I can’t enjoy ‘Elden Ring’ and the Soulsborne series

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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.

Contributed Photo by FromSoftware. A player travels through the open-world sandbox in “Elden Ring.”

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.

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Craig Reynolds
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24 COMMENTS

  1. Significant inaccuracies.

    – You don’t lose items when you die – just currency. About 1 hr of play in any of the games would make that clear, which leads me to question how much you engaged if at all before writing.

    – Elden Ring has a lot of explicit, readable and re-eadable tutorial content that triggers automatically, as well as NPCs that tell you where you should go and/or what you should do. This is a retreat from the degree of hands-off several of the other Soulsbornes had.

    – No prior Soulsborne was an open world sandbox. They were varying shades of 3D metroidvania. This is a distinct style of design that has been core to their identity and success

    – These games allow you to summon cooperators to drastically decrease and nullify the difficulty, and that’s how a chunk of the playerbase enjoys them.

    – Myth of Sisyphus bad example sense the boulder scenario was famously argued by Camus to be a heaven of perpetual meaning-making fulfillment

    • Matter of fact, this is the exact reason people enjoy Soulsborne games. That feeling of fulfillment, of seeing where you died last, overcoming it and getting better at the game.

    • For me it took 1 playthrough to get good and even now i still ask for help like it’s fun to destroy a boss alone and with friends the fun of the difficulty of souls games is that you feel this epic satisfaction overcoming it it teaches you how to deal with stress and adaptability too. These games are long because they must be never shorten them cause that would take away from the experience. You have to learn that if you never push yourself to keep trying your just gunna write an article and give up. The stories are rich with lore and I cannot wait for elden rings dlc and possibly future elden ring games

  2. Dude elden ring is probably the easiest game in the soulsbourne games and you say how long did it take you to get good for me not that long they arent that hard of a game to wrap your head round you should probably spend some time getting used to tge mechanics of the game and what build suits you instead of writing an article that sounds like its made to drive new players away from a really great game.

  3. The fun of souls games comes from achieving something difficult. Each time you die, you’ve (hopefully) learned something you can then apply on your next effort. If you’re not the type of person who gets gratification from striving toward a difficult goal, then these games aren’t for you, and that’s fine, but surely you can see how other people might enjoy that.

  4. You don’t need to be good at the game to beat it, understanding the mechanics gives you a much bigger advantage, level up, put on good armor, abuse status effects, use damage types they’re weak against… There’s plenty of ways to beat any boss besides fighting head on.
    Also, summons/spirits.

  5. Souls like games are at their core memory games, you have to memorize the attack patterns of the various monsters/bosses. You do that by fighting and dying and learning. This type of gameplay has been around for a long time, and was the core of games from the beginning.

    What’s happened however is that games now cover such a huge variety of genres and sub genres that we’re able to enjoy the experience of playing without the need for a challenge.

    Simply put, there is definitely a rightful place for naturally difficult games, and if you prefer a less challenging experience then there are plenty of other games to play.

  6. Dark Souls was the first game I ever actually rage quit. I still don’t want to ever pick it up again. I’ve enjoyed Elden Ring simply because of the open world. The game gives you a basic sense of where to go next. The open world gives you room to move and explore. Can’t beat that one enemy? Just go somewhere else. That’s an option I never felt like I had with their other games. I’m currently stuck on Godfrey’s spirit form. I take a break for a month, then come back to it. I’m not quitting because, even though I have to beat him to progress, I still have lots of other things I can do, if I want. Lots of other places to go. I beat my head against him because that’s what I want to do. I’m trying to figure out how to actually play well because I want to, not because I have to.

  7. I understand your struggles as I was once in your place, I don’t personally find any gratification of any sort in defeating an annoying or difficult boss although the unique boss mechanics and lores behind each boss always kept me coming back, dying over and over to a boss only to look up a video on how to kill it and stumbling across a Vati Vidya lore video, deciding to watch it and suddenly having a newfound motivation to bring it down is always what keeps me coming back. Personally the more a boss beat me the more fed up I was when I eventually beat it, never did I jump up in celebration of defeating a powerful opponent, always just a sigh of relief for not having to go through that again, but I can say after Dark Souls 1, 2, 3 and Bloodborne, at some point it just becomes much easier to just play the game and enjoy it, I guess muscle memory just kicks in after a while and you just auto pilot the combat and enjoy the scenery. Idk but I agree with you to a certain extent, but the gatekeeping of the community is quite annoying, luckily if you don’t feel like playing through the games you’ve always got lore videos and such

  8. Same boat. I stressed myself out for days grinding through that game. I just can’t beat the final boss. I”ve levelled up countless weapons and respeced numerous times trying suggested builds and – nothing. Level 186 and still feel like a noob. Seriously, wtf.. It’s not worth the aggravation. I’m done. Ef those games

  9. Speaking as a gamer of merely average skill and no background in Souls-like games before Elden Ring, I’m sorry to see that you didn’t enjoy it. Admittedly, it took some time to become familiar enough with the world that I felt comfortable exploring it, but even those early hours were fun in an edge-of-my-seat, is-there-an-imp-waiting-around-the-corner-to-ambush-me kind of way. (Spoilers: yes, there is an imp waiting to ambush you, always).

    I wouldn’t say that I ever really “got good”. I definitely got better over time. I spent less time sneaking and used my summons less. Many of the bosses still mess me up multiple times though, and when I eventually beat them, it’s typically in a drawn out war of attrition rather than a commanding show of skill.

    One thing I appreciate about Elden Ring is how much freedom it gives you to go your own route at your own pace. Many apparent “gates” can be bypassed with some exploration, and when you can’t win a fight (Margit squashed me many, many times my first time through), you can just turn around and explore somewhere else to build up some runes. Additionally, there is a lot of flexibility in playstyle. I was never interested in playing with magic, but many people have noted how much easier it makes the game. For me, my summons were my crutch in the early hours, until I built up the self-confidence (and levels) to take on bosses solo (albeit never very efficiently).

    The game is certainly punishing for new players, and the lack of explicit quest markers or a log can make completing quests very challenging without a guide, but Elden Ring offers an alternative path to success than just “getting good” – be cautious, explore everywhere, and don’t throw yourself at a wall when there are other easier areas to explore and gain runes from.

    You don’t have to like the game, of course, and you are entitled to your opinion. I do think it is worth giving a second shot with a new approach, though, because the story (while cryptic) owls quote good, there are some great characters, and while the boss fights never got easy (for me anyway) they did transition from a frustration to a fun challenge.

    • Also if you started Elden Ring naked, it’s because you chose to, all but one of the starting classes comes with gear.

  10. To learn how to stay alive, you need to get good at timing your attacks and your evasions. That means learning how each of the enemies move and attack. The best way to learn is to use a shield in your left hand and a sword pin your right. Hold your shield up and allow the enemy to swing and hit. As soon as they hit your shield, you will have a moment of opportunity to swing and hit them. Repeat until they are dead. Eventually, and it doesn’t take that long, you will find that you can time your attacks and evades (rolls/dodges) and you will hardly ever need your shield again.

  11. As someone who’s only gotten into “modern” gaming as a whole thanks to my boyfriend gifting me his old xbox one, even I disagree heavily with this article not only because a lot of facts it states are incorrect but the tale of Sisyphus is a horrible example.
    playing DS 1, 2, 3 and elden ring is a lot more like David an the Goliath in the sense that you are a insignificant little worm an you go up against foes who will kick your teeth in time an time again.
    But the phrase; “Get Good” is more so just about learning from your mistakes an taking advantage of enemies weaknesses, many bosses in the soul series are a walk in the park even on first or second try- the thing that will get you killed the most is underestimating your enemies, your ego an getting too greedy. People who hate soul-like games are the ones who will never defeat the first boss of the series; Their own ego.

  12. I agree for the most part actually. Most games need some kind of challenge to keep it entertaining and motivating. But like everything else in life, there’s a limit. I feel like the Souls games are over that limit. But, one thing about that is that the limit is based on personal preferences. Many players enjoy and insist on this level of difficulty while people like me do not. It fits the game regarding genres of games. For me, I don’t find sports games enjoyable at all but I have a couple of friends that only play sports games. In the end, (like everything else) to each their own.

  13. It’s not that hard to understand why someone would get enjoyment from beating or doing something challenging. You do the thing that took you awhile and you failed previously, you feel good about it. The difficulty is also overstated, you say players spend most of their time dying which, isn’t really true, after your first few hours in any of these games you get a feel for the mechanics, you develop a bit of muscle memory, and the starting areas have taught you what you need to know to beat the rest of the game. While there are hard parts you will start to blaze through things.

    In any case, it’s okay not to like the game and all but do you have to go out of your way to question why other people might enjoy something to feel validated? I doubt it’s “a boomer” thing either which is a weird comment as souls games have a very old school design philosophy and deviate a lot from the trends of modern games.

  14. Okay the previous comment before me left a bunch of better details but here’s a couple things I’d like to add to it. For one thing, to me, Souls games save people. I’ve seen countless stories of these games showing people that they are strong and that they are valued by the fact that they are able to beat bosses or save NPCs. But I’ll be honest, if these games are “viciously difficult” then here’s what I have to say. Ignore all the hub bub of people saying that you *have* to play these games without using magic and instead play then your own way. Only you can beat these games and if you really constantly get your teeth kicked in everywhere you go, then you need to use more of the tools the game gives you. To me, Elden Ring is the only game in the series that gives people a quasi “easy-mode” because of the spirit summons, powerful weapon arts, being able to teleport anywhere on the map at mostly any time, and like the guy before me said, the abundance of tutorials and NPCs telling you where to go. Now, if these games just aren’t you for you that’s fine, but I sincerely believe you are misinterpreting how to enjoy this series because you’re getting to sucked up in the difficulty rather than seeing what the game is trying to teach you. Dark Souls 3 saved me and helped make me who I am today, maybe Elden Ring can do that for you too. But only you have the power to decide that.

  15. I understand your perspective and would have agreed with it up until a few years ago.

    Bloodborne is what turned me onto the series after hating most of what from software had made before.

    There is something that just “clicks” with the souls series. It’s almost like a rhythm game. Your weapon is like your instrument (the one you pick dictates the flow of your notes) and you have this back and forth pattern with your foes. If you miss a note, you get smacked upside the head.

    When you encounter these powerful fights and you master your song and you fell your foe, you go “dang, that was an amazing song, and I had a part in how it played, and it was so intoxicating that I MUST experience it again and write a new song of death with a new foe!”

    There is also great satisfaction in finally felling that great foe that stomped your head into the ground for the upteenth time, no other game punches my dopamine box quite like the souls games.

    I recommend jumping into the titles with one other friend and play through it together. Yes, now you have to fight each boss twice, but you get double the EXP, so you end up out leveling content. And you have someone else to suffer through the trials. You will have stories to share, inside jokes, and you learn to grow dynamically with your partner and can create some interesting builds that you would never think of just diving into these games alone.

    I hope that one day the series clicks for you the way it did for me a few years ago. They are some of the best modern games to play if you can finally push that rock over the hill and see what lies over the horizon. It is amazing and no amount of text can really explain it.

  16. I have completed it and even got the platinum under 55 hours. I didn’t think it was that hard but then again I have the platinum to every from software game. You just keep getting better and better and every downed boss gives you a sense of accomplishment.

  17. There are walk throughs online that help. The playbase actually encourages the use of walkthroughs. It’s how I platinum Bloodborne.

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