Trust your players aren’t stupid

I keep making my way through Elden Ring much later than everyone else, and what I found is pretty much what everyone else found. I don’t have a massively upsetting take here that Elden Ring is actually bad, because I mean, it’s not. It’s amazing, and easily one of the best games of recent years, and a likely shoe for GOTY 2022 barring a jaw-dropping demonstration from Starfield.

One of the main things I experienced in Elden Ring is that its open world is in many ways the opposite of more or less every other game I’ve played in this genre, even the ones I liked like Skyrim way in the past or Genshin Impact more recently. It’s probably the closest thing to Breath of the Wild, yet ten times bigger, just as dense, and just as challenging.

The key lesson through all of this is that FromSoftware trusts its players. He hopes his players aren’t stupid, especially.

Elden Ring wants you to explore and discover its world on your own, and if not on your own, then through scraps of paper left by players around the world more or less written in code about what you should do or what you can expect.

Even in a game like Skyrim, you end up with a long, long list of quest markers and journal entries about Objectives X and Y to complete. In more modern Ubisoft-style games, your map is littered with countless icons and you have multiple objectives displayed on your screen at all times.

Elden Ring has none of that. It has a main questline that is vaguely “move to that giant glowing tree”, but it doesn’t require you to do it with any real urgency. It has side quests, and while some are fairly easy to understand (“go clear this castle for that lost lord”), others are much more cryptic and require you to solve your objectives on your own. The same goes for navigating through dungeons and finding the game’s hidden bosses, weapons, and gear.

If you really want to track everything, you probably won’t be able to do it yourself, and you can check out the online guide industry that was made for such a situation. But generally speaking, the experience of discovering things for yourself is what makes Elden Ring special, and the game allows for that without giant glowing arrows pointing at everything you should be seeing. If you miss stuff, you miss stuff, and that’s what repeat and NG+ are for.

Taking that open-world ethos and combining it with Soulsborne’s traditional combat and difficulty easily makes it one of the best open-world RPGs in history. It’s a genre that’s going to outlast us all, but if it does, I think it would be best if more companies followed From’s lead here. Clearly, in this case, it has also translated to mass sales, so this is going to get more ears than usual, although we know Darks Souls and Bloodborne games have been loved all this time.

I also believe in integrating this from the bottom up, to some degree. Increasing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla difficulty to maximum and disabling map indicators in your options will not have the same effect. It has to be mixed in from the very beginning, and you can’t make your way to that kind of wonderful world to explore.

I’ll have a lot more to say about Elden Ring as I continue my time with the game, but it’s easily the aspect that stood out to me the most in this first half. I really have never seen anything like it.

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Pick up my sci-fi novels Herokiller Series and The Earthborn Trilogy.

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