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  • How Elden Ring Succeeds By Evolving Open-World Design

    [04.26.22]
    - Josh Bycer

  • Letting the Player Breathe

    From Software has become masters at getting out of the player's way and letting the player absorb what is happening around them. The adage "less is more" can be applied here and sits in stark contrast to other open-world games.

    It is common to be bombarded with things to do, UI tooltips to read, and constantly going to the various submenus to see what to do next. This is by far the largest game space that From Software has done to date, while still providing their trademark level design.

    Unlike other open-world games, there are far fewer diversions to do, but the quality of each point of interest is far higher. The game splits its content between small areas with a single reward like the ruins, larger areas to gather resources like the mines and tombs, and the larger set pieces that feel like a traditional level in a previous soulsborne. Instead of just a constant drip-feed of content, the game makes the player want to go out and explore. If there's something unusual in the distance, chances are there is going to be a unique situation waiting for you.

    There are people who say that Elden Ring is proof that people don't want good UI/UX (user interface, user experience), but they're not understanding how much good pacing can be a teacher unto itself.

    Organic Learning

    For the clearest distinction between Elden Ring and other open-world games, you can look at the differences between their openings. In other open-world games, the player is treated to a required and scripted tutorial sequence, constant popups as to what everything does, and all this with high octane excitement. In Elden Ring, you can literally skip the entire tutorial, sometimes by accident if you want. The game purposely features a very simplified opening that passively introduces the open world, the grace points, and like other soulsborne games, doesn't immediately unlock leveling up.

    there is very little that is actually locked to an Elden Ring player at the start

    The player is given time to focus on the immediate play without the game trying to stop them from doing so. If we're being generous, the only real forced interaction you need at the start is getting Torrent, and that can take about 10 minutes if you rush.

    Out of all the previous soulslikes, Elden Ring is the fairest in terms of providing options and routes. If you want to rush through the castle and beat Godrick right at the start, you can do that. If you want to spend 6 or more hours exploring the world around the castle, that's fair as well. A subtle aspect of Elden Ring's progression is that outside of getting new spells, you're not really spiking in terms of power. Upgrading your weapons will provide you with more damage, but if you can't easily fight a boss with a +3 weapon, then a +7 is not going to help you that much. Gear, like Bloodborne is nice, but at the end of the day, it's more about your stats and skill vs. whatever armor you're wearing outside of the heaviest or lightest.

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