Littered throughout the many incredible titles that FromSoft is responsible for, one can find a myriad of issues. Even in what many call their best, Dark Souls 1, a newbie might find that the standard of boss difficulty employed is lacking. Or, in Dark Souls 2’s case, the game is strikingly flawed from the ground up. Dark Souls 3 might be a little too linear, while Serkiro might lack in the roleplaying department. All of this to say that, despite the quality these titles possess (yes, even Dark Souls 2’s quality), they also are riddles with flaws that might hinder the gaming experience in one way or another.
When it comes to Elden Ring, there’s a glaring flaw embedded deep within its design that is unseen to the naked eye, Youtube videos detailing various builds, and every other generic review to date: The game disrespects the player.
Even with Dark Souls 2, one could argue that the clunky controls and highly experimental gameplay mechanics were issues of poor craftsmanship and not a matter of laziness. Elden Ring has no such luxury when it comes to the excuses one can dull out: the game is well crafted on a technical level, plain and simple. Maybe it isn’t as well crafted as Dark Souls 3, but it’s fairly close, and one look at the consistency observed in its control scheme and mechanics will tell the player that, yes, the talent on deck for this game’s development is top tier.
So, then, it naturally follows that any criticisms made of the game cannot be tossed out as a “skill issue” on the part of the developers. Anything that is wrong with the game, is wrong because of a fundamental stylistic choice or, in much of Elden Ring’s case, laziness.
Let’s start with the most obvious glaring issue: the boss design. In many, many cases, the bosses in Elden Ring have HP bars the size of Europe and feature mechanics that are widely considered unfair if not outright impossible to outplay other than tanking and outhealing. The most famous of these examples can be seen with Waterfowl Dance, which is a move employed by Malenia. This move is not only next to impossible to dodge without extreme preparation (staying out of the fight altogether), but also asks the player to learn how to avoid it by either googling the correct moveset or by dying repeatedly to achieve a ungodly level of experimentation. For an experienced player, this moveset is unfair and annoying, but to a player who hasn’t even seen or beaten Malenia before, this move is downright insulting.
This problem was so bad with some bosses that FromSoft are still digging in deep trying to fix them with alterations to their numbers to help balance out the problem. All the same, at the core of Elden Ring’s difficulty is a design choice that opts for borderline impossible challenges for a blind runthrough matched with high HP bars to force the player into meta gaming and grinding out levels to achieve god-like status before undertaking the challenge.
This problem is bad enough on its own, but when the player eventually realizes that they will be fighting many of these bosses multiple times in a single playthrough, it multiplies over on top of itself. In what world is Elden Rings copy and paste template worthy of player respect? Make no mistake, copy and pasting enemies in FromSoft games is nothing new, but at least in previous titles, this design choice made sense. In Dark Souls 1, the demon bosses at the beginning of the game could be found again in literal hell. Perhaps it felt lazy seeing their assets sprawled out over this area over and over again, but at least it made sense for them to be there. In Elden Ring’s case, enemies will be found time and again in various areas regardless of lore. And this problem extends to enemies and bosses that aren’t just small fries. Godrick The Grafted, one of Elden Ring’s most iconic bosses AND a shardbearer can be found again at another instanced evergaol, albeit under a different name. The fact that Godrick himself isn’t immune to this type of asset sprawling shows just how deep into the barrel FromSoft was to meet what is dubbed the “boss quota” for the game. The boss quota simply being the number of bosses each area needs to have for advertising purposes and flesh out their empty world building.
Elden Ring sports a ton of bosses, yes, but it also repeats many of those bosses so many times that the game experience feels less like an adventure of magnitude and more like a chore of repetition. Combine that with the boss design of huge HP bars and ridiculous mechanics and what a player is left with is a ton of time wasting, which brings us to the ultimate point of this article.
Elden Ring wastes the player’s time. The game is designed around making the average player grind out levels to have reasonable access to victory. The game’s bosses are designed around the player having to sacrifice time in experimenting not with a huge number of possible solutions, but with a huge number of wrong answers and a minor number of correct ones. The game also needlessly wastes the players time with copy and pasted bosses to flesh out an otherwise empty and soulless world, excuse the pun. Again, these are aspects of the game that simply waste the player’s time, or, in other words, disrespect the player base as a whole.
In surprising fashion, the game has been well received. There’s no argument to be made on that front: Commercially, Elden Ring is a massive success. That said, there’s every reason to believe that the game simply won’t age well once people manage to get a good look at it and, subsequently, boil it down to its essence. Almost everything that can be said about the game that’s positive (and there are positives) are found on the surface level. Deeper digging into the game’s design leads a player to find that, ultimately, Elden Ring is not only problematically designed from a gameplay perspective, but also only feels as big as it does because it repeats itself so many times over.
Poor balancing, repeated content, unfair design, and a huge amount of time spent simply traversing an empty (and yet somehow bloated) world, Elden Ring only delivers on one thing consistently: wasting the player’s time. That cannot be said for any other FromSoftware title since the creation of Dark Souls 1 and, even when faced against the disaster that was Dark Souls 2, Elden Ring manages to arguably become the worst game FromSoftware has put out in their Souls-Like lineup.
Guest Author: Everett Zarnick