December 8 saw the announcement of The Game Awards winners for 2022, with Elden Ring by From Software claiming the title of Game of the Year.
In fact, Elden Ring has been the recipient of a number of Game of the Year awards, including The Grand Award and the Award for Excellence from the Japan Game Awards, Ultimate Game of the Year and Critics’ Choice from the Golden Joystick Awards, and four of its seven nominations at The Game Awards 2022 – Game of the Year, Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, and Best Roleplaying Game.
It has also been named Game of the Year by multiple gaming publications, including IGN and Polygon. Elden Ring is the fastest-selling Bandai Namco game of all time, and was the second-best-selling game of 2022 in the US (behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2). It sold 13.4 million copies worldwide by the end of March, and over 17.5 million by the end of September.
Review aggregator Metacritic has noted it received universal acclaim, with scores of 94/100 on PC and 96/100 on PS5 and Xbox.
Elden Ring is the latest in the range of From Software’s notoriously hard games that started in 2009 with Demon’s Souls. Its spiritual successor, Dark Souls, was named the Ultimate Game of All Time by the Golden Joystick Awards. Characterised by intense combat, testingly difficult bosses, and inhospitable environments, the Souls-like genre has many admirers and imitators, but From Software’s titles are unshakable visionaries, and with the addition of Elden Ring, it’s hard to imagine that changing.
All this is unsurprising and very well deserved, but why? Why did Elden Ring take the world by storm in 2022, and why do people keep returning to the game despite an 85+ hour playtime?
It has that Dark Souls cachet
From Software has been iterating on and perfecting their formula since 2009, with Demon’s Souls, the three in the Dark Souls trilogy, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. That’s a lot of practice on what is essentially the same framework – extremely challenging combat, RPG-style character customisation, and climactic boss fights. Each new game has followed a different branch – Bloodborne focused on pushing the player towards extremely aggressive combat, Sekiro based the entire combat system around parrying – but they all belong on the same tree. The new addition in Elden Ring is the hugely expansive open world, but it maintains and iterates on the familiar and difficult combat. The boss fights in particular are tough, ambitious, and great fun. One of the finest feelings in gaming is the satisfaction and elation of defeating an extremely hard boss battle. Elden Ring also has a vast range of customisation for combat style, from quick and agile dagger fighting to a giant sword made of swords through to a spell that shoots the full moon at your enemies. Kill your foes, and then kill them some other way.
It looks and sounds incredible
There is a reason that Elden Ring was nominated for a Best Audio Direction award and won a Best Art Direction award. It makes full use of the current console generation’s hardware and will push any gaming desktop to its limits, but the result is worth it. The scale of the world is unparalleled and it looks almost as real as the real world, but more magical.
The music is also thematic and fits the mood of each area excellently. Speaking of which, each area of the humongous map is similar in the overall themes and vibes, but different enough from one another that there is a distinct experience. Similar enough that you know you’re playing on the same map, and varied enough that it’s pretty easy to look around and know where you are. The enemies are also superb and diverse, ranging from the usual zombie-esque humanoids to intimidating creatures, creepy spider-like hands, and straight-up massive crabs (a From Software staple).
It’s From Software’s most approachable title
If you’re someone who plays games, or has friends who play games, there’s a very good chance that you either are, or know someone who is, extremely into the souls-like genre. Some people get really excited about them and see playing them as a badge of honour – the games have a well-earned reputation for being really difficult, and if anything, the community around the games make them even more intimidating.
With Dark Souls, a game from eleven years ago, still costing over £30, the prospect of diving in is daunting for more than one reason. While Elden Ring is still really difficult, there has never been a more approachable From Software game. The colossal open world means that if you get stuck on one route, the world is bristling with alternative directions for you to wander. The new crafting system encourages you to use items and experiment with enemy weaknesses because nothing feels finite or like you have to save it for later.
The biggest approachability includes though is something that really leans into a system that has been in the souls-likes since day 1: summoning. In Dark Souls, if you met certain criteria you could summon NPCs (or even other players) to help you with bosses. It came with a price though, with boss health increasing significantly for cooperative battles, leading to situations where your summoned companions made the fights harder instead of easier, unable to do enough damage to outweigh the buffed boss HP. Elden Ring still has NPC and co-op summoning, but it has added a third facet – Spirit Ashes. Summoning Spirit Ash companions does not buff boss health and doesn’t cost you anything other than a second of your time. Bringing a pack of wolves into a tight spot can make the difference between win and lose, victory and defeat, playing on or giving up. Elden Ring gives the player a bevy of options that they can make use of if they like or ignore if they want a steeper challenge.
It generates stories
Without a doubt, if you have played Elden Ring and you enter into conversation with someone else who played Elden Ring, you will have discussion options aplenty. Everyone sputters with indignation when recalling a teleportation trap, shares a knowing glance about Patches, and recounts in detail the exact character build that enabled them to get past a challenging encounter that frustrated them at first tilt. It has been true for all of From Software’s catalogue and remains true for Elden Ring that the encounters you find most difficult will be a gentle palate cleanser for someone else, and the fight you breezed through will be a storm of a challenge for another. Comparing notes is an unmissable part of the experience.
There’s no doubt that the other nominees for Game of the Year were worthy, and each one of them could have won in a different year, against different challengers. But 2022 was the year of Elden Ring.
Featured Image Credit: Bandai Namco