Elden Ring is fun. Every time there is positive momentum the game creates an incredible feeling. When a boss is felled there’s an adrenaline rush that few games can achieve. Exploration is rewarding in a way that few open-world games are able to accomplish. Despite this world being so large, it is also so incredibly dense. The game expects the player to spend a lot of time in this world — which is made obvious by the fact that the first major boss kicks everyone’s face in since they’re under leveled. At a road block? Go explore more. There’s always something to do. There are generous respawn points that can be fast traveled to spread throughout the world. This is the most approachable game From Software has ever made and is likely going to bring many newcomers into their Souls line of games. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of us are bound to bounce off of it.
Elden Ring has quickly earned massive accreditation across the video game industry for being an immediate game of the year contender and is already being heralded as one of the best games ever made. To be clear, Elden Ring has earned every single bit of acclaim it has received. The developers at From Software have created the game they wanted to make and done so masterfully. Combat feels the way it should, bosses constantly create that “just one more” feeling, and the world is gorgeous to look at. Exploration is always rewarded with something whether it’s a new area to explore, treasure to find, or a new way to die.
Death is going to be common in Elden Ring. Get used to it, but grind it out long enough and most challenges can be overcome. For some players, this makes for a perfect video game, but for others this probably all sounds like a headache. A game that demands dozens of hours of your time so you can master a single boss, get past a challenging area, or simply move on to something new is not exactly the easiest thing to commit to for a casual player. The truth about Elden Ring is that it’s not approachable at all to anyone that dislikes the combat and style of previous From Software games like Dark Souls, Sekiro, or Bloodborne.
This isn’t to say that From Software should have made a completely different game to cater to more people. They came in with the goal of making this exact game and should be celebrated for it, but when a game gets as big as Elden Ring and draws the rave reviews it has, it’s going to bring in people out of curiosity. Plenty who haven’t played any games in the franchise before will want to see if this is the one for them, and a fair warning that you will need to be willing to invest a lot in it to get much of anything out of the experience.
Elden Ring is challenging, and not just with regular bosses but with normal enemies. Dying happens a lot and the best advice anyone can give is to never get attached to the runes used to level up. They’re dropped upon death and if you don’t make it to them before dying again then they’re gone forever. So be wary of that. It would be nice if there was a difficulty setting that allowed players the ability to keep their runes upon death, but that’s not an option as there are no difficult settings of any kind in Elden Ring.
From Software games have never been shy about how challenging they can be. The first Dark Souls became a bit of a meme with how often other challenging games were getting compared to it, but it’s a shame that with so many other approachability options added to the game that this one continues to be ignored. The game is what it is and the only way to make anything easier is to over level, but even that can be hard to do with how challenging the game feels at the start. People who do not like overly challenging games are going to find that Elden Ring is just as hard as previous From Software games and it is not shy about it.
Since Elden Ring is so difficult, that means it’s going to require the player to really invigorate themselves and learn the mechanics. This can feel rewarding because the player gets to watch themselves become better at it, seeing that sense of progression on the screen. The problem is that progression can take many hours, especially for people who have not played a Souls game before. The first major boss is one that most players will be able to reach, but everyone has been talking about how it immediately kicked their teeth in, mostly due to being under leveled.
What the developers were going for here is obvious; they want the player to go back into the world and explore it. Discover every nook and cranny, go explore a hidden dungeon, geat some field bosses, earn a few skills, and really dive into the world and see what it has to offer. The problem with all of this is that some folks just do not have the time to do that. Players sticking to the main path because they want to see what Elden Ring has to offer are going to be sorely disappointed because that option isn’t really there. Thankfully the exploration is fun, but forced exploration for the sake of it isn’t.
Adding to that frustration for new players is that, with all of the other quality of life choices, they chose to not have a quest log. Find an NPC that makes a request of you? Write it down somewhere, because Elden Ring is going to make no indication that a quest has been offered and that the player can complete it. For some this is going to be fun because there is a Dungeons & Dragons like aspect to writing down quests and keeping tabs on what you’re doing. It’s a minimalist game design choice that makes sense in a world like Elden Ring.
Of course, for anyone that isn’t into that kind of thing they’re just going to move on to the next interesting thing they see and forget about it after a few playthroughs. This is Elden Ring once again asking the player to devote a significant amount of their personal time to diving into its world. For the players that fall in love with it? That is going to be right up their alley. For those that don’t, they’re going to find it to be just another annoyance getting in the way of playing the video game.
Elden Ring is a great game. It’s going to deservedly win multiple Game of the Year awards and get talked about for the next decade if not longer. That is why it is so disappointing that a significant portion of people will likely never be able to experience the full game because of its design choices. This might be the most approachable game From Software has ever made, but that does not mean it’s for everyone. For a game that’s as big as this one that’s fairly disappointing to say.