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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.

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 https://t.co/ZhRK3Oz2zY pic.twitter.com/N0np0yyFlh

— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) March 6, 2022

Directionless

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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