This is my third straight column so we might end up entering the land of the nonsensical. Also, it is worth noting that I have not played Elden Ring at all. Nor am I a fan of the Dark Souls’ games as a whole. Before anyone asks, it is not about the difficulty, I just don’t get fun or enjoyment playing them. But, seeing Elden Ring take the world by storm got me thinking, could there be a negative side effect of this popularity.
It is well known that the AAA industry has a lot of parity and any good idea gets used until they are old, tired, and retain none of the novelty of when they were first used. Some examples are climbing to a high point to clear out part of the map (The Ubisoft Sandbox), Bullet Time (Max Payne), chest high wall combat (Gears of War), and Counter Combat (Assassin’s Creed). While these techniques were game changing and offered a new experience to enjoy, now AAA feels like all of them have to be box standard.
This feeling started when I was playing Horizon: Zero Dawn and it felt like a mashup of Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. It is worth reminding everyone that Horizon was not made by Ubisoft. Before I go too far down the “why does everything feel generic” rabbit hole, let’s refocus on Elden Ring. Elden Ring has the same trademark as every other From Software game. That trademark? Spine crushing difficulty and being unforgiving in boss battles and even their random encounters.
My concern is that every other AAA game will see the popularity of Elden Ring and think “Ok, now we need to make our games ungodly hard because that is what players want”. I’m not saying they will, but AAA has a bad case of the “me-toos” and I can see some companies cranking out Elden Ringish open world games. I would argue there is a precedence as after Demon’s Souls came out an entire genre was created called “Soulslike”.
Now I am not saying that there is no market for another Elden Ring like game, but these games succeed because of their novelty. If Far Cry, Assassins Creed, Horizon, Legend of Zelda, Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Spider man all became like Elden Ring it would likely make the genre less endearing. Additionally, high difficulty is not for everyone. There are people with anxiety, people who don’t have a lot of time to play because of work, and those who really want a great story and easy to understand gameplay.
Overall, AAA just needs to leave novel ideas alone and not try to shove every mechanic into every single game. That is why all of the Ubisoft games feel identical and why every big name release just instills the feeling of deja vu. Let Elden Ring be Elden Ring, let From Software be From Software. So help me, if I pick up the next FarCry and it is Soulslike, I will drive to Ubisoft and break into their boardroom. This has been my weekly discussion on how I want games to make me happy, but they just keep disappointing me.