By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Hidetaka Miyazaki’s latest magnum opus, Elden Ring, was released on Feb. 25 to universal acclaim and I have to say – the father of games such as Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne has done it again. He wasn’t alone, however, partnering with George R.R. Martin himself to create the densest, most story-rich game I have ever played.
I can’t lie, I am an absolutely massive fan of those games and I attribute that largely due to their different approach to the player experience. Existing under the moniker of Soulsborne, Miyazaki’s games have always had a very ‘hands-off’ approach to how they treat their players. The games aren’t easy, and I’ll be the first to admit that. They’re hard, gruelling and can be all-around frustrating at times, however, the game isn’t difficult just for the sake of it.
“I feel like our approach to these games, not just Elden Ring, is to design them to encourage the player to overcome adversity. We don’t try to force difficulty or make things hard for the sake of it. We want players to use their cunning, study the game, memorize what’s happening, and learn from their mistakes,” said Miyazaki during an interview with Gamespot.
It’s that approach that keeps bringing me back, keeps me wanting more, and keeps me moving forward even when frustration threatens to cloud my judgement. I know everything is beatable, and every challenge I face is passable whether it be learning a moveset, finding a secret, or reading between the lines of a character’s dialogue.
Then there’s just the vastness, density, and beauty of the world you’ve been placed in. Over my time playing, I’ve stopped multiple times after entering a new area to just… to stare. There’s such a sense of beauty and wonder the designers have been able to pack into the game and I don’t think I’m too out of pocket to say it’s probably one of the most beautiful worlds I’ve stepped into. Alongside that, there’s just the sheer density of it.
Every nook and cranny could be hiding something, every wall could be false, and so far every place I can see I’ve been able to travel to. Currently, I’ve played around 80 hours and I don’t even think I’m halfway through beating the game. From reading items like a scholar to uncovering lore to combing through every inch of a castle I’m trying my best not to miss anything — yet I still feel like I’ve missed everything. Miyazaki and FromSoft have certainly set the bar high for their next release, and every game release after. It’s been a while since such a well thought out, completed, and polished game has been released and I think more companies in the industry need to take some notes from FromSoft’s commitment to making Elden Ring one of the best releases this decade may see.
They’ve also done very well regarding multiplayer function, and in how they treat players who may not have a good Internet connection, be very social, or just simply don’t want to rely on another player. Elden Ring has probably the most stable and easy to use multiplayer system of the Soulsborne games to date, making connecting with my friends extremely simple. They’ve also added a group functionality that works with the various other online aspects of the game. Within the world, you can leave messages on the ground for other players to read, and when you die (because let’s be real, it’s not a question of if) you will leave a bloodstain so players can see exactly how you died. There’s also a phantom system where periodically you’ll see white phantoms appear on your screen — which is just another player exploring their world.
In Elden Ring, they’ve added a group system that will prioritize showing you bloodstains, phantoms, and messages from the group that you decide to enter. This can be as simple as just a group you share with your friends, or, an entire community of people. When it comes to offline play, they’ve added items known as spirits and a spirit bell, which when used can allow you to summon the spirits you’ve chosen to fight alongside you. I think this is a rather welcome edition as it makes it so you aren’t forced to summon another player if you’re having trouble with a section — glory to player choice!
After some absolutely disastrous and reputation-shattering new releases these last couple of years, it’s been nice to load up a new game from a massive company and not be disappointed with what’s been shipped to consumers. Not to say that I don’t have gripes with Elden Ring, with the biggest being the imbalance evident in its player versus player combat. I’ve always been a huge fan of fighting other people in the Souls games.
It feels more like a dance rather than a slug-fest and I’ve always put a great amount of time into getting good at it — however, in Elden Ring, there are some things that I do believe are just too powerful. And, honestly, it’s to be expected in some kind of way. With so many weapons, builds, and magic to choose from — balancing is just one of those things that may never be perfect. Not to say that I don’t want them to try, because I do, I have certain ways I love playing and it would be wonderful to not lose my entire health bar to a single attack (Yes, I’m talking about you, Moonveil) but remaining true to its form — the player with the most skill will usually always come out on top regardless of equipment, and that’s just a fact that may keep bringing me back indefinitely.
Much like Demon’s Souls, I think Elden Ring will either be a genre-defining or industry-defining game that we’ll see the impact of for quite a while. With a peak player count sitting at 952,523 in the last 30 on Steam with many hundreds of thousands more across different platforms across the world, Elden Ring is one of the most accessible and largest releases of FromSoft to date. As I said before, I believe the success of Elden Ring comes largely down to the amount of polish and trust it had on release. FromSoft hasn’t led their players astray before, they knew they had a reputation to uphold, and they stuck to their guns over its delay. The game needed more time in the oven, and oh did they ever deliver.
I’m sure more games like this will be wanted after in the future, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when a new release may come along that scratches the same itch Elden Ring does — but I do know one thing for sure. Elden Ring will be going down as my Game of the Year, my potential Game of the Decade, and, I’ll be sinking my teeth into it for many, many hours to come.