the Dragonkin Soldier of Nokstella. You'll also open the path to the small room built into the massive humanoid figure's chair. Within you'll find a chest containing a Great Ghost Glovewort. This brings your time on the Ainsel River to a close.
(Before you leave, though, assuming you haven't been here before, have a look at the buildings above you, and down the waterfalls on either side of the giant chair. These are both places you can visit later in the game. Isn't interconnectedness cool?)