FromSoftware games can be stressful. Open world games can be stressful. The combination of the two filled me with a modicum of dread in the build-up to the release of Elden Ring.
Typically, I’m a completionist. I’ve earned the platinum trophy on multiple games, completed many a Pokedex and traditionally when I get into something, I try to see it all the way through. However, this can be a burden.
In the games that I don’t have the time to do this on, I feel guilty. I want to explore every waypoint, tick off every mission and speak to every NPC but realistically I can’t and it makes me feel a bit rubbish. It’s not that my feeling of guilt is even for anything important but my own personal FOMO.
What if I miss an amazing cutscene or a pivotal mission that uncovers a deep piece of lore? What if there’s an item at the place the game is trying to steer me towards that I could really use and I miss out on it? It stresses me out.
Then there are the games that I can’t even get into. The games that have maps that are so densely populated with checkpoints and markers that I’m so immediately overwhelmed I get a few hours in and stop playing. Elden Ring doesn’t do this and it’s a blessing.
I wasn’t guided to a fetch quest the developers wanted me to beat or an NPC they felt important, instead, I was at the mercy of my own choices and it was beautiful.
Now, I’m only about 10-12 hours into FromSoftware’s new, critically acclaimed epic but I’m already loving it. And I feel free.
As soon as I stepped out into The Lands Between, I could tell it was going to be special. I scanned the landscape with my eyes and saw points of interest in every direction. I then checked my map and it was blank. I wasn’t guided to a fetch quest the developers wanted me to beat or an NPC they felt important, instead, I was at the mercy of my own choices and it was beautiful.
From there, I charted a path to the west and never looked back. I explored high and low, met some interesting characters and some difficult enemies, found caves, tunnels and monuments but it was different. I never felt pressured. The lack of map markers and quest logs felt like the perfect catalyst for player freedom within Elden Ring.
I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve missed, in fact, I know there is after conversations with friends and colleagues, however, I don’t feel guilty for it as this is clearly how Elden Ring is designed. It’s been created in such a way that players can forge their own stories and journies, making for exciting discussions with others.
Reflecting on it, this makes me realise just why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is probably my favourite game I’ve ever played. Too many games have an overreliance on bloating the map with unnecessary chores (I’m looking at you Ubisoft) and less of an emphasis on exploration, despite framing it this way.
The lack of map markers and quest logs felt like the perfect catalyst for player freedom within Elden Ring.
It’s easy to spot Breath of the Wild’s influence in a multitude of other games, but it’s this openness, the player freedom that’s what made it near-perfect and something that Elden Ring also does very, very well.
It must also be noted that while we’re here, I appreciate this choice doesn’t work for everybody and there’s a much wider, much more important accessibility discussion to be had. One that far outweighs my “freeing” experience.
Some excellent counterarguments were expressed in response to a tweet put out by Jason Schreier and it definitely raises the point that this stuff should be optional for those who need it but purely from my own personal point of view, it was a blessing.
While my time with Elden Ring has a long way to go, I’m excited to jump back in and see what The Lands Between still have to offer up.