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The secret to Elden Ring’s success: a little less gatekeeping

Nadine Pacis
The secret to Elden Ring’s success: a little less gatekeeping
Efforts to make Elden Ring more accessible without losing the core appeal of Souls games have paid off for developer From Software

Elden Ring is on its way to become the biggest game of 2022. A curiosity, given the notoriety of From Software. The Japanese company has built their own reputation of delivering only the most challenging and punishing games of our time. Because of this, their games are often considered niche. 

That said, the industry is still abuzz about this game weeks after its launch. Prolific reviewers herald Elden Ring as the Game of the Year. Its Metacritic scores are at 95/96 depending on the platform. The game has sold 12 million copies, outselling previous From Software games. 

To its credit, From Software has always had its loyal following. Their fan base grows with each new game they bring to the table. From Software games have always enjoyed critical success too. Yet, Elden Ring has hit a new peak, ushering in an even greater wave of masochists to a niche genre. 

And it’s not just because people bought in to the initial hype. One key figure to look at are its current players. As of writing, Dark Souls 3’s peak concurrent players on Steam hit 129,975 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s peak was at 125,315. Elden Ring’s current peak is at 953,426. The game is also ranked 3rd on the list of most played games on Steam, surpassing games like Grand Theft Auto V, PUBG: Battlegrounds, and Lost Ark

So, what’s changed? It’s interesting how articles mention George RR Martin immediately when talking about the game. Perhaps it’s to hook readers with a familiar name, but it can imply that his contribution brought the success that Elden Ring currently enjoys. And while the GRRM feature turned some heads anyways, I reckon From Software could have delivered the same results without disrupting the author’s work on Winds of Winter

From Software’s success comes in the form of giving us more options. Elden Ring is still difficult, but more people are having fun with it because of it gives players the tools and space to overcome its challenges. 

The starting classes may mean you have to lean into a playstyle, but that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn yourself if things evolve. It’s unlike previous titles like Bloodborne and Sekiro, where the game forces you to learn and improve a specific mechanic. There’s also plenty of room to play around with hundreds of weapons and magics.

In some bosses, summoning seems to be encouraged to get you all the damage you need.

If you need help, you can summon Ash Spirits to distract and damage enemies while you find your opening. In some cases, you can also summon NPCs along with spirits in the same boss fight for extra assistance. 

From Software also gave us a massive world to learn and test ourselves. Previous titles had players giving up because they hit a learning curve with no easy way around it. In Elden Ring, players can choose a direction and do a 180 if a set of opponents or a boss is too tough to handle for the moment. You don’t have to fight the first Tree Sentinel you see immediately. In most cases, you are rewarded when you do go off the beaten path. There are NPCs with weird storylines, interesting loot, and precious items to farm. If you explore long enough, you may even find yourself over leveled when you get back on the road to becoming the Elden Lord. 

Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of bosses in the game either. Most of them are optional. Of the 150 to 170 estimated boss fights (data miners and players are still torn on the count), only 14 are mandatory. You can further skip some more depending on your path. In my experience, plenty of bosses have similar attack patterns. You can even meet them more than once. This means you can farm and train yourself with other bosses before you go back to the main story.

If a boss is too daunting to you, you can always come back later when you’ve upgraded your stats and items.

The game is also so massive that it’s safe to assume that the most skilled players and avid creators will unearth more strategies in the coming months. New players who are cautiously optimistic can at least be assured that you will always find help online even if From Software brings in a massive patch that tips the scales. There are plenty of players sharing some powerful builds and strategies for both melee and magic users.

There are also simple but impactful changes: the abundance of check points, choosing where to respawn, healing flasks that recharge by killing enemy groups, the variety of upgrades and potions, the change in the stamina bar, a horse that double jumps, infinite map markers, and more. 

These changes are all crucial to the success of Elden Ring. It makes the game more approachable without having to compromise the difficulty that From Software likes to champion. Some accessibility advocates have also praised these new additions (though From Software should at least introduce some basic visual and audio settings). Purists can easily ignore some of these mechanics, but these options allow for new and formerly discouraged players to explore and conquer the game’s challenges their own way. I can’t imagine Elden Ring being as successful as it is now if it stuck purely to its Dark Souls formula by not providing these flexibilities and quality of life improvements.

“This game is not for everyone,” is a common phrase I hear when talking about From Software titles. Gatekeepers and ableists like to say that a lot. It’s true that Elden Ring still isn’t a game for everyone. However, I’m glad that From Software designed Elden Ring in a way that it can be enjoyed by millions more than their previous ones. Watching newly minted masochists sharing their losses and victories with everyone else is a wonder to behold online. And I hope that after this, developers and fans learn that the more people can enjoy a title, the better it is for everyone. –

Nadine writes and talks about video games whenever she can. You can find her quick takes and adventures on her Twitter @newsidequest.

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