Elden Ring earned a massive fan base within months of its release. One can simply look at the Steam charts to see the overwhelming number of individuals playing the game since launch. The FromSoftware sensation also has a large player count on other platforms.
These metrics don't surpass those of titles like Call of Duty, FIFA, Apex Legends, or Fortnite. However, it's quite interesting to see such numbers for a game that falls under the niche Souls-like genre.
Souls-like is a genre popularized by FromSoftware titles like Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. These games are categorized by their unforgiving nature of combat and exploration. They feature cryptic storytelling and lack the usual hand-holding seen in most modern video games.
Souls-like titles provide entertaining challenges to those who are dedicated enough to learn and master their intricacies. However, failing and repeating the same obstacle can get frustrating for some players.
This is why the Souls-like genre is considered a niche. It is only meant for players who seek a challenging albeit rewarding gameplay experience.
Many people all over the world picked up Elden Ring because of the hype surrounding the game. They were pleasantly surprised at how soon they became hooked to it, logging hundreds of hours without even realizing it.
Elden Ring feels like the natural evolution of the Souls-like genre as a whole. The fact that a game that is so rooted in a niche genre became popular so quickly is exactly what fascinates me.
Disclaimer: This article is purely subjective and reflects the opinions of the writer
Elden Ring's popularity can be attributed to the game's accessibility features
Elden Ring’s only distinguishing feature from developer FromSoftware’s previous works, such as Dark Souls, is its open world. However, its fundamental gameplay systems as well as exploration and level design are not so different from the developer's previous projects.
Having said that, I do think FromSoftware’s commitment to making an accessible game without compromising the Souls experience has a lot to do with it.
I spent around 200 hours in Elden Ring, with two separate character saves. I wanted to see how the little changes facilitating accessibility affect the game and why it appeals to a new generation of Souls-like players.
I found three key elements that make Elden Ring the most approachable and accessible Souls-like game for new players. These elements are its presentation, accessibility, and new NPC summon system.
The game's stellar presentation
Compared to previous Souls games, Elden Ring has a very different presentation and art style.
Since the release of Demon's Souls Remake for PlayStation 5, many fans have been asking FromSoftware to revamp Elden Ring with a similar or even better visual overhaul.
While FromSoftware’s games were top-notch in terms of gameplay and lore, their graphical fidelity was never truly exceptional. Even the company's latest offering, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, is not a graphical splendor despite having a visually distinct art style.
While not leaps and bounds ahead of the competition when it comes to graphics and visual fidelity, Elden Ring is a major step-up from the developer’s previous works. The lighting engine is massively overhauled, which is evident upon booting the game for the first time.
The character creation is the best that players have ever seen in a FromSoftware game. It features increased texture resolution, enhanced global illumination and tessellation techniques, and improvements to the lighting engine.
The option for HDR in compatible displays adds to the visual facets of the game. This also applies to the open world and dungeons of the game, which look substantially better than the previous Souls titles.
This increased level of visual fidelity plays a huge role in letting new players adjust to the game’s initial harshness. The Dark Souls Trilogy, despite having a very distinct art style, was often criticized for being too gloomy and gray to look at.
I personally never had any issues with the games or their visual styles as I found them complementary to the overarching narrative and theme of despair and death.
However, I understand that some players, especially newcomers to the genre, may not have found the games to be appealing. This was largely due to the washed-out visuals and the lack of color in the worlds of Lordran and Lothric, where Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3 were set.
FromSoftware did improve on this criticism in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and made even more developments in Elden Ring.
Accessibility without compromising the challenging aspect of a souls-like
Elden Ring offers a suite of accessibility options for players to tweak based on their preference. Some are within the game’s settings menu, such as options for input type (for PC), rebinding controls, brightness toggle, and HDR toggle. Others are woven within the gameplay and the game's world itself.
There is a long-standing debate among players about whether there should be an easy mode for the Souls games. I believe it is a valid request as not everyone will have the patience or the time to learn and master all of a game's challenges.
However, the lack of difficulty sliders in Souls games is not something that can be remedied by adding one. The difficulty in these games is an essential part of both the gameplay and the narrative that they are trying to convey.
In these games, you are an unnamed nobody who must stand against the very gods of these worlds. Even as a named warrior in Sekiro, you’re basically nothing compared to the characters you clash swords with.
The difficulty in these games is what conveys these differences in power levels. Take away the difficulty, and you’re left with a fairly boring and monotonous action game.
Dark Souls and Elden Ring might not have a traditional difficulty slider, but it always gives players who are struggling in the game the option to get help. This can be done either by looking up guides and strategies to defeat certain bosses or getting help from players who can be summoned for certain scenarios. This is the ever-requested easy mode in Souls games.
However, there is a catch. In previous Souls games, accessing the cooperative help feature was fairly convoluted, especially for new players.
As someone who has played all the Souls games (including Bloodborne and Sekiro), I was confused about how to summon other players for help in both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3. Given that I used to play these games exclusively offline, the online multiplayer aspect was something totally alien to me.
Elden Ring has made massive improvements in this regard, making it incredibly easy to connect with other players for help or duels. This is unlike previous Souls games, where there are multiple hoops to jump through while summoning someone to help you with a boss. These include joining a covenant, using a very rare item (Humanity in DS1 and Ember in DS3) and praying for an invader to not show up.
Elden Ring only requires players to have an item that is craftable using easy-to-find resources and obtainable by just exploring the Lands Between. The best part is that all the multiplayer tools are given to players as soon as they step foot in Limgrave, the opening area of the game.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that, just like in the Dark Souls Trilogy, summoning help from other players adds to the total health pool of the boss. The more people you summon against a boss, the more health is added to its total HP.
That may sound like trouble, but it's a very efficient way to balance a boss encounter in my opinion. With more players involved in an encounter, the boss will have a harder time keeping up with one target. This provides ample time for everyone to heal.
The added HP also means the encounter won’t end prematurely without letting the players experience the spectacular boss fights as well as the outstanding OST.
Multiplayer summons are fine and dandy, but what about players who don’t want to play online? Well, FromSoftware's solution to this problem is NPC Summons.
Despite having a robust multiplayer suite, Souls games are often played entirely offline since most players don’t want to subject themselves to the added difficulty of invasions.
NPC Summons or offline summons, as some call them, have been a part of the Souls titles since the original Dark Souls. However, these summons are rare and exclusively for bosses. Most of them aren’t readily available as they require players to complete a dedicated questline for the NPC to be summoned.
Take for instance, in Dark Souls 3, you can summon an NPC named Shira, Knight of Filianore, to aid you against Darkeater Midir. However, you can only do it if you start her questline but don't finish it.
Most first-time players won’t even know about her summons unless they either look up a guide or accidentally stumble upon her quest and somehow don't finish it before engaging Midir.
These summons act just like online summons but are less powerful. They usually have less healing flasks allocated to them while also adding to the boss HP.
Elden Ring has similar offline NPC Summons that are dependent on their respective quests. They are few and far between, exclusive to boss encounters, and add to the boss HP if summoned. Take, for instance, Nepheli Loux, who can be summoned against Godrick the Grafted once the players talk to her in Stormveil castle (initiating her questline).
However, apart from these quest-bound characters, players are also given the ability to summon other NPCs that do not require any questline. They can be summoned almost anywhere without the fear of inflating the boss HP.
These summons can be upgraded using certain items found throughout the game, increasing their attack and defensive attributes.
Most of these summons are mostly composed of enemy NPCs that players encounter throughout the world of the Lands Between. The exception is legendary summons, which often feel overpowered, given the amount of damage they deal.
This is not a fun way to experience Elden Ring in my opinion, as having such an unfair advantage somewhat ruins the experience. However, it’s always an option for players that need it.
I think this is intended for new players to help them ease into the game and not get overwhelmed by mid-game. The difficulty really curves north by then and doesn’t let up until the final boss.
On my first playthrough, I did not use the summons as summoning for help kind of defeats the purpose of overcoming the odds by myself. On my second playthrough, however, which was on a different character that was focused purely on strength, I used Mimic Tear. I was really surprised at how effective the summon was at engaging the bosses in Elden Ring.
The mimic has a much larger health pool than the player to compensate for having just one or two heals. It’s also a fairly smart AI with the ability to know healing windows and anticipate attacks or time dodge rolls of shield blocks. Moreover, unlike the player character, it has an infinite amount of FP, which is needed for incantations, sorceries, and weapon arts.
It basically costs nothing to summon the Mimic Tear (it only reduces player’s HP by 660 points, which can be easily replenished by a single heal). This makes it the ultimate weapon and, in a non-traditional sense, the easy mode for Elden Ring.
That’s not to say the game suddenly becomes easy for anyone as soon as they start using the Mimic Tear. The clone (or mimic) is as effective as the player themselves, i.e., their builds and weapons of choice.
My pure strength build, paired with the Mimic Tear Ashes, easily steamrolled through most of the bosses in a playthrough. However, the same cannot be said for pure faith and intelligence builds. They are mostly of low vigor and defense as they usually avoid direct contact with enemies and prefer ranged combat.
In such cases, the Mimic Tear would not survive long enough to make it an effective summon for such builds.
That’s not to say there aren’t any summons to help players who choose to play such low-vigor builds. The Black Knife Tiche Ashes are the perfect summons for such players. It is essentially a Black Knife Assassin enemy NPC that has the Destined Death ability on its weapon. The ability drains the enemy’s health overtime upon contact.
Tiche also has a respectable amount of HP and will not die easily. It also doesn’t cost much for players who go for the mage or prophet (intelligence or faith) builds as it costs FP to summon (132 FP to be precise) instead of HP.
Elden Ring throws unfathomable obstacles in the player’s way, but it also provides them with ample tools to overcome them.
As I see it, the summons are the ultimate form of accessibility that I’ve ever seen in a video game. It provides players who are hesitant to step into the fascinating world of Souls games with the perfect amount of assistance. This is done without breaking the game or straying too far from the intended experience.
Elden Ring is one of those games that are a relic of the past. It is a pure and complete single-player experience that can optionally be played online and cooperatively, devoid of any post-launch shenanigans.
It is a complete game right from the get-go, with enough content to last hundreds of hours, none of which ever feels like a grind.
I finished Elden Ring more than three times at the time of writing this article. Yet, I regularly go back to it to play a bit more, exploring the open world, finding new weapons and armor, and helping people with bosses via co-op.
It's a game that, in my opinion, has defined a genre and subsequently evolved it. It did the unthinkable task of opening the gates of a very niche genre to a wider audience of players without compromising its core principles.
Elden Ring is a truly remarkable video game and an evolution of FromSoftware's Souls games.