I like many video games, usually those that tell a good story, have fun mechanics or are very easy to play when I need to unwind. Then the beast of the Soulsborne series rears its head, and I just can’t.
The name “Soulsborne” is a portmanteau of “Dark Souls” and “Bloodborne,” two franchises made by developer FromSoftware with similar mechanics and medieval settings. They’re known for their boss battles, deep lore and dark fantasy aesthetics – and more infamously, for being punishingly hard. The latest Soulsborne title, “Elden Ring,” became one of 2022’s most popular games by combining Soulsborne mechanics with a large open-world map.
Soulsborne games are pretty and have interesting bosses, but I cannot for the life of me get on that hype train because of their difficulty. Do I appreciate a good “Let me solo her” video? Yes, I do, because that takes skill. However, I really cannot fathom how someone could sink hours into a game where the screen turns black and the notorious red letters “YOU DIED” appear constantly.
These games are like the Greek myth Sisyphus. He was known for his trickery and deceit, and he had an eternal punishment of rolling a rock up a hill. Every time he pushed it too high, the rock would roll back down. I recognize that certain people enjoy the difficulty level of Soulsborne games, but seriously, where is the enjoyment in this? I honestly don’t see it.
Veteran players would be correct to state that I don’t know how to play the game, but I ask you: how long did it take you to get good? According to Steam,“Elden Ring” takes about 50 – 70 hours to complete. If you’re an achievement hunter, then it will take even longer.
One thing that sticks out to me about “Elden Ring” compared to other Soulsborne games is the huge open-world sandbox it introduced, which I found especially annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I like sandbox games, but I want to have a general idea of where to head without getting my teeth kicked in. You’ll be walking through an area, and suddenly you’ll get wrecked by a bear thing.
When you die in Soulsborne games, you lose your currency and have to go recollect it. If you die again, you permanently lose any uncollected cash on the ground, and you start the process again with however much money you collected on the way. That honestly does not sound like a good time to me, but hey, what do I know? It is a very vicious cycle.
Soulsborne games are an exercise in frustration, and I say that coming from playing games with steep learning curves like “Stellaris,” “Mechwarrior 5,” “Cyberpunk 2077,” “Borderlands 3” and “Warhammer: Vermintide 2.” Each of those titles has their own faults, but when I played “Elden Ring” and picked the Wretch class, it dropped off me naked as the day I was born and sent me into the big, scary world.
I understand why FromSoftware was trying this hands-off approach for “Elden Ring,” and the game is a smashing success for the Soulsborne series. However, there are many other Souls-like clones out there, and we really don’t need any more ways to die in a grimdark fantasy. Or I could just be an old boomer who hates change.
EDIT: Updated to clarify the following things.
-Currency is lost upon death instead of items
-“Elden Ring” is the first Soulsborne title with an open-world sandbox.
-“Elden Ring” does not start all players off naked, only the Wretch class.