A couple months after its release and Elden Ring appears to be one of the highest rated games of all time, dubbed as a “masterpiece” and “generation defining” by critics. Why then are a dedicated group of players resolute in their opinion that the game has been massively overhyped?
The journey of Elden Ring portrays a fascinating case study in todays online world of fanatical opinions. Where so many games become bogged down in the mire of conflicting and sometimes aggressively delivered views, Elden Ring was seemingly held high by critics, basking in a chorus of glowing praise.
Hoorah then! Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, a good game is a win for myself as a consumer, not least the video game industry. After what felt like years of Assassins Creed, Call of Duty and FIFA iterations, the last five or so years have refreshed IPs in a positive light, and created a few new ones. Genuinely good games like God of War, the Horizon series and of course Breath of the Wild have rejuvenated an industry desperately in need of a fresh twist, and another IP to take a step in this new direction could only be welcome.
Only, after the official launch of the game and once a few users got a chance to play FromSoftware’s latest title, the praise was not so unanimous. Many players indeed did back the critics stellar reviews, but with Meteoritic scores sitting at 7.9 on PS5 and 6.8 on PC (at the time of writing) there is evidence to suggest its not all rosey in the Elden Ring garden. There have been more than a few on social media claiming the game was overrated, with people citing difficulty, game design, graphics and bugs as reasons it can’t possible deserve the 90%+ ratings offered by so many outlets.
So is Elden Ring overrated? Or is the answer just a little more complicated.
Incase you just have morbid curiosity and clicked this blog without knowing – what is Elden Ring?
Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s latest “Soulslike” game. A Soulslike game is not set in the Dark Souls continuity necessarily but describes FromSoftware’s classic style of difficult gameplay, hard bosses and unforgiving resource management and save points. You also generally collect souls, or something awfully similar to strengthen your character.
Historically Soulslike games are linear and tightly crafted, giving players a measurable sense of progress in a challenging environment. It may take 20 attempts to beat the boss, but beating it and finally being able to save that progress creates a real sense of achievement.
Elden Ring however is an open world RPG, adding exploration and variation to what is already a successful formula. Its a change that many Souls fans have been crying out for, and the manner in which FromSoftware have developed the true open world formula has been a revelation from the Soulslike cult following.
Fans and Flames
The cult following that Soulslike games maintain is important here. Make no mistake; people who like Souls games, REALLY like souls games.
It makes sense really. To spend hours and hours punishing yourself by rolling and hacking at a giant’s bum you must have a level of dedication above and beyond the casual. You know within half an hour of picking up your first Souls game whether it’s for you or not. If it is, you may never put it down.
Yes, it’s about challenge, difficulty and reward. Though there is a little more to it than that. At a fundamental level, everybody plays video games for different reasons. You might play an online shooter to get a bit of online time with friends, or a racing game to pretend you’re Lewis Hamilton and everything in between. Perhaps you like RPGs, but more interested in crafting, beautiful worlds and intriguing stories than hitting things with varying degrees of stick.
Souls games are in essence however, one of the purest forms of video games. It’s all getting a bit philosophical isn’t it?
What makes a Game, a Game?
Last year I published a blog; WoW Shadowlands: The Game that Isn’t a Game anymore. Feel free to check it out, but the TL;DR is that World of Warcraft hasn’t built upon a fairly flat and boring gameplay loop in nearly 20 years. Instead it has sought to make a low entry level, community driven game that as much focuses on story, collecting and mini-games than one all mighty progress bar. How well it’s done that… I leave that for you to decide.
Soulslikes are, the complete opposite of this. There is little meaningless fluff, these are games built on tight, linear, learnable mechanics. That big dude over there will slash, then stomp, then slash again. Therefore you have to roll, then run, then roll, precisely, in that order, hit him in between. Do it 8 times and he dies. There is a beautiful simplicity in it, and developer focus on the tightness of the encounters give a security that when you master the fight, you will progress.
As an interesting comparison, If I was to describe Elden Ring, and say, Skyrim to somebody who had never played a video game, they may assume it is effectively the same type of game. A souls fan may cringe at the idea, but on paper we are talking about swords and monsters and fantasy in an open world.
For all the similarities, the combat of these two games make them the antithesis of each other. Whereas Elden Ring is focused, Skyrim is a lottery of swinging swords and magic effects. You can turn the difficulty up on Skyrim for a fight to be entirely impossible, only to turn it down and it be a cakewalk.
Both are fun, interesting games in their own right, but where Skyrim adds value in the rich story, characters and tools available to the player, Elden Ring focuses on the gameplay element. See challenge, master skills, overcome, reward. It’s the same principles as Space Invaders 40 years ago, at the core of what a video game really is.
So how Good is it?
The simple answer is; Elden Ring is a very good game. Ironically though, its high difficulty level and cult following has probably led to it attaining higher critical ratings than it deserves on its own merits.
When a gaming website receives a review copy of a game, as you may expect there can be a bit of a scramble as to who reviews it. There is no value in Sarah the expert in Ubisoft open world RPG’s reviewing the latest Madden game when she has no idea what NFL is, and she probably won’t want to anyway. Alternatively, when a highly anticipated game that a few people in the office want to review, a few hands are likely going to shoot up in the air.
As above, Soulslikes have a cult like following. You can guarantee that any game review company with a fan in the office had ensured they were getting their hands on it the moment they knew it was available. Most offices will likely have one of these fans; who tend to be 25+, male and people who play a lot of video games, and are good at them. Describes most video game reviewers I know.
Much like tech reviewers – if you spend all your time reviewing similar stuff, the real hardcore purest tech is going to cause a nerdgasm, and its no difference with gaming. What will help the Soulsfan is Sarah might not fancy playing Elden Ring if the level of difficulty she is used to is Assassins Creed, and so they are going to get a clear run.
Once the biggest fan in the office plays Elden Ring, well there is no doubt they are going to like it. It is consistent with the Soulslike formula, whilst adding elements which only add to the experience rather than take away. Bugs and such a plenty, but it is not unheard of for a reviewer to cut some slack for review samples, particularly where they have a soft spot to begin with. Game design and graphical issues matter less when you are primarily interested in the gameplay loop.
A Perfect Storm
The review phenomenon of Elden Ring is a perfect storm of likelihoods that resulted in perhaps a little more excitement than warranted for what is still a very good game. Ultimately it’s more or less the ideal game for a reviewer that is a real game aficionado, and will forgive its more mainstream failings for that pure experience. When it’s given exclusively to these reviewers, you get an almost exclusively high praise.
The dissenting crowd don’t necessarily disagree in the quality, only the level of said quality. Very few people are calling this a bad game, but in a world of averages and “review bombing,” 1/10 scores are leveraged to balance out the 10/10 of which the dissenter deems the game unworthy.
Whilst Elden Ring is on paper an open world fantasy RPG, it may be sensible to categorise it neatly as a Soulslike and gauge your interest accordingly. In the same way that you may have no interest in playing FIFA because you don’t like football, Elden Ring’s genre is as much difficulty as it is RPG, and if that’s not for you then there are plenty other great titles out there for you.
Do you agree? Is Elden Ring the best thing since sliced bosses or a TryHard’s newest plaything? Let us know below!