Incredible work by Anato Finnstark
What it gets right: Elden Ring encourages cheese and experimentation; it rewards engaging with all mechanics!
Time for a hot take. Most ‘From Software’ games are not actually that hard. Beating a boss or an area can be a challenge for sure, but that is usually due to player-imposed limit (or lack of information) and is not really that hard by design. The game just wants you to use most of its mechanics – if you do that… you will find it a lot easier. Massively so.
Sneaking is viable at last!
Elden Ring gives you so many things to use. Awesome swords, daggers, axes, halberds, spears. It gives you armors, stealth, shields, talismans, and various types of magic different types, several whole schools of it. It has crossbows, bows, different arrow types with different effects, grenades… and a spirit horse for mounted combat! All of these were created by the game’s designers to be used and enjoyed. So much engineering time, so many hours of game design – these items are an integral part of the Elden Ring experience.
Knights can be engaged in multiple ways of course!
Many of the most powerful enemies in the game can be very difficult if you intend to fight them in just one specific manner, but that is the beauty of it – you have choice. If you have a giant sword or a try hard katana and want to fight that monster in a “fair” 1v1 – you can do that. Hell, some enemies really do succumb to the big bad bonk, it does have RPG elements after all. But with other enemy types you will be at a disadvantage, some are built to counter different playstyles. They can still be beaten by said playstyle, but it will be much harder. For example, the insanely annoying Royal Revenants – very tough foes for sure. You can shoot them, use spells against them, or fight them with your polearm and shield. It will take some effort but you can and will bring them down eventually. But did you know… that healing incantations destroy them? A simple press of a button turns these monsters into cannon fodder.
More tips! Some enemies can also be “short circuited”. Most enemies can also be bewitched. :)
Other monsters can be very tough for a mage to deal with, perhaps having solid magic resistance stats. The big bonk of a Warhammer can deal with many of those. Failing that, grenades or light crossbows with special bolts may deal extreme damage to these enemies. Experimentation is key. If something feels difficult – there is probably an easy way to destroy it.
And of course, sometimes you don’t even need to engage the monsters. Just stealth kill them, sneak around or run away. You have a horse, joust them!
Torrent, the spectral steed is there for a reason!
Skill and patience, getting to know the enemy will see you victorious eventually. If you remove all of your own limitations and exploit every single thing the game provides to you… it is a lot less daunting. Knowledge is power, adaptability is valuable. And this is not a bug. This is a feature and has been since Demons Souls. Consumables and crafting are in this game for a reason – use them freely and create or buy more if need be. They become cheap or easy to craft after a certain point in the game.
There is also the option to respec your character and change their stats. An extreme option mind you, but it is there. Though you almost certainly don’t actually need it to pass the game it is still a super fun thing to do – to experience more playstyles in the lands between!
And even if all of that is not enough – you have summons. Spirit ashes can help a lot with many fights and they are fun to use. As perhaps a last resort, … you can just call a friend to enter your game world and help you slap that boss! Some people look down on this but ‘From Software’ never thought of these tactics as something for “bad” players only. All of this is part of the game design. The game is hard enough to push you to use all of these items, these spells, these grenades and arrows. This is a war on the Gods after all – they are worthy of such firepower. Once you do use all of your human ingenuity on them, eventually they will fall.
With all of this said, I do believe that certain cheese exploits need to be removed since they are mostly AI bugs or glitches or obviously unintended behavior. It is not really fun if the giant boss you are facing was not defeated by player skill, nor by player ingenuity… but by just standing in a certain location and seeing the enemy do something buggy/stupid and then dying. The majority of these tactics are for sure things I would fix in the game. But the rest? The rest is glorious cheese and this is why I play these games. I am bad at third person games. I am an FPS/RTS/RTT type of guy. But Elden Ring and other ‘From Software’ games let me win by just reading notes and experimenting with my weapons and using my grenades and ten thousand different crossbow bolts. If I can do it without even being pushed – so can almost anyone!
What it gets wrong – Balancing, especially in the late-game!
One of the few major issues most players can agree on with the game is that its late game is… sloppier than the early or mid-game. Not in terms of beauty, nor in general design – there are snags there for sure but it keeps near parity with the initial locations. The real issue is balancing.
Remember how I said that the game encourages experimentation but still accepts almost all playstyles as valid? Well, this definitely takes a hit near the endgame. The enemy statistics jump way too hard and fast. It feels as if the character strength progression slows down while the enemy jumps in damage or durability actually increase.
Considering how well balanced the rest of the game is, this is extremely odd. No games are perfect and Elden Ring hitting balancing snags in its end-game is fine. But I do wish ‘From software’ did something to address this. I am a believer that post-game patches ought to be able to smooth out such issues and this is mostly a game of changing values here and there. Alas, this is yet to be truly ironed out.
This marks the end of part two of my analysis into this amazing game!
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