It’s easy to compare Dark Souls and Elden Ring, but the debate on which one is harder rages on.
FromSoftware is primarily famous for two things. The first is crafting beautiful fantasy worlds filled with rich lore and breathtaking scenery. The second is filling them with disgusting monsters and bloodthirsty warriors that frustrate even the most seasoned gamers.
Elden Ring is the latest in a long line of difficult action RPGs from FromSoftware. As the successor to Dark Souls, Elden Ring being hard was a given from the first teaser.
Now that fans have had time to dissect the game’s mechanics, is Elden Ring really harder than Dark Souls? The answer is yes, but not for the reasons you might think.
FromSoftware combat is basically split between one-on-one encounters and group fights. The former is usually reserved for boss fights while the latter takes place between checkpoints. While Dark Souls is no stranger to fights against a bunch of small enemies, Elden Ring’s swarm fights are much harder due to the sheer number of combatants.
In areas like Castle Morne and Ainsel River, it’s possible to fight more than a dozen enemies at the same time. Dark Souls’ biggest battles involved just five or six enemies max.
The reduction in individual aggro makes enemy swarms even harder to deal with in Elden Ring compared to Dark Souls. In the Souls series, it was common to use ranged weapons, consumable items, or careful movement to aggro individual enemies from groups.
In Elden Ring, members of the same horde often share aggro or position so singling out enemies is more difficult. No Dark Souls enemy ever whipped out a horn to aggro every enemy in an entire fort. This issue is incredibly common in the open world and late-game gauntlets like Leyndell and Crumbling Farum Azula.
It’s no secret that FromSoftware loves putting players against hard dual bosses, but Elden Ring pushes it to the next level. Two-on-one fights are all over the Lands Between. Demi-Human Chiefs, Cleanrot Knights, Grafted Scions, the Crystalians, and more are available in just the first few areas. The ganks keep coming in the late game, including the already-infamous Godskin Duo.
Even in one-on-one fights, the option tree for dealing with Elden Ring’s bosses is much tighter than Dark Souls’. Pure magic and ranged builds are much more difficult due to faster boss movement and ranged attacks. Margit’s ghostly knives are a wake-up call for mages who think they can hang back and cast. Add in ambiguous combo enders and Elden Ring bosses are much harder for magic users compared to Dark Souls.
Players almost always have to interact with the boss’ mechanics to get anywhere. Compare that to Dark Souls 1, where a couple of Crystal Soul Spears is enough to demolish almost any boss.
Margit also introduces players to another recurring theme throughout Elden Ring. Delayed attacks are absolutely everywhere in Elden Ring. Basic enemies winding up lunges while several bosses hold swings just enough to catch a defender right as their rolling invincibility ends.
Margit is also a total pain in this department, but he’s far from unique. Late-game boss Malekith, the Black Blade is probably the biggest example of this philosophy. Several attacks in the same combo are followed by projectiles clearly designed to catch roll spammers.
The defensive option most affected by the design decision is parrying. Parries have gone from being almost universal in the original Dark Souls to being optional in Dark Souls 3 to being almost an afterthought in Elden Ring. Delays become more difficult to adapt to since parries out of block stun get blown up.
The only way to learn is by trial-and-error, which is another problem with Elden Ring parries. There are a ton of parryable attacks in Elden Ring, but many of them don’t even look parryable in the first place. A few of the Night’s Cavalry attacks can be parried, but they look the exact same as the unparryable ones.
In Dark Souls, the general rule is that all humanoid attacks are parryable while everything else isn’t. Elden Ring’s rule is effectively random. Combine that with how Ashes of War almost encourage players to not have a parry shield and it’s much harder here in Elden Ring than compared to Dark Souls.