Elden Ring - title

I always considered the first Dark Souls to be an "open world" game in all the ways that matter. The world is interconnected, coherent, and surprisingly functional. Almost every location in the game is walkable from almost any other location, and every distant landmark is an actual place that you can go, which usually has a big, scary monster waiting to show you the "YOU DIED" screen for the thousandth time.

As such, I didn't really expect that a transition to an actual open world would in Elden Ring would really make all that much difference -- either positive or negative. Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro already felt open and exploratory despite being a series of linear corridor crawls cleverly interconnected into a tight helix. So I didn't expect Elden Ring to really feel all that much more open or exploratory. Further, all of From Software's games are also designed from the ground-up with a play-at-your-own pace paradigm of story delivery -- in that From's games are more about doling out "lore" in piecemeal rather than about a linear narrative with a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end. So I wasn't terribly worried that a transition to an open world structure would break any narrative flow or the sense of stakes for the character, as it does in so many other open world games.

From Soft's brand of player-driven lore discovery is well-suited to an open world format.

What I didn't expect though, is how the open world would dramatically improve both the accessibility and the challenge of the game.

Elevating the genre

Having transitioned to a more traditional open world design, Elden Ring does suffer from some of the same problems that plague the sub-genre. Assets, enemies, bosses, traps, and so forth are all re-used throughout the map, and many of the dungeons look like they were pulled straight out of Bloodborne's Chalice Dungeon generator. Each region of the map will assuredly have at least one mine tunnel full of upgrade stones. It will have at least one crypt dungeon (usually with a Burial Tree Watchdog boss that looks like a cat statue). It will have at least one set of ruins with a boss waiting in the basement. And they'll all have a minor Erdtree with an Erdtree Avatar (or similar) boss.

That being said, I haven't come across any of these dungeons that feels to me like it was just haphazardly thrown together. Each dungeon has its enemies, traps, and setpieces thoughtfully arranged to test various gameplay skills and the player's power of observation and thoroughness of exploration. Each one also has a unique piece of loot offered as a reward for defeating it -- usually a weapon, talisman, or spirit ash. Unlike, say, Skyrim, which just rewards all of its dungeons with disposable weapon or piece of armor that is level-scaled and arbitrarily magical, each dungeon in Elden Ring rewards a unique item that conveys a piece of lore. Early in the game, almost all of this loot is something that will be useful to most builds, which really helps to encourage the player to continue exploring these mini-dungeons. And later, even if the item isn't useful for a build, it might still reveal valuable lore.

Bosses are frequently re-used, but none of the dungeons feels haphazardly thrown together.

The sheer volume of places to go and things to do might seem overwhelming, but it's also a huge boon to new or struggling players. They have plenty of options for alternative challenges to try, which vary in difficulty. Getting stuck on the main quest path, or in a particularly nasty optional dungeon is easily alleviated by simply wandering off in another direction -- any other direction -- and trying something new that might be a bit easier to conquer, or which might provide loot that is useful in the places where you are struggling. Or you can just wander around the overworld and grind.

A lot of these dungeons can also start to feel tedious and unnecessary. I can go through entire dungeons, beat a boss, and still not have acquired enough runes to gain a single character level. On the one hand, this is frustrating, and some of these dungeons feel like a waste of time for a mid-to-high-level character. On the other hand, the increased desire to hold onto these runes means I'm more inclined to run away from a fight that I'm not equipped to handle, which forces me to engage more with that open world by trying to find another boss or another dungeon that is more my level, rather than continuously bash my head against the same boss wall over and over again.

If you get stuck on a boss, explore somewhere else.

Players are much more free to follow your own path through the game. In fact, From included plenty of opportunities for sequence-breaking for particularly inquisitive and observant players. Dungeons and bosses that seem like a mandatory bottleneck for progress can sometimes be skipped entirely. And honestly, it's not even all that hard to find these bypasses, since they are often out in plain view for anybody who bothers to deviate off the main path at all.

And this process of exploration really does provide a sense of genuine discovery in ways that most other open world games fail to deliver. The full scope of the map is hidden to the player at the start, so reaching the crest of a hill and finding an entire continent that wasn't on your map a moment ago is genuinely surprising and awe-inspiring. The fact that every notable point of interest is not immediately marked by climbing a tower or finding a checkpoint really facilitates a sense of exploration and adventure. It really feels like there's always going to be something new and interesting over every hill, around every corner, and within every dungeon.

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Elden Ring

From Software has released its newest, brutally-difficult game, Elden Ring, and it does quite a few things differently from the previous game's in From Software's "Souls-Borne" series. Most notably, Elden Ring has a full open world. That is, an "open world" by the definition that most players would use. Personally, I always thought that Dark Souls and Bloodborne counted as "open worlds" in all the ways that matter, but that's using a very generous personal definition. In any case, this legit open world in Elden Ring does dramatically change the way that Elden Ring is designed, balanced, and paced, and it should also change the way that players approach the game compared to previous titles.

I want to do the same thing that I did with Bloodborne and Sekiro, and provide my own personal tips and tricks for Elden Ring, from the perspective of an experienced, but not elite, player. These tips are geared towards new players coming into Elden Ring fresh, and for other experienced Souls-Borne players who may be having a hard time coming to grips with the new design of the game.

The open world dramatically changes how players should approach the early hours of Elden Ring.

In any case, I hope the following tips help you to get a leg up against the trademark challenge of From Software's Elden Ring.

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Demon's Souls (PS5) - title

I was finally able to get a Play Station 5 for Christmas. It wasn't easy. I was on a Sony waiting list for months before finally getting the email invite to purchase one. When I booted it up on Christmas Day, I tested it out by playing a few hours of the included Astro's Playroom, while I waited for my first batch of digitally-purchased games to download and install. One of the first of those games was Bluepoint's remake of Demon's Souls.

The original Demon's Souls for PS3 is one of my favorite games ever, so my expectations for the remake were quite high. I was certain that a recreation as faithful as Bluepoint's Shadow of the Colossus remake would be good, but I also felt that Demon's Souls offered a lot more opportunity for improvement compared to the much simpler Shadow of the Colossus.

Technical improvements streamline play

Obviously, the visuals are dramatically improved. There's cloth physics, weather and particle effects, really good lighting, and all the other "next-gen" bells and whistles that one would expect. But the new hardware doesn't only allow visual improvements; it also allows for some technical improvements that do dramatically improve the gameplay experience. Perhaps the best of these technical improvements is the faster load times given by the use of a solid state hard drive.

Dying isn't as much of an inconvenience thanks to faster load times.

Quicker load times make a world of difference. Obviously, it's helpful to only have to wait a few seconds before getting back into the action after dying, rather than having to wait a whole minute to try again. But the quick loading also helps with other activities in game, such as farming. Bluepoint added the ability to warp from an archstone to any other unlocked archstone in the same world, including the one you are standing at. This allows the player to reset the current level, which can be very helpful for farming certain enemies for experience or item drops, and the loading only takes a few seconds. Barely more than sitting at a bonfire in Dark Souls!

The quick load times are also useful for things like reloading the game to refresh crystal lizards, or to trade items with Sparkly the Crow.

The smoother, 60 frames per second framerate also helps make the action feel much smoother, which might hopefully spare players from having to suffer as many deaths from mis-timing dodges and parries or from mashing a button too many times and queuing up the wrong action. The game looks and feels faster and smoother, while still maintaining the slow, weighty, and methodical pace of play of the original.

I'm less impressed by the PvP netcode. I never had problems with lag or other network issues in the original Demon's Souls on the PS3. But I rarely invaded and wasn't very good at PvP, so I might not have survived invasions long enough to realize if the original netcode was laggy or unresponsive.

I've experienced a lot of lag and other network issues during PvP.

In this remake, I'm trying to make more of a point of playing the PvP more. Not only am I engaging in more invasions with the Black Eye Stone, but I'm also reviving to human to play through most levels in the hopes of encountering some invasions from other players. I'm not being invaded a whole lot, so I'm assuming that PvP isn't very active in the remake -- or maybe being on Pacific time means all the invaders are already asleep by the time I'm able to play the game later at night. But when I do have PvP encounters, I notice a lot more lag and questionable parries and backstabs than I remember seeing in the original game.

I guess the improvement in console hardware did not lead to a smoother online play experience?

Consumables can be consumed in bulk.

The single player, however, plays very smoothly, and there are other technical refinements as well. Inventory management is simplified. Multiple consumables (such as hard soul items) can be consumed at once. Excess items can be sent directly to Stockpile Thomas from within any level. The inventory screen will show how many of a given item are in your inventory and also how many are currently stored in the Nexus. And perhaps best of all, both blacksmiths can use upgrade stones and boss souls that are still in storage! No need to grab all my upgrade stones from Stockpile Thomas before warping to Stonefang to upgrade my weapons. Though, the blacksmiths can only upgrade weapons that are in your inventory, so I do have to be sure I take those with me.

This reduces a lot of the tedium of the old inventory system, while still maintaining an absolute carry capacity for the character. I don't have to warp back to the Nexus to offload items if I become over-encumbered (and then reset the whole damn level). But I also am limited in what I can bring with me into a level. I can't carry every weapon, armor, and consumable I own into every gameplay situation, as is the case in Dark Souls. I have to prepare in advance and commit to a specific loadout, making do with what I have or what I can find within the level. This maintains the scrappier, more adventurous feel of the original game.

I am pleased, and a little surprised, that Bluepoint retained the controversial item burden mechanic.

I know that the item burden was a very unpopular feature in the original Demon's Souls, but I actually rather liked how it set such strict limits on what supplies and equipment can be carried into a level. The item burden was the one feature from the original game that I thought was the most likely to get cut in any potential remake, and I'm glad that Bluepoint found a compromise that makes the system less obnoxious, but which preserves the fundamental contribution that item burden brings to Demon's Souls' design.

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I recently posted a new video to my YouTube channel about my frustrations with the design of Control's "challenging" gameplay. I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here on the blog because most of what is in the video is already in my previous written review of the game.

In summary, the video compares the "tough but fair" design philosophy of From Software's games (most notably, Dark Souls) with the way that difficulty is implemented in Control. Even though I found Control to be a much easier game overall, and I suffered far fewer deaths in Control compared to Dark Souls, I did feel that Control lacked that "tough but fair" feeling that Dark Souls is famous for. Control uses a lot of seemingly cheap tricks to artificially inflate the difficulty of the game. If deliberate, then they are cheap tricks. If not deliberate, then they are faulty game design. I may not have died as often in Control, but the few deaths that I did suffer rarely felt deserved.

The full critique is available on YouTube.

The video also contrasts Control's healing system with that of Doom (2016) and Bloodborne. All three games seem to be trying to encourage fast-paced, aggressive play by rewarding the player with health for relentlessly assailing the enemy. Yet this intent doesn't come through as clearly in Control because the player needs to be close to where the enemy dies in order to pick up the health, but most of Control's action is done at medium or long range. Doom and Bloodborne, however, give health to the player when the player performs melee attacks, ensuring that even if the health is dropped on the ground as a pickup, that the player is always close enough to immediately get it if they need it.

One thing that I neglected to mention in the actual video, but which I want to add here, is that Control also has enemies with hit-scan weapons. Most enemies have machine guns that instantly damage the player if the enemy has line of sight. Attacks are not always projectiles that travel across the arena and which can be dodged, blocked, or otherwise avoided. This means that exposing yourself to crossfire is almost certain death if your health is critical in Control, and it contributes to the player needing to slow things down and play cautiously and defensively, instead of maintaining that fast-paced, aggressive play.

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Demon's Souls - title

Demon's Souls is coming to the PS5. Rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster have been floating around for years, and I even wrote a blog post back in 2017 about what I'd like to see in any potential remaster or remake. But what we're actually getting goes far beyond a simple remaster. It's more than just Demon's Souls at higher resolution and with a higher framerate. Bluepont Games is re-developing Demon's Souls from the ground up, much like they did with Shadow of the Colossus on PS4.

The scope of the remake means that it's possible that Bluepoint could change mechanics. There's plenty of opportunities to improve Demon's Souls gameplay and add ease-of-use features. But there is one controversial feature that I hope Bluepoint keeps: the item burden.

I posted this defense to YouTube last weekend, but I wanted to transcribe it here as well, for the benefit of my loyal blog readers. But feel free to check out the video as well. It is embedded below:

This defense is also available on my YouTube channel.

Demon's Souls' unique design

Players of Dark Souls may be familiar with the equipment burden. If you equip too much heavy armor and weapons, your character will become burdened, which will limit your ability to dodge roll. Demon's Souls had an equip burden that worked pretty much identical, but Demon's Souls had an additional weight burden that accounted for your entire inventory -- not just the items you have equipped. This prevented the player from carrying around excess weapons and armor in your inventory so that you can switch to it at any time during a level.

Dark Souls retained the equip burden but dropped the item burden, possibly as a result of its change to a single, interconnected world. Dark Souls is famous for its brilliant world design, which created a complex vertical helix of interconnected levels. With some exceptions, every part of the map is connected to every other part of the map and the distance between can be traversed by foot. In fact, for the first half of the game, you had to travel the map on foot and take advantage of shortcuts because fast travel is not unlocked until the midpoint of the game.

There was no ludic reason to use Dark Souls' Bottomless Box, and it was removed in the sequels.

The end effect for Dark Souls is that the character does not have convenient access to a central hub location. Firelink Shrine fills a similar role as the Nexus of Demon's Souls, but you cannot warp to for the first half of the game; you have to walk. This means that you can't easily dump excess gear or items at Firelink, which means you have to carry everything with you, which means the Item Burden of Demon's Souls doesn't make much sense. Granted, From included a Bottomless Box item that allows you to stow away excess gear at any bonfire. They could have easily just built the Bottomless Box functionality into the bonfires by default and maintained the Item Burden. But they opted not to, and the lack of an Item Burden mechanic makes the Bottomless Box completely unnecessary. In fact, the sequels to Dark Souls did not include the Bottomless Box at all.

Demon's Souls has a central hub location (the Nexus) that makes it somewhat convenient to drop off or pick up equipment on your way between archstones.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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