If I wanted to, I could write a paean to Elden Ring that makes a solid case for how it’s a game changer. Literally. They took the tired old open world formula and made it exciting again. It’s funny because there were a few people at Ubisoft and Guerrilla Games who griped about Elden Ring invalidating their jobs such as UX developer. And saying that the protag needed to talk and other things. Though I’m not sure the latter wasn’t a really dark joke. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they meant it. too, because Aloy narrates EVERYTHING. It’s one of the complaints I’ve seen consistently about Horizon Forbidden West–that Aloy ruins the experience by narrating all the time. One YouTuber said he would race to figure out puzzles before Aloy would reveal the solution because it was so irritating to him. So, yeah, the tweet about the protag of Elden Ring needing to say things like, “I think I should go to that cave over there” doesn’t read like snark. It sounds like my idea of hell, by the way.
I’ve written before about how I don’t really like open world games, and much of what these developers said in distaste about Elden Ring are reasons I don’t like standard open world games. Things like a cluttered map, which I’ve seen several YouTubers mention as well (that they hate or that makes them anxious)–a map crammed with things to do. I’ve felt the same way with other open world games. Opening a map and seeing a zillion things to do is not a plus for me–it just makes me anxious and unhappy.
I cannot overstate how much I love the map in this game. And it’s actually the reason I thought up this post. There are many big things this game does that are amazing and jaw-dropping. There are, however, also many little things, little tweaks and adjustments they’ve made that have infinitely improved the quality of life while playing the game. To me, the map fits in both these categories. It’s a big change because they’ve never had a real map in one of their games. They had a joke overworld map in Sekiro that is hidden somewhere in the options menu. I maintain that they put it in because Activision (boooooo) made them do it. “You want a map? Fine. We’ll give you a map!” Fun fact. ‘Shadows died twice’ was a placeholder name they used internally. Activision made them use it as the subtitle for the game. Jokes on them–no one ever says it when talking about the game. It’s simply Sekiro. Anyway, fuck Activision!
So having a real map is huge. It was necessary, obviously, given how massive the game is and the fact that it’s open world. I was concerned before the game came out because one of the beautiful things about Dark Souls games is learning the areas by, well, dying repeatedly in them. I can tell you every nook and cranny in Dark: Souls III–by the way, speaking of, I was watching Ellen from Outside Xtra doing the Yhorm fight with Siegward. Afterwards, Luke told her to keep her camera trained on Siegward as she went to light the bonfire. While watching him, he suddenly sagged (he’s sitting down) and disappeared. I was amazed because I had never seen that before. I mean, I knew he died after helping you fight Yhorm because I’ve had him in the fight several times, but I didn’t know he actually died on-screen! I mean, yes, it makes sense, but it wasn’t something that would have occurred to me. Still seeing new things in a game I’ve played dozens of times!
Back to the map. I knew there had to be one in Elden Ring because it was going to be open world. And huge. There was no way to keep everything in your brain the way you could with the earlier games. On the other hand, discovery and exploration is one of the joys of a FromSoft game. Having a complete map from the start would dampen that sense of wonder to a certain extent. I couldn’t fathom how they were going to deal with this conundrum, but when they said that you had to find a map fragment before that part of the map is revealed.
Here’s the part they don’t tell you: The map is scaled to what you have discovered. So at the beginning, it’s tiny with nothing revealed. When you find the first map fragment, that section of the map is opened, but nothing more. There is some fog of war around it, but that’s it. On the map itself, even when you find a map fragment, it’s still relatively clean. There’s nothing marked except what you’ve already found. So my map and someone else’s map would look different depending on what we’ve each found.
I’ve been gushing on and on about this map, but it’s indicative of a seemingly small thing that makes such a huge difference. And the fact that it’s beyond what I imagined possible. I was stuck in the typical AssCreed map mindset (which, to be clear, I fucking hate) and did not see how Elden Ring was going to do it in a FromSoft way.
My god, they did it. I should have had more faith in them. But I’m not a game developer so it’s not surprising that I could not fathom how they were going to handle the map issue.
I don’t think they could have done it in a better way, honestly. I’m glad they didn’t stuff the map with meaningless quests, TBH.
There are small touches that I would have appreciated if they had been added, though. Ian and I were talking about the Great Rune and he mentioned that reading the description led him to go back to Stormveil Castle (Godrick’s). He figured it out earlier than I did (reading the Great Rune Arc description as well), including that he was trying to find the tower. I admitted that I looked up how to find it because I just couldn’t be stuffed to find it myself.
That’s one of the issues with a From game. The line between discovery and frustration, and that line is different for everyone. Ian is very discerning and eagle-eyed about his environment. I noticed this as he played Dark Souls–he picked up on things that took me several playthroughs to find. I knew there was something about Great Runes and towers, but did not actually look it up until after I had three or four of them. He has two, granted, but still. I don’t know how to include more blatant hints, though, without breaking the immersion. It’s not like I didn’t read the item descriptions, but I just didn’t put two-and-two together. That’s an endless circle jerk of a discussion in the community, by the way. How to find the perfect balance between esoteric and discoverable.
I’m not mad about that, by the way, because I can always Google anything I don’t know. That’s the compromise that I find doable.