Different People Should Be Allowed To Review Elden Ring
Elden Ring has finally come out for those of you unaware, and it has been met with universal acclaim by most tentpole gaming publications and websites. Nonetheless, I want to provide a disclaimer before I continue. My blog here is not to question the content of these reviews or impune their integrity. I believe that every person who has shared their experiences with the game on a major publication met their editorial standards. However, there's something I noticed when I perused most of the reviews readily available at the time of the game's release: most websites and magazines elected to assign the game to "experts" of From Software. Again, I need to preface that this is not in and of itself a mistake or that I think any individual or publication is suspect. However, as someone who has previously been on record saying, "I don't like Souls games," this has made finding out if Elden Ring is a game for me monumentally harder.
For those of you who are fans of From Software and have been following their video games, let me shine some light on what I needed to do to create the pastiche of a review of Elden Ring that met my particular needs. First, I had to scour Twitter searching for "Elden Ring+newcomer." Because reading things in order on Twitter is a fucking mess, I had to locate the original posts for two Tweets threads from people claiming to be new to the Souls genre and process their multi-post mini-reviews. Still feeling as if parts of the game were underrepresented, I searched YouTube and found nothing but enthusiast-minded reviews. Luckily, someone from a Discord I am subscribed to sent me a handful of op-eds, NOT formal reviews, written by people like me trying out Elden Ring and sharing the things they enjoyed and disliked about the game. Oh, and while I was researching stuff, I had to process shit like this while finding valuable sources of information.
So, yeah, it sounds like Elden Ring has taken strides to address common complaints about earlier From Software games, and the developer has even thrown some bones to people like myself. That said, there's likely going to be fiddly stuff that drives me crazy. The world is enormous, and the exploratory parts of the game are likely to please long-time fans of Souls games while subjecting newcomers to a moderate to steep learning curve. As rote and inane as those previous three sentences might sound, it took me a whole three hours of relentless research before I felt comfortable writing them down, let alone publishing them for the denizens of the internet to see. This is, ultimately, where I start to get frustrated with the state of reviews and the way most significant publications cover games like Elden Ring.
At best, most of these readers will scan for a score and then comment if they agree with the associated number. On the other hand, people like myself are left to the wayside. Those that most could have benefited from a structured review that articulated the game's scaffolding strategies and possible pitfalls have NOTHING to read or process. And yet, the former is the lion's share of what you will find on the internet. I think this is why most people are checking out FAQs and "Beginner's Guides" in favor of front-page reviews. These articles do a better job of sharing what the moment-to-moment experiences are likely to be for veterans and novices.
So, if the reviews that are coming out don't help most people make informed decisions, I have to ask, what's the point? I understand that some are using their reviews to express why the world of Elden Ring means a lot to them and why they have chosen to follow From Software through thick and thin. However, wouldn't an op-ed suffice? This situation furthers the generalized malaise among the gaming community with written-based forms of expression. This scenario is a bummer for me as someone who feels at their best when blogging about games. I want to say that inroads have been made to add some modern relevance to reviews elsewhere. Some have elected to provide alternative voices a platform, and others allow for more than one review of a game to exist. Nonetheless, games like Elden Ring show me that most of these quaint experiments often get paused to make way to SEO.
I think where this starts to impact all of us is what happens if reviews continue to be written EXCLUSIVELY by "experts" and not newcomers. I fear we will get back to the same normalization issue of review scores that started a few decades ago. Again, none of this criticism applies to any individuals writing the reviews their bosses have assigned them. You get yours and keep putting food on the table. Nonetheless, it feels like reviews are ebbing backward to the early 2000s, where everything scores within the 7 to 10 range. And this is happening when more voices are expressing skepticism over the necessity of at-launch review coverage more than ever. So, honestly, who is reading these reviews and benefits from doing so? If you are someone who at any point enthusiastically shared a 10/10 or 5/5 review of Elden Ring on any social media platform or website, what inspired you to do that? And if you did do that, did you read the whole review?
So, Why Am I Going To Hold Off On Playing Elden Ring?
So, why do I think it's crucial for newcomers to review Elden Ring in the first place? Well, it's for the same reason why I think there should have been more reviews and articles written by newcomers to Pokémon when the time came to assess Pokémon Legends: Arceus. In both cases, when you discount the veneer of nostalgia, were there enough voices asking if there is a game at the core of the package that can be enjoyed without caveats? Is there enough to the worlds of Arceus or Elden Ring to appreciate them without having over a decade worth of context? And on top of that, are the mechanics and gameplay approachable if one has not been following either series and have missed out on previous games codifying their irrespective tropes and sub-systems? All of you reading this blog might have different answers to those questions, but my last points remain. On top of that, what they have normalized as "trope appropriate" isn't always effortless for others to process. And the only solution, at least in my mind, is if non-experts are given more opportunities to share their struggles and issues with fundamental mechanics without judgment.
With all that in mind, That is not to say you, out there reading this blog, are incapable of having a good time with Elden Ring. But while many are writing reams of paragraphs justifying the game's decision to not include a quest log as doing so "encourages organic exploration," I'm going to look at that design decision and reply, "I'm not interested." I understand the game is well-made. Its world is undeniably immense and teeming with excellent worldbuilding opportunities, but as someone who does not like the punishing difficulty of the Souls games or their general jankiness; I think I'll pass. I understand that for some, the jank associated with From Software games is something people have come to appreciate, but I'm not one of them.
Likewise, I know that I have to clarify myself whenever I use the word "jank" when discussing a Souls game. When I did so when flippantly asking about Elden Ring on social media, it felt like an army swarmed me almost immediately and wanted to have me guillotined. So, here's what I would say about the matter. Sometimes you get lucky if you tumble down the side of a wall. Other times, you die, and I don't particularly appreciate that weird feeling of uneasiness. Maybe you enjoy the slippery feeling of not knowing if your current drop attack will break your upcoming fall damage, but I sure don't. Sliding down a cliff that I feel I have done countless times prior, but this one time, it decides to halve my health? I understand if you think that's silly, but I fucking hate it!
And to return to the issue of the game's pseudo-real-time exploration, I cannot help but feel like it is full of busy work that would drive me up the wall. None of this is to suggest that I hate games with rough edges. I am, of course, someone who put Necromunda: Hired Gun on their 2021 GOTY list. Part of me wants to say I can handle pathfinding issues, geometry breaking, general falling through shit, hitbox weirdness, and clipping, but not all at once and while trying to process massive towering bosses in real-time. That ad-hoc combat is part of the reason why many like the Souls games, and I think you can guess that I am not one of them. I get frustrated with how From structures their missions with you needing to talk to NPCs, listening to them opine a riddle, and then you needing to fill in the gaps to figure out where the game wants you to go next. I'm not too fond of that directionless format, and I think that's part of why many people rely on the Dark Souls Wiki whenever they play entries in the mainline franchise.
And I don't know; there are a lot of games coming out that I want to play before I give Elden Ring a shot? What would be funny is if the scant four paragraphs in which I discuss why I'm passing on the game are all people want to talk about and pick apart. With that in mind, I hazard to say that I don't blame websites and editors for not wanting to break the mold. From what I can tell, the one or two editors that dared to give the game an eight are already dealing with a deluge of bullshit fanboyism. I hesitated in publishing this blog because I felt like my points about the quality of game reviews would get ignored in favor of the second section. Does anyone want to take bets?