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Sunday, February 25, 2024

'Elden Ring' Isn’t Made for All Gamers. I Wish It Were

Elden Ring is the front-runner for 2022’s game of the year. Reviewers are fawning over it. It’s the title the entire gaming community is talking about and that everyone wants to play. The hype sounds like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild all over again, and that one ended up being so beloved it became one of the best-selling video games of all time. Elden Ring, however, will never achieve that status—the gameplay is just too grueling to appeal to every player.

FromSoftware, the developer behind Elden Ring, is responsible for notoriously difficult games, namely the Dark Souls franchise. They’re designed to challenge the player with constant death, something I—as a parent with limited gaming time—remain very uninterested in. But I wanted to try Elden Ring for a couple of reasons. First, FromSoftware previously addressed the difficulty concerns, noting that while there wouldn’t be difficulty levels (no easy mode!), the game’s open world wouldn’t be quite so challenging, because you could simply avoid a fight until you were ready. (Uh, OK.) Second, I was intrigued by the environment of Elden Ring, which creator Hidetaka Miyazaki built with George R. R. Martin.

Then I died five times in 30 minutes and gave up; the frustration completely negated any fun there was to be had. Elden Ring just isn't for me—but I wish it was.

I want to explore this open world that people are lauding, to experience its story. I also wouldn’t mind a challenge. (Just because I like easy mode doesn’t mean I crave zero adversity.) But FromSoftware’s insistence on keeping the game nearly impossible for non-elite players feels foolhardy. There’s a lot more to Elden Ring than dying all the time; why not allow a wider audience to experience it?

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In many ways, the discussion about Elden Ring isn’t actually about Elden Ring at all. It’s about who’s allowed to have a voice in gaming, and which segments of gamers are catered to. It’s about the very existence of difficulty modes being abhorrent to a small but vocal subset of gamers, and the toxic discourse over easy mode. If you can’t “git gud,” as they say, you shouldn’t be gaming at all.

Many people believe the difficulty in Elden Ring is crucial to the gameplay, and that it creates a community around these incredibly hard experiences. I respect that—especially anything that creates a nontoxic community, because that can be hard to find. But I also can’t help noticing that a large swath of gamers, the “filthy casuals” as we’re often called, are pleading just to be included at a basic level—and being ridiculed and attacked for it. (I haven’t even addressed the plight of disabled gamers, who often need accessibility settings to be able to play at all.)

This isn’t entirely Elden Ring’s problem, or fault. The issue lies with a certain coterie of “fans” who find exclusion and gatekeeping vital to their experience. Including an easy mode doesn’t take anything away from the people who find satisfaction in a very difficult game. It’s not as if that mode will disappear. Yet they argue continually that wide appeal and playability options will somehow diminish their experience. It won’t.

FromSoftware has made it clear that death is integral to its games, so maybe it’s a moot point. I might be writing all this for nothing. Perhaps I should just cut my losses and walk away, but maybe there’s a compromise to be made here. Remedy Entertainment did it with Control, introducing an assist mode about a year after the game’s launch. It allowed players to tweak difficulty settings, made it more accessible, and opened the game up to an entirely new population of gamers. It’s pretty safe to say that anyone who’s a huge fan of FromSoftware will play Elden Ring in its first year of release. Maybe a year-one patch can include more accessibility settings and difficulty modes, opening the game up to new hordes.

This will likely never happen. But I don’t want the people who are hostile to casual gamers, who use that as an insult to keep people out of the discussion, to control the narrative about gaming. Elden Ring isn’t for me, and that’s OK. But I’m still a gamer, and this hill is one on which I’m perfectly happy to meet a quick death.

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