MDA of Elden Ring

Elden ring, widely considered one of the greatest games in recent history, produces almost every aesthetic (maybe not submission) in large doses. However, most would would agree that the most important core aesthetic of Elden Ring is challenge. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the fun of challenge arising from the brutally difficult bosses of Elden Ring.

Starting with mechanics, the big bosses of Elden Ring all have a lot of health, such that it takes players a few minutes to kill each of them. During those minutes, the bosses continuously bombard the player with combo attack moves (importantly, there’s a finite number of attack patterns) that typically have a short wind up, large area of effect, stun the player, and each attack will take away a third or more of the player’s health, with some killing the player in one hit outright. Furthermore, bosses frequently have 2 phases, with the second phase activating when their health get low enough, and this second phase is usually composed of even stronger version of their earlier attack moves. Most players, myself included, use melee weapons that have a short range, and have a limited amount of recharging stamina to attack and dodge with.

The first dynamic these mechanics create is that players will die to the same boss over and over again – the hardest boss I’ve faced so far took me more than 20 tries. The second is that players have to spend most of the fight dodging the boss’ attack, only hitting the boss a few times in between dodging. This, combined with the bosses relentless but finite attack patterns, and the “easier” first phase that train the player for the second phase, produce what I consider the most important dynamic here: the essence of beating a boss in Elden Ring is learning all of the boss’ moves, their AOE and their timing, and how to avoid them, because the mechanics of these bosses make reacting and dodging on the fly next to impossible. Despite the bosses dealing so much damage, most of my successful boss attempts end with me taking very little damage overall because I am able to dodge most attacks.

Based on these dynamics, when a player faces a boss after having died 20 times, proceeds to dodge and weave their way to killing the boss, having mastered the boss’ moves, and finally end up triumphant, the fiero of winning is drastically magnified by this fun of challenge. And I suspect this fun of challenge is one of the major reasons so many reviewers labeled it as “10/10 – Masterpiece”.

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