Elden Ring’s Tutorial Was Better When It Was A Secret

Ever since its release earlier this year there has been a lot of discourse around Elden Ring and its artistic vision. Upon its arrival many of its cryptic shortcomings were regarded by fans as the result of FromSoftware’s deliberate intentions. A lack of tutorials? Artistic vision. Hard bosses? Artistic vision. No map icons? Artistic vision. While I believe the game to be a certified masterpiece, series purists were quick to bat away any and all potential criticism with an excuse that would soon crumble.

Several patches have addressed all the things I mentioned above, introducing them as quality of life changes that make Elden Ring more approachable to those who weren’t raised on the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. By design, it is a game defined by its own uncompromising difficulty, expecting players to explore its world, learn its systems, and accept defeat again and again until they come out on top. I think that’s a wonderful thing, and a level of mechanical freedom that far too few open world games in the modern landscape afford. Our hands need to be held lest we lose interest, but Elden Ring doesn’t care.

This past week saw the arrival of an update that provides players with an on-screen prompt that displays the location of the game’s tutorial area. Known as the Cave of Knowledge, this incredibly short area is designed to teach players how to block, attack, and make use of certain skills that will prove valuable in battle. It’s great that now every new or returning player will be able to make use of this tutorial area in order to learn the ropes, but part of me believes that part of Elden Ring’s magical mystique is being lost in the process.

The Lands Between is a world that thrives on exploration. Those who prefer to walk in a straight line or aren’t willing to take their time to scope out each and every place in search of secrets will be missing out on so much. I have put 70+ hours into the game and there are still several NPCs that I haven’t even met because my journey took me on a different path, one of my own making that helped make this singular playthrough entirely unique in so many distinct ways. It’s brilliant, and if FromSoftware felt it necessary to explain everything as part of an obtrusive tutorial, such moments would have been heavily diluted or lost entirely.

Now when you start the game, instead of watching the opening cutscene before awakening in a world defined by myriad unknowns, you’ll be given an optional pop-up that immediately gamifies proceedings and makes it clear that hopping into this little hole will make the coming adventure that much easier. It doesn’t even teach you that much, ending in a boss battle that is little more than a standard enemy with increased hit points. Missing it doesn’t rob you of essential knowledge, it only lessens the need for experimentation when you step outside and begin to unravel this world through your own devices. Part of the brilliance is learning things by yourself, resulting in a level of satisfaction that other games can seldom match.

This isn’t even a case of telling newcomers to ‘git gud’ or go home, it’s to say that defining the absence of signposting as bad design is a relatively ignorant conclusion to draw in a game where environmental design clearly marks points of interest and worthwhile discoveries with the utmost deliberacy. There wasn’t a marker on screen before, but a shining golden spectre and message on the ground before the Cave of Knowledge seems like a fairly obvious indicator that something awaits below that warrants investigation.

It’s the same for optional dungeons away from the main path, which are always located by disturbing statues pointing in their direction. Around them you will often find entire locations filled with new enemies to fight and items to plunder that reward a keen eye and increased intuition. I’m all for making Elden Ring more approachable, but there’s a difference between accommodating that perspective and failing to recognise that – like almost every game in existence – there is a method to the madness that players come to recognise and appreciate. Or in the case of everything else, it’s perfectly okay to walk away if it isn’t your thing.

If we want games to be held to the same standards as film, television, or literature we can’t decry everything that tries to be different or offers a pilgrimage that isn’t without challenge or consequence. FromSoftware is patching Elden Ring to build upon the experience in a landscape where all open world games – Soulsborne or otherwise – are continually enhanced, so they are more fun to play, improving their overall lifespan in ways that accommodate future expansions or sequels like never before.

We now exist in a live-service environment so robust that even games that exist outside their core definition are being affected by them. While I welcome changes like this, making Elden Ring’s tutorial area so obvious with a glowing message box rids the opening of its poetic ambience, making it clear its world isn’t real, and our hand will be held along the way. Don’t tell sceptics that the pause menu is filled with tutorials explaining the majority of mechanics; it might end up spooking them. Artistic intention has value, but its vision shouldn’t be used as an excuse to defend bad design decisions. In the case of Elden Ring, however, I feel the pendulum has begun to swing in a direction that will hurt similar games in the future.

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