You’re not alone if you saw the Elden Ring trailer and immediately thought of Dark Souls, but one trademark element of the Dark Souls franchise that the FromSoftware team will alter slightly in Elden Ring is the nature of its difficulty.
In interviews with IGN and Famitsu, Dark Souls and Elden Ring director Hidetaka Miyazaki was asked (both directly and indirectly) about Elden Ring‘s difficulty. Not only does Miyazaki inform Famitsu that “the difficulty level as a pure action game is lower” than it was in Sekiro or Bloodborne (he actually says its closer to Dark Souls 3 in that respect), but he explains some of the ways that Elden Ring offers a different kind of experience in terms of its challenges.
“Yes, the stamina bar exists in Elden Ring, but we feel it has less influence on the player overall,” Miyazaki says in an interview with IGN. “We wanted to make it feel less restrictive and contribute to that level of freedom more so than our previous titles.”
Freedom is certainly the keyword here. Miyazaki uses the word freedom several times in these interviews in order to emphasize the ways that Elden Ring affords you more options than ever in comparison to other Soulsborne games. He seems especially proud of the way that the game uses stealth.
“We think it’s a relatively simple implementation of stealth, but it has a wide variety of uses,’ Miyazaki explains. “And again, it contributes to this level of player freedom, we feel. So you’re able to crouch, you’re able to sneak and be less easily detected in long grass for instance. You’re able to use that to your advantage to sneak up on the enemy, get a backstab, get a stealth attack. But you’re also able to use it to bypass certain areas and to assess situations from afar.”
The topic of bypassing challenges comes up again in a Famitsu interview in which Miyazaki explains that it will be possible to avoid certain bosses that you just can’t seem to be able to beat. While it sounds like you won’t be able to avoid every boss, the idea here again seems to be to not make players brute force their way through the only real path forward quite as often as they sometimes must in other Soulsborne games.
That’s an interesting concept. After all, one of the things that you hear people say when they’re defending the difficulty in most Soulsborne titles (and Sekiro) is that the games are really just trying to get you to learn their language. They’ll punish you if you’re doing something wrong, but it’s all in the name of trying to guide you to the thing that you’re supposed to be doing.
As a fan of most of those games, I’ve honestly always loved the idea that they’re more interested in pointing you in the right direction through trial and error rather than taking you by the hand. At the same time, there are moments in the Soulsborne games when you feel like you’re trying to punch your way through a wall or pass an AP test when you haven’t even taken the 101 course. This is why some Soulsborne players turn to guides for help, which other hardcore Soulsborne players look down on. That’s when we start to enter that nasty gatekeeping territory and any interesting conversations that could be had about this topic are pretty much immediately shut down.
That’s why I also love what Miyazaki and the Elden Ring team are going for this time around. By allowing players to approach the same kind of problems from different angles while adjusting certain previous restrictions, Elden Ring isn’t just embracing the nature of its open-world design; it’s allowing those who may have been intimidated by Soulsborne games in the past more chances to find their own way forward. There’s a degree to which the Soulsborne games have always encouraged experimentation through builds and strategies, and this really just sounds like a natural extension of that concept that could also potentially knock down a few barriers.
Now, none of that means that Elden Ring is going to be an easy game. It sounds like it will still be very challenging, especially for those who want to see everything the game has to offer. It’s just that Elden Ring could be the latest example of how developers are no longer treating accessibility as an idea you’re supposed to bury in the options menu but as a concept that they must consider when crafting more diverse and, potentially, more engaging experiences.