Sharing is Caring
I love Elden Ring. For me the best part about the game isn't FromSoftware's design around crushing difficulty, but their other skill; story telling. The lore of Elden Ring spreads out like a web. To get a "clear" picture you have to find bits of lore in weapon descriptions, side quests, and boss dialog. The only issue with all this is 1, Elden Ring is massive and you'll need to scour every nook and cranny of the map, and 2, you have to progress in the game. Elden Ring has a wonderful story and it's a bit of a shame it's guarded behind the difficulty.
Let's imagine a world where more people get to experience this game. Where sharing of lore is put in front of the difficulty, priority-wise. Let's look at just a few features that would get us closer to the Elden Ring of my dreams.
- No damage
- No falling
- Controller remapping
One of the cool, but sometimes overwhelming things about Elden Ring is its use of vertical space. Dungeons nestled into cliff sides, castles and dungeons where there may or may not be something under a lift, etc. For example, there's a spot in Caelid where a cave entrance is along a cliff wall.
When trying to approach the branch you're probably going to be attacked by the Abductor that's nearby. The narrow catwalk is easy to fall off and there's nothing worse than being chased while trying to navigate these branches. So it would be great if you could clear this enemy out first. These enemies are pretty notorious, especially at lower levels and there's a couple of giant dogs around that can get aggroed while you engage with the Abductor. I think this setup is intentional with respect to design. You have to choose, move quickly / sneak across the branches or fight the enemies. This creates tension for the player, but sometimes you'd rather just explore. These risk reward moments are a big part of FromSoftware games and I'm not saying they shouldn't exist, just it would be nice to not have to deal with them once in a while.
Speaking of that Caelid Abandoned Cave...the approach. I have fallen off these branches more times than I really care for. Whether it's my own ineptitude, disagreements with Torrent, or what I would consider odd collision pushback, it's happened a lot. Another example of the risk / reward design mechanics of FromSoftware's games. Do you risk falling off the narrow walkway and redoing all the things it took to get there, or skip the area? I'm all for practice makes perfect, but we're talking about exploration. We're not training, we're trying to take a stroll around the lovely park that is Caelid. Having the option to not inadvertently fall to your death would be great. Because of the use of vertical space we still need to be able to fall, but the game could have an option that prevents the user from falling to their death.
In the No Damage section above, can you spot all three enemies? Maybe you can without issue, but for me, the Abductor in particular blends into the environment. Let's imagine an option that allows us to toggle a shader that highlights certain aspects on the environment.
This is simulated with Photoshop, but the enemies now pop from the background. Not only are we highlighting the enemies, but we're desaturating to increase contrast. We don't have to stop at just enemies either, we can also highlight resources or pickups.
So how does this help us with our goal of experiencing the story of Elden Ring more easily? Well, if we can't see the enemies, every attack from them is a surprise attack. Constantly being jumped is no fun and it creates apprehension for us during exploration. Ultimately, we are looking for ways to mitigate the risk of dying for the reward of exploration and lore. We want to incentivize the player to explore more and provide settings to allow them to do that. Difficulty here is adjustable and it's opt-outable for the player.
Ok, last feature we're going to consider today, controller remapping. Since I play on console, I'm using a controller, not keyboard and mouse. This causes a good amount of hand fatigue and a requirement for some dexterity. As I've gotten older the number of basketball hand injuries have made holding buttons in certain configurations difficult. Elden Ring does have some controller remapping, but it's rather limited.
My play style is usually on melee builds and I rarely use magic. One of my favorite weapons in the game is Moonveil, which has a great weapon art call Transient Moonlight. While I love using this weapon, to perform Transient Moonlight requires that I hold L2, then press R2 within a given window of time. If you press R2 too soon you do a move that leaves you open to counter attacks. If you press the buttons too close together you sheath your sword. In an ideal world I wouldn't have to worry about this and I could assign Transient Moonlight to say the up button on the d-pad. That button defaults to Sorcery which I never use. There's no option to assign a single button to weapon arts. Skills can be assigned, and in fact they're defaulted to L2, but some weapon arts require more than one press to execute. Another option would be to allow the player to assign double tap of buttons to perform the action. This doesn't work for everyone, as tap windows can be challenging for some.
So what does this have to do with exploration? Well, the more extensible we make our button assignments the more we give the player the power to customize their experience. For example, if we're able to assign actions to buttons maybe we could assign the action of jumping off Torrent to a single button and make it separate from calmly dismounting. While small, the ability to control Torrent a bit easier makes a huge difference when exploring. On more than one occasion I found myself mashing at the buttons trying to remember how to get off my magical pony. In an effort to make exploring more pleasant, using Torrent should be a delight.
Dark Souls 1
When I played Dark Souls for the first time I had similar experiences. I wanted more, but I didn't want to deal with the difficulty. I just wanted to explore the world and have fun. I found Cheat Engine and decided to play Dark Souls on PC just so I could use it. It was great. I couldn't die, except falling, and I could specify which weapon I wanted to play with. All of a sudden every side quest, area and weapon become open to me. All of the lore or connection between NPCs became tangible. The world of Dark Souls became richer because I "cheated". That's the intent with all that I've written above about Elden Ring. I understand I could play it on PC (PS 5 at the moment), but the point here is that every user could have the chance to experience the game in their own way.
Accessibility is for Everyone
Lately, these types of features have been placed under accessibility. See The Last of Us Part II and Ratchet and Clank as recent examples. Seeing how many accessibility features these two games have is inspiring. As an industry I feel we have a long way to go with respect to accessibility, but these are good steps forward. But the best thing about accessibility features is that they're not just for people with needs, they can help everyone. These features can be optional and opt-in, as long as anyone can change them at any time. No one is forcing the person who wants to play Elden Ring at its current difficulty to play with any of the settings I've described. What I'm advocating for is adding options to make the game more open and accessible to everyone. By doing so we can share our stories with more people. We can create shared experiences and bring others into the conversation.
If this is something that interests you, take a look at Ratchet and Clank and also the ABX patterns from ablegamers. If you're in the UK, check out Special Effect as a local charity. Both organizations do amazing things and are worth a look.