I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Jan today. We were discussing something about games in general when I said something along the lines of “”… like in another masterpiece, like Elden Ring". We then had a discussion about what makes a game a masterpiece, which was quite nice, but while we were talking about some specifics regarding terminology I came up with comparing Elden Rings open world with Breath of the Wilds. I did that because I know Jan absolutely loves BotW and I could get my point across that way.

The thing is, I never really got into BotW. I mean I finished the game and I had fun doing so, but it never really clicked. Elden Ring, on the other hand, just left me flabbergasted. It was quite some time ago when a game just hooked me this hard. It’s gorgeous, deep on many layers and just ultimately very rewarding to play. But I wasn’t quite sure what exactly it was that got me into playing Elden Ring like a maniac and not making me play BotW. I mean the games are very similar if you look at them from a abstract point of view.

Today, while arguing with Jan, it finally clicked.

When I was playing BotW I had this paradoxical feeling, that the world, despite being just chock full of content, felt… empty? I mean there is a lot of stuff to do in BotW, right? Why was it, that I was bored by the game world then?

Well, you can’t climb in Elden Ring…

While playing BotW I always wanted to just go wherever it looked interesting. I saw a huge mechanical bird in the sky once and wanted to go there. How did I go there? Well a straight bee line of course, climbing every mountain in my way and gliding over chasms like the mechanics communicated I could. This, however has some terrible consequences for actual gameplay. While running straight to my destination I, apparently, missed a lot of content. I stumbled over stuff just by chance if it was on the way, but I really didn’t follow roads or anything. I played the game with the mechanics it gave me, but this led to me missing a lot of stuff. I did explicitly check out some landmarks, encounters and hidden stuff later in my playthrough, but this didn’t really feel like I discovered something cool. It just felt like checking something off of my to-do list.

In Elden Ring on the other hand I was just overwhelmed with stuff to do. This game is incredibly huge and has hidden stuff all over the place. The key difference is, that you’re forced to explore by foot. Elden Rings open world feels like it’s denser with content than BotWs, even if it’s probably not the case. Most interesting things are somewhat close to roads or paths and, more importantly, to each other. You can always count on something being around the corner, even if you’re exploring on the streets. It feels like the game is actively guiding you to interesting shit while still letting you explore on your own. The restriction of not being able to just scale every wall or mountain adds, in my opinion, the opportunity for real exploration, while also adding the possibility for actual level design guiding you to the next big thing. Of course there are a lot of hidden things in Elden Ring, but they are actually hidden and not just “hidden” behind you needing to climb up to something. The design decision to not give you the ability to scale walls makes the level design of Elden Ring shine. It actively pulls you where you need to go while making sure you can explore and find stuff on the way there. There is no bee line in Elden Ring.

Of course you can miss stuff in Elden Ring, too. Actually I think you can miss more stuff than in BotW if you’re not paying attention (or reading the wiki). Some very frustrating moments were had when I realized I locked myself into a ending I didn’t really want… Those who “know” will know. When I missed something in both Elden Ring and in BotW it was because I didn’t look close enough. But in BotW it was because of the mechanics the game gave me were to efficient to get me from point A to B. The game is too open with too much freedom of movement. Restriction like in Elden Ring can and did solve this problem for me.

Of course this is purely subjectively. It’s just that my type of play makes me miss stuff if a game gives me the chance to. Elden Ring forced me to follow the level design, which made me miss less stuff. That’s why I liked Elden Rings open world more.

Thanks for reading ⭕