Elden Ring Gives Me the Jibbies
To be honest, I have been extremely on the fence when it comes to ELDEN RING. On the one hand, I am a big fan of Demon's Souls and DARK SOULS, but on the other, I don’t want to spend time on a game that might end up being just another soulslike. Dark Souls II, DARK SOULS III, and (to some extent) Bloodborne; even Dark Souls felt like conventional sequels spawned by the success of the first game and lacking their own identities. Now, that is not unusual in an industry with annual franchises that stick closely to tested formulas; even new IPs try to do what's worked before. Although Demon's Souls did fit well into the action RPG genre and had things in common with past FromSoftware, Inc. games, it was not exactly conventional. The developers were implementing wild ideas into it without concerning themselves about pleasing a mass audience and that is why it stood out in the first place. Those ideas did make it into the subsequent games but they were progressively swapped out for more conventional ones instead of being joined by more innovation. I mean, the reason why a new genre appeared is not because of innovation: It is because lots of people, including FromSoftware, started making the same thing over and over and over.
When ELDEN RING was said to be an evolution of Dark Souls I was optimistic, thinking they would finally do something to flip it on it’s side, going back to doing weird stuff while fleshing out what they already had. However, from what we were shown so far, it seems like exactly what you would expect. DARK SOULS spread over a big map, less focus and depth in favour of more content.
The main thing I hoped for with this game was other ways to tackle obstacles other than the simplistic combat. This was something that earlier games were good at, especially when it came to boss fights that most of the time had alternative solutions other than head-on combat. A more careful stealth-like approach was sometimes possible in the past games and sneaking is something we can do in ELDEN RING now, but the AI seems as bad as it was in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and even easier to abuse since, with an open map and a mount, it is much easier to run away. At the same time, using stealth doesn’t seem very rewarding and there is no indication that it is an option when fighting bosses. The closest the game seems to get to having new gameplay is the mount for exploration and combat. However, fast travel trivialises using it for travelling, and the mounted combat seems to boil down to jousting and kiting, which isn't that different from the usual poking and rolling.
Other than the gameplay, I am also bothered a bit by the narrative. It is VERY similar to DARK SOULS to the point where I want to ask “Why not just DARK SOULS IV?”. I mean, you have bonfires, hollows, slimes, catacombs, dragons, poison swamps, muted colours, when you backstab enemies you stab them in the butt, NPCs stand around doing nothing, enemies wander aimlessly, and so on. It is a bit early to judge accurately and it might just be surface stuff, but so far it doesn’t feel like someone other than the usuals helped to shape this world. I question if having George R. R. Martin involved made any noticeable difference or did they just want his name.
So here is my 50 pence on the topic: I may be wrong about all of this BUT I also may be right. I don’t care. You are not my dad.