I’ve been involved in video games for a long time. In a professional capacity, I have delivered in-depth reviews of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and all of it’s sequels. I dabbled with the PlayStation 5‘s Demon’s Souls remake at launch, and have played many of FromSoftware‘s lesser known titles throughout the decades. But something about Elden Ring just isn’t ringing my bell.
There’s an expression in the games industry that evolved in recent years: ‘souls’d out’. And this very much applies to me. After the runaway success of the Dark Souls series – the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls that saw the series go multiplatform – there was a rush of ‘me too’ titles. The likes of Lords of the Fallen, Remnant: From the Ashes, The Surge and more recently Mortal Shell have all tried to replicate the formula. Of course, to varying degrees of success. And while the Souls series remains the obvious pinnacle, Elden Ring worries me that it’ll simply be more of the same.
Elden Ring: The Same But Different
Now I’m not saying that it’s a simple palette swap. From the many videos and previews floating around it’s clear that Elden Ring is pushing the envelope somewhat. However, it’s hard to believe a lot of the hype. The game begins with a linear opening, eventually opening up its setting called Lands Between including six main areas. That’s not to mention the castles, fortresses and catacombs scattered throughout the open-world map.
These areas are interconnected through a central hub that players can access later in the game – similar to Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls. This seems to suggest that Elden Ring is essentially taking a well worn formula and adding an open world to it. I’m not going to say that’s a bad idea, but simply offering an open world map offers no guarantee it will add to the formula. All it does guarantee is more traversal time – an element which the Souls series was arguably better-off without.
Character Building, or Building Character?
The combat in Elden Ring relies heavily on the character-building elements found in the Souls series. FromSoftware has never shied away from this. However, it does mean that Elden Ring will be a very familiar experience, for better or worse. The addition of a new stealth system, which arguably is based on the success for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, could potentially mix things up more than I’m giving the game credit for. Plus there’s the all-new mounted combat. And yet, the stamina bar that was absent from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is present here. It’s difficult to see Elden Ring‘s proposed combat system as anything other than a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. That may be enough for some, but after a largely disappointing 2021 release slate I’m looking for something fresh.
I Got Soul, But I’m Not a Soldier
Throughout this article you may have been thinking, ‘if you don’t like Souls games, don’t play them’. But in truth I am very fond of the series. I simply feel that Elden Ring is avoiding innovation to play it safe. I wouldn’t call myself a FromSoftware fans per se, but for those who do this will surely please them. In fact, I’m almost certain it will lead to many ‘game of the year’ pronouncements. But for an audience less concerned with the studio’s output it could well lead to Elden Ring being deemed ‘yet another Souls game’. And that can only lead to more people becoming ‘souls’d out’.