Hidetaka Miyazaki’s considerable catalog has garnered a pretty ruthless reputation for its extravagantly high difficulty. The gaming auteur, who has been responsible for directing most of the studio FromSoftware’s most recognizable games since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, is known for including unfair traps, massive difficulty spikes, and unrelenting boss fights in his games. All of that is present in his newest title, Elden Ring, but somehow it all feels very… nice.
Elden Ring is tough as nails. Every boss fight I’ve encountered so far has taken me at least five attempts to beat, and usually more. Often, when I stumble across a small group of enemies in the game’s open world and make the arrogant mistake of trying to fight them, I am quickly met with the iconic “You Died” screen and kicked back to the last checkpoint (called, in this game, “Sites of Grace”). Elden Ring wipes the floor with me constantly. Yet I never feel like it wants to beat me down.
Unlike some of Miyazaki’s previous titles, Elden Ring is generous with checkpoints. A long-standing mechanic in these games is that, when a player dies, they lose all of their currency, which they can regain only by returning to the place where they died. In previous games, due to the scarcity of checkpoints, this felt like a dare, as though the game was taunting you into retreading the same enormous length to get your resources back.
In Elden Ring, though, you rarely die more than a few seconds away from a Site of Grace, which considerably changes the tone. When I die in Elden Ring, it doesn’t feel like the game is forcing me to do the same grueling challenge as much as it feels like it’s inviting me to dust myself off and try again.
Elden Ring’s world also seems friendlier than those of previous Miyazaki games. NPCs, or non-player characters, are less threatening - some of them will still chuckle ominously, but most of them give helpful tips or even share resources with you. Some of these NPCs can be summoned to help out with fights, and nearly all of them eventually end up in a non-hostile meeting place called the Roundtable Hold.
Seeing these characters in an environment without combat gives the player the sense that they’re really forming bonds and relationships, and, as scary as the game can be, there are friends in its expansive and challenging world. There’s even an NPC in Roundtable Hold who will literally give the player a hug!
Speaking of friends, Elden Ring also has a rather robust online system that makes it more approachable. Players - either friends or strangers - can visit each other’s games for brief periods of time to help out with particularly challenging encounters. Players can also leave helpful messages around the world that anyone can read, and while these are usually used for crude sex jokes, they’re frequently genuinely useful, or at least funny (I admit to cracking a smile every time I come across a turtle next to a message that reads, simply, “dog!”).
Elden Ring is tough. There’s no getting around it. But it’s also surprisingly inviting and friendly, with a robust online community and a world that’s designed to encourage the player to never despair entirely. Most players will struggle– I certainly have– but if they can overcome that barrier, what’s on the other side is far from meanspirited. It’s actually quite nice.
Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a freshman studying games and animation at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @gendertoad.