Elden Ring is my least favourite Soulsborne game — here’s why.
Before I go any further, this is purely my opinion. ELDEN RING is fantastic but has some standout issues that limited my enjoyment of the game compared to the others. If you have any issues with this article, please send any and all death threats by carrier pigeon. Thank you…
The Okay Open World
To begin with, I found the open world to be a detrimental experience, at least in comparison with the previous Souls games. While I didn’t outright dislike the world itself — I found it quite charming and very fun to explore — the effect it had on the progression systems felt very negative to me. This was due to the game’s innate lack of direction, which was a bit of a double-edged sword. There were many times when I didn’t know where I was “expected” to go next, which led to a lot of aimless exploration. I often found myself over-levelled or under-levelled in so many different areas, which made the confusion so much greater. Much of my main story progression was hindered because I’d managed to accidentally overpower and over-level myself to such a degree that many of the interesting bosses fell with relative ease. Previous entries never really had this issue, as it was so much harder to accidentally over-level to a massive degree, thanks to its much more linear progression.
The open-world problems were most apparent on replays; a new save file often consists of anywhere from thirty minutes to even a couple of hours just running around the map preparing. This world is so intensely atmospheric, but I found so much of that immersion slipped away when I realised that I was twice as strong as the game intended for me to be at certain parts, turning the game into a mindless slaughter-fest.
Difficulty and Boss Fights
Souls games are intended to be difficult, oftentimes frustrating experiences, which feel rewarding to claim victory over, but I feel Elden Ring missed the mark on this one. By no means did I find it to be a painfully easy experience, but many of the biggest challenges I came across never quite matched the feeling I had with any of the previous games (except for Dark Souls II, which I think does this worse, but a lot else better). Melania is this game’s pinnacle of difficulty, and while the fight feels incredibly climactic and atmospheric, I was quite disappointed with the battle itself. It was, without a doubt, the hardest encounter within the entire game, taking me around two hours to clear, which in the grand scheme of the franchise isn’t that long, especially considering many consider Melania to be the hardest in the entire series.
I had a strong build going into this fight, but nothing particularly game-breaking; no usage of Moonveil or Rivers of Blood or any other of the insane weapons the game had at launch, just a mostly upgraded Uchigatana and reasonable stats. My main issue with this fight is the array of irritating mechanics it uses to increase the challenge: she regains health on each hit, which feels unnecessary, and her “special” attack — “Waterfowl Dance” — was an absolute misery to learn to dodge, and I still can’t do it consistently.
Waterfowl began to irritate me as it’s one of the few moves which aren’t intuitive to learn to avoid; it required an insane amount of trial and error to figure out a semi-consistent strategy, and one tiny mistake either led to my death or Melania recovering a substantial amount of health. And just to make things that little bit worse, her second phase introduced scarlet rot, essentially a poison mechanic activated by many of her attacks. While I think the second phase is genuinely incredibly fun, minus the Waterfowl Dance again, the scarlet rot feels like an addition which doesn’t add anything and feels like it’s only there for flavour. This, in turn, manages to increase the difficulty again and lead to many more infuriating deaths. Melania was a fun boss, held back by a multitude of irritating mechanics which felt like a gimmick more than an interesting set of systems. Sadly, outside of her, there were no other incredibly hard bosses in my experience. Some of them, such as Horah Loux, took me a little bit longer than others, but I never felt I had to play incredibly well to overcome anything, as I had in previous titles.
This is one of my biggest issues: the insane amounts of bloat within the open world itself. There is a lot of interesting and very high-quality side content, but an equal amount was mediocre. Many of the caves and tombs (mini-dungeons) were structured in the same way, occasionally changing things up or having interesting puzzles to solve, but somewhat rarely. These all ended with a boss, which was quite commonly one of the same bosses I’d fought many other times within other caves. The over-levelling problem starts to rear its head while exploring these, too, as far too often did I find myself breezing through a dungeon, killing the boss in mere seconds, and being rewarded with an utterly useless item. Exploration never felt rewarding enough outside of a few situations, and I found myself having very little motivation to continue exploring due to this.
Lastly, I have my issues with the story, which, while not awful, feels far less interesting than any of the other games. For the most part, I felt like my motivation, according to the story, was simply putting myself in incredibly dangerous situations because Melina told me to. Unlike in the DARK SOULS trilogy, where I felt a strong sense of personal motivation for the majority of my actions, here, I felt like I was just following the will of others, as I had few other options. This even extends outside of the game; I have a fondness for the lore of the Souls series and spend a decent portion of time watching videos and learning more, but this urge never really happened with Elden Ring. The game's core motivations felt too detached from my interest; becoming Elden Lord feels like a task I was given merely for the sake of having something to aim for. At no point did I feel the game portrayed the impact of “The Shattering” (the event which puts the world into the state it is in during Elden Ring) anywhere near as effectively as they did with the fading of the first flame throughout the first three titles. This disconnect between the world and my journey removed any sort of reason for me to look deeper into the lore as I did with previous games.
Despite my plethora of issues, even together, these don’t ruin the experience at all, but they create so many moments which conflicted with my reasoning to play this game in the first place. I found myself disappointed so much more when playing through this game than any other in the series. If this is the formula going forwards, I hope they manage to iron out some of these problems because I think there is a lot of potential in the future, but Elden Ring most definitely seemed to miss the mark.