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Instead of getting lost in Elden Ring, I’m just plain lost

After spending a few hours with FromSoftware’s latest, I can say that Elden Ring is not for me. A combination of its intense difficulty, lack of direction, and clunky menus mean it has not immersed me in the same way as games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

“Immersion” is a buzzword often associated with open-world games, as developers try their hardest to enthrall players in the dense universes they create. FromSoftware’s Souls titles always try to engross players through macabre fantasy worlds and intense difficulty curves that demand players dedicate themselves to the game to get the most out of it.

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Mixing that formula with a Breath of the Wild-like world is working for many people, but for me, a few elements in my first hours of playing Elden Ring made it quite challenging to care about seeing this experience through. 

The messages

Elden Ring has a dark, dreary opening that’s not afraid to dump a bunch of lore and game-specific terms on the player before pitting them against an enemy they are destined to lose to. FromSoftware intricately crafted this opening, but playing it in the days after launch meant that these opening areas were graced with lots of bloodstains of people jumping off ledges and helpful messages like “try fingers, but hole.”

Any intrigue this opening had was immediately dispelled for me when I saw several messages saying some sort of variation of that same lewd comment with tons of positive appraisal. Yes, it’s pretty funny, but I had trouble taking George R.R. Martin’s world and dense lore seriously as I was bombarded with player-driven trolling right at the start of the game. 

Messages and bloodstains, admittedly, are optional features that players really concerned about worldbuilding can opt out of, even if it’s at the cost of other online features that are fun to use. It’s the non-optional quirks of the game that really created a problem for me.

A merchant screen selling Lost Ashes of War in Elden Ring.

The user experience

Elden Ring‘s menus aren’t great. The text is small, and their intricacies aren’t explained. It took hours of play and consulting friends to learn how to use summons or call Torrent without going through multiple menus during combat. That isn’t discovery; it’s frustration. Players also can’t pause, which is a series staple but still outright inconvenient. 

The developers could add features like quest tracking or a mini-map that would make Elden Ring more approachable for people like me who are quickly bouncing off. And adding them wouldn’t negatively impact the experience, especially if implemented in an optional way. 

The latest discourse surrounding Elden Ring has come from a doctored image showing what the game would look like had Ubisoft developed it, complete with overbearing UI. While the joke image definitely overdoes it with a flood of on-screen text, I certainly wouldn’t mind if players had the option to toggle at least some of these. They could even be off by default, but I’d at least like more approachability and accessibility options. 

"If Ubisoft developed Elden Ring" via

— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) March 6, 2022


The lack of direction outside of Sites of Grace is supposed to encourage players to take notes and explore the world at their own pace. Unfortunately, it ended up leaving me confused and directionless after early game bosses like Margit stonewalled me before Elden Ring could genuinely get rolling.

Though I respect those who enjoy the lack of direction in Elden Ring‘s menus and maps, for me, it can be demoralizing. Breath of the Wild was a bit easier and had a quest tracker that players could reference if they wanted a bit of guidance. I’d actually like Elden Ring more if it held my hand a little bit more. Yes, a guided path pointing me in the direction of an objective on a mini-map isn’t very immersive, but neither is stopping the game and looking up a cryptic sidequest on my phone so I can find out what the heck the game wants me to do. 

One day, I might get over the hump of these user experience frustrations and discover the captivating, immersive FromSoftware game that everyone on social media is obsessing over. But right now, I just don’t have the energy to invest myself in a game where the user experience for uninitiated players is so poor.

I’m happy for those who like it, but Elden Ring just simply isn’t immersing me, even after giving it ample time to do so. 

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General Radahn stands against a red background in Elden Ring.

Anyone who beat Radahn in Elden Ring over the last couple of weeks might have just gotten lucky. As it turns out, following a patch that made the Starscourge weaker, developer FromSoftware overlooked a bug that left some of his attacks dealing too little damage. Thanks to another small patch for the game that was released today though, Radahn is beefed up once again and ready to make players put their controllers down.

For those who don't know him, Radahn is one of Elden Ring's major bosses, and he's one of its most unique. A massive warrior wielding two enormous swords that rides around on a very tiny horse, Radahn is a force to be reckoned with regardless of how many times someone's faced him. The boss is so powerful, in fact, that the game lets players continuously summon NPCs to help them over the course of the fight. Those NPCs will likely be killed multiple times over the course of the fight against Radahn.

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A blue witch with a big hat.

While the rest of us are 60 or 70 hours into Elden Ring (I personally hate and can't get past the Godskin Duo), speedrunners have slowly whittled down the game's playtime. However, one runner has claimed the new world record for beating Elden Ring the fastest, completing FromSoftware's latest game in under 20 minutes.

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If you like Elden Ring, play 2021’s most underrated game
Sable watches the sunset from a perch.

Elden Ring was released to widespread critical acclaim and adoration over a month ago. It proved how open worlds that emphasize discovery and exploration engage and immerse players more than a world that just feels like a hub for a checklist of missions and collectibles. Unfortunately, Elden Ring isn't a game for everyone, myself included, due to its crushing difficulty and some other questionable design choices. 
Thankfully, Elden Ring isn't the only game to contain an open world that enables that much player freedom. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the easiest comparison to make, but an underrated indie game from 2021 also gives Elden Ring's open world a run for its money. The best part: It's more relaxing than Elden Ring because it doesn't contain an ounce of combat. 
That game in question is Sable from Shedworks and Raw Fury. Released for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S in September 2021, Sable uses an open world with immense freedom to tell a coming-of-age story that's as long or short as the player wants it to be. Whether you're a fan of Elden Ring looking for a similar game to sink your teeth into or someone who likes the freedom of Elden Ring's open world but can't get past its eccentricities, Sable should be the next game you play.
Sable - Launch Trailer - Available Now (4k)
Beneath the mask
In Sable, you play as the titular character, a young girl from the Ibex tribe on the giant desert planet of Midden who must go on a journey across the planet to collect masks. When Sable is ready, she can return to the village and choose a mask to determine what she'll do for the rest of her life. After a somewhat confined beginning where the player learns to float in the air and also creates a hoverbike called a Glider, they then set off into Midden's vast deserts, free to meet people, complete tasks for them, and solve puzzles while collecting masks and learning about the history of the world.
The moment when players are driving away from the Ibex tribe into the desert and Japanese Breakfast's original song Glider kicks in trumps the opening of both Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring in getting the players excited to explore a large world. Couple that with distinct visuals and excellent sound design, and you have a game that's a treat to look at and play. 
Although the player is directed toward a specific village after leaving Sable's tribe, they can choose to go anywhere from the start. The player's floating ability and stamina allow them to climb anything they come across. Players will slowly uncover the history of Sable's world while learning more about the cultures and kinds of people that populate it, which fans of Elden Ring's hands-off storytelling will appreciate. No matter where players go, they can meet another wandering traveler or complete a puzzle platforming challenge to get a mask. Sable is an experience that purely cares about that feeling of adventure, so there's no combat or overreliance on adjusting and leveling up Sable's stats. While this minimalist approach might seem too simple, it actually makes it a fantastic companion piece to Elden Ring. 
Relaxing, not taxing
Sable does many of the same things correctly as FromSoftware's latest, but without any of the overwhelming -- and sometimes poorly explained -- fluff. Players don't have to worry about difficult roadblocks that force them to explore and get good. Sable enables players to go anywhere they want and do anything they want until at least three masks are collected. Players can beat Sable in just a few hours, but the game has enough depth to support players for much longer than that with the number of quests to complete and masks to collect. The game features a quest log too, so even with its minimalist aesthetic and UI, you'll never feel truly lost.

Sable demonstrates that the difficulty isn't what makes Elden Ring so great; world design that encourages and rewards players for exploring does. Games like Breath of the Wild, Sable, and Elden Ring understand it and are three of the best open-world games in recent years for that reason. But out of this triple threat of standard-setting open-world games, Sable has garnered the least attention and acclaim for its efforts, making it a hidden gem. Now that Elden Ring has indoctrinated over 12 million players into this modern version of the open world, Sable is worth revisiting.
Sable is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. It's even on Xbox Game Pass. 

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