Anyone who’s tried to critique Elden Ring in the past month has found themselves playing the most punishing game of all. The game launched on February 25 to nearly unanimous praise from critics and FromSoftware fans alike, but not everyone was won over. Some took to social media to voice their displeasure with certain parts of the game, like its lack of accessibility features or obtuse UI. Fans seemingly had an excuse for every quirk, insisting that everything was the product of intent and that addressing any quality of life complaints could ruin what makes the game special.
That argument has imploded with a simple game update. Elden Ring’s 1.03 patch brings several bug fixes and balance tweaks to the game, but one change in particular is catching players’ attention. NPCs will now be marked on the map after players meet them, allowing fans to better keep track of their previously obtuse quests. It was a quality of life update some players were begging for, but an opinion that was met with discourse and ridicule.
With stalwart supporters having no choice but to change their tune, the Elden Ring patch spotlights the most frustrating aspect of gaming right now: Everything is a culture war that leaves no room for nuance.
Arguments over Elden Ring were heated before the game ever came out. The Souls series has always been at the center of a debate that’s had some asking for basic improvements to make the experience accessible to more players. That ballooned into a nasty discourse, with fans arguing that people who don’t (or can’t) play FromSoftware’s games should just shut up and play something else.
That cruel streak has continued with Elden Ring but has gotten even broader. With the game scaling the basic philosophy of Dark Souls into a massive open-world experience, some players took issue with a lack of basic features. One of the biggest criticisms was that the game didn’t feature any sort of quest log, making it extremely difficult to track what was happening.
It sounds like an agreeable enough critique, but it was met with heavy backlash. Fans argued that a lack of quest markers was a fully intentional decision. Some recommended that players use a notebook to track things instead, while others argued that adding markers would have ruined the game. That led to a now-infamous meme where a player plastered Ubisoft-style UI all over Elden Ring’s minimalist screen. It became a weapon for the game’s community used to embarrass the “haters.”
What’s funny about the entire situation is that a lack of quest markers was never actually intentional design. After the update went live, some players reported that NPC markers were actually in the game’s 2021 network test. Those who felt like not including them was an oversight were right all along.
Elden Ring, like most modern video games, is a living product that will be patched over time. There’s a chance that FromSoftware has more changes like that in the works, either based on feedback or independent of it. Future updates could feasibly see basic additions like a toggleable mini-map, for instance. That would force the prickliest members of the game’s fanbase to do mental backflips to explain why that didn’t ruin their experience after all.
It’s as if the game’s most dedicated fans only have one consistent opinion: That they love the game and will say anything to defend its honor.
Video games — like politics, Marvel movies, and Star Wars — are stuck in a culture war. There’s no room for nuance or constructive criticism when we’re rooting for or against things like a football team.
One of my primary complaints with Elden Ring at launch was its shoddy camerawork, which still feels stuck in the PlayStation 3 era. When I voiced my critique about the camera and how it tends to get stuck in giant creatures, Twitter users were quick to defend it, arguing that if someone were fighting a real dragon, they wouldn’t be able to see it well up close.
It was a somewhat disheartening interaction. If Elden Ring’s camera were in any other less popular game, I’m confident it would be a point of ridicule among cynical gamers. But for some, admitting that Elden Ring has some areas that could stand to be improved would be “letting the haters win.” Instead, it feels like diehard fans are willing to defend every little detail to win a nonexistent argument, even if it means shooting themselves in the foot.
Whenever this line of discourse pops up, I can’t help but feel a little hopeless. How can anything improve when user feedback is so difficult to dissect? You see it in review bombs for video games, where players will deflate or inflate a game’s user score on Metacritic for a variety of reasons unrelated to the quality of the game. You see it in Pokémon, where fans will defend Game Freak’s corner-cutting visuals to stick it to crybabies on the other side of the spectrum. You see it in the modern console war, where Xbox diehards will blindly trash anything Sony does and vice versa for an imaginary win.
None of it is constructive. It’s just noise that prevents us from having real conversations about what would improve the medium we love.
I love Elden Ring. Like most people, I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment that could revolutionize a stagnant genre. But I still think there’s room for improvement, as some of FromSoftware’s design philosophies aren’t aging as well as others. I want to be able to discuss that with other fans in a way that doesn’t feel like a competition. I want us to have more nuanced conversations about accessibility and how we can make games better for more players. That’s seemingly impossible at the moment and I fear that it can only have a negative impact in the long run.
We could have it so much better. The only thing standing in our way is ourselves.
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