If there is one thing in Elden Ring that seems to have had a polarising affect, it’s the open world areas. For some players, the addition of the open world element to the Dark Souls formula is the best thing since sliced bread. However, others see it as an empty expanse which just waters down the Dark Souls action. So which is it? Good or Bad. Well, if you just want my quick, honest opinion then I would say it’s somewhere in the middle.
I have found the open world areas frustrating at times. Particularly, when I’ve wasted hours riding around the areas looking for points of interest only to find a few ruin shards and golden runes, neither of which I find particularly useful or worth an hour of riding around. However, there is also the good times when you stumble across a cave or catacomb, mini Darksouls style dungeons, which can give some good loot and an engaging boss fight. These, however, can be hard to find, particularly for beginners.
The catacombs do at least have dark statues high up to direct the player towards their entrances and some caves will show up as a slight brown smudge on the map, but many more caves, you just seemingly need to stumble onto by shear dumb luck. There are also many ruins in the open world area and most of them can be seen as features on the map. However, it can be hard to distinguish between ruins and just random chunks of architecture which yield nothing when looking solely at the map.
I can see what the developer had in mind when they designed the open world element. They wanted to leave the player free to choose their own direction and discover dungeons and rewards naturally, rather than fill the map with markers and pointers like say Horizon Zero Dawn.
There are markers to direct the player towards the main story line bosses and dungeons. However, if you try to rush those without doing any optional content then the experience is likely to be an uphill grind, as the bosses require certain gear and stat levels to be viably beatable. In Darksouls if you came up against a boss you couldn’t yet beat, the only option would be to revisit a previously completed area and run between bonfires beating mobs and collecting souls to level up, or to buy better gear.
In Elden Ring if you come up against a boss you can’t beat, there are a whole host of optional dungeons and boss fights just waiting to be challenged which is an infinitely more engaging way to level up. Instead of say wasting four hours grinding levels in a previous area, you would waste perhaps an hour riding around looking for optional content but then get about 3 hours of additional mini dungeons and boss fights to grind those extra levels or gear. The hour you waste getting little to no reward, does feel frustrating, at the time, but when you have found and beaten the dungeons and bosses, you stumble upon as a result of the exploration, it doesn’t seem so bad as a whole package.
I, personally, am the type of person who would prefer to have more clear markings on the map, so I didn’t have to waste that extra hour riding around looking for the optional content, but there are others who enjoy the immersion of the natural exploration. I guess this is why the open world aspect is proving so polarising, as most players would be in one camp or the other. Like marmite you would either love or hate it.
I think it’s important to recognise that From Software is not the sort of developer who creates games that holds the players hand and guides them through the game, and for many fans of their franchises, Dark Souls, Bloodbourne etc that is the appeal of the games. Therefore, the natural un handheld exploration style presented, is fitting with the style of the game. Is riding around for an hour looking for an optional dungeon really more frustrating than throwing yourself at a boss fight 20 or even 40 times to get past them to the new content, as is necessary in other From Software games? I don’t think anyone could realistically claim that.
So do I enjoy wasting my time riding through a large, seemingly empty region and often missing the mark? Well no. However, I have come to recognise that it is an extension of the style of play presented in From Software games of no hand holding and being self-reliant. Therefore, I do not think it a valid reason for bombing the user ratings anymore than seemingly unbeatable bosses. And there you have it, my personal reasons for my fence sitting opinion on Elden Ring’s open world of not good but not bad.