THE TESTER | ELDEN RING
This is the beginning of a new conversational series of mine that will be dedicated to the creative depth and craftsmanship of design toward game development, game design and general performance testing.
As an overview "Game testing" is comprised of a series of observational methods that help break down a game to its core functional and design elements. It also requires ability to replicate issues, make notes on showstopper bugs and of course a major focus on design choices. Made to evaluate if the experience is workable for the Player (AKA the "user" in tester-speak) and being able to problem solve design decisions to give feedback for more enriching and "complete" gameplay. Logging each and every issue is a huge and possibly the most important part of this process. Unlike within a structured testing environment where an actual product is in the works for release, this is all done from "Gold" builds of games that are already on the market.
It may sound somewhat vague, but aside from pushing to "break" a game functionally (looking for bugs) it also entails the experience of having played and professionally tested hundreds of titles over the course of 35 years. Having been a Tester and Designer for several large game develpers and game publishers, this has equipped me with the tools and knowledge of how to approach and reverse engineer just about every title that I've come across.
So in conclusion, instead of screaming at the monitors and skirting controllers across the street at 90mph from emotional and mental stress, this would be a much better outlet overall.
Mind you, these blog posts are going to be VERY lengthy. So please enjoy, endure if need be and by all means leave feedback on whether you love or whether you hate what's been posted here
ELDEN RING DESIGN AND GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW
Controls are requiring too many overcommitted startup animations. User doesn't have any mechanics available to slow action down while CPU [bosses especially] is able to "zone rubber band track" with great speeds across the map. Meanwhile the user has to run with the tiniest of amounts of speed and ability to cover ground in exchange. Maybe casting abilities to improve agility would have helped quite a bit (aside from variations of "Quick/Bloodhound Step"). There are so many options for casting support and offensive methods, but absolutely nothing for your movement whatsoever. No quick zoning the way the CPU can, no major high jumping aside from the double jump on Torrent. And most definitely no ability to cover ground at a fast pace. You're only options are a quick step which is an ability, a very robotic jump function, or a rolling animation that depends solely on a few frames of invincibility.
The AOE splash and hitboxes are a bit ridiculous for the CPU and especially boss encounters. There are way too many instances that can be repeatable easily where you can literally see an animation does not connect with your character mesh yet you are still being hit anyhow. Most notably when in mid-air trying to intentionally dodge a low attack or an attack that should be have easily been cleared completely due to distance. However the enemies hitbox will still hit you regardless of that situation, staggering you mid-air and dropping you straight downward like a rock (which is already nonsensical enough just basic momentum physics wise). So it becomes extremely difficult to distance judge in a game that gives you very little to judge with; appearing as major inconsistencies.
A zero-sum game on being able to recover from hit animations is an absolute nightmare. Bad enough that every animation overcommits and is unnecessarily extensive at every single turn. But even when you get hit you have no chance of breaking out, no defensive spell that could create something like a hit/guard break of any sort. You're just completely pinned down and stuck in hit animations that will last up to three whole seconds of unnecessary slow plodding movement. In a game where boss encounters zone you in less than half of one.
Camera constantly stuck-set to default autocorrect/auto-center on right analog is extremely cumbersome and horrifically unintuitive to deal with. This is especially notable when trying to watch your flanks and rear on Torrent. You're literally fighting with the camera so you can view the action and protect yourself. Another example of arbitrary difficulty caused by poor gameplay mechanic implementation. This needs a major option to be toggled on or off.
The environment also hosts way too many collision blocks that deliberately traps the player at every turn. You can't use it to your advantage very much (No ability to use walls as an agility factor, and all of the props within the field are destructible whenever you try to jump onto them as an option), so more often than not it all just gets in the way and ends up either trapping you, or completely blinding you all together.
Quite a few deaths are caused because of overextended animations for just about every input function. From juking left to right, which causes the animation to skid start stop and thereby cancels out your ability to roll (seemingly left analog control is prioritized over the Dodge function). Or with the horse/Torrent completely turning like a truck enabling you to absorb massive damage. This is most notably so whenever feeling or striking with simple light melee attacks. While every second counting is pretty cool as a factor, the inability to control how you commit to anything should not be this extensive.
Because Dodge and Run are the same input, which is already a poor design unto itself, there is a buffer input delay when the user is trying to run and dodge right after. It also doesn't help that this game has a function called "input queueing", which means that it will register a double input early but execute the function extremely late, which thereby executes the following animation well after the user has already moved on to doing something else. More often than not the user is already trying to stop attacking, trying to dodge in reaction or choosing not move at all. No ability to cancel the long-winded overcoming animation, along with slight input delay and drop inputs at times, makes this a nightmare to interact with. Arbitrary difficulty note.
Japanese methodology of making a game difficult due to poor sluggish mechanics. Rather than giving the user clean and intuitive control options in order to face extremely difficult AI (Contra, Ghouls & Ghosts and Treasure games are paramount examples of this). Resident evil theory/Arbitrary difficulty. Poor controls cause anxiety which thereby creates another layer of difficulty. A very lame low-brow method of design; fight with the game in order to play the game so you can fight in the game. That is if this is intentional. If it is not then, it's just poor programming.
User needs an ability to scale the map regions much easier. Horse travel is not nearly free enough (a solution for 2000) and there are extremely tall plateaus and wall structures littered throughout the world. After a while it becomes somewhat tedious and doesn't enhance gameplay whatsoever. If a grappling hook ability that was a consumable similar to Naraka Impact were implemented, it would fair to be a much better experience. Even if the AI still remains hyper difficult to deal with.
The lack of real environmental audio in this game is a massive detriment to the gameplay. There are already numerous ways to get dog piled within the game. A real lack of spatial awareness with sound catches the user with unnecessary attacks. Intentional jump scares notwithstanding, most of the time you get blindsided because you don't know that you are being blindsided, majorly due to 0 audio indication whatsoever .
The camera is probably 70% of the opponent in this game. Aside from it going completely wackadoo when you have to lock on, you also need to remove your right thumb from the analog which has the toggle lock on switch. Which will now mean that the user has to choose either to run or to view things freely. Juggling back and forth between toggling lock-on and needing to run and or roll, with a camera that seems deliberately abusive at the worst possible moments- is a major factor toward this game's headaches
Supplementing the previous notion on the camera, it is much too close to the user most of the time. Considering that there are already zero audio cues within the environment created by any of the enemy NPCs, you already have to deal with major tunnel vision. So now you are also playing as if you have blinders on as there is no FOV toggle option on PC or the latest consoles. And no ultra wide screen support either which would give a somewhat similar satisfying result.
The overall control scheme is just downright messy and convoluted. It causes quite a bit of fumbling when under pressure situations and because you need to move your gaze toward the bottom left hand portion of the screen, it throws you off constantly. A different real-time UI needs to be implemented. It's just overly obtuse.
Overall there are way too many things functionally are the causes of this game's frustration. It's quite unnecessary and an archaic approach to designing difficulty as a factor completely. Elden Ring gets its reputation for being [more] difficult like other "souls-like" titles with From Software. However I'm observing that it's not due to overcoming AI that's genuinely difficult to deal with 100% of the time, but instead it's the user's inability to translate intention to function due to the myriad of technical and control issues housing the game. There are far too many instances where fumbling with the controls ends up being more difficult to deal with than the enemy in front of you.
ELDEN RING grips you for hours with its inherent depth and sense of exploration. Yet when it comes down to focusing on the refined and basic functionality, it all falls apart fairly quickly, creating a sense of "difficulty" that genuinely isn't there and possibly should not be there in the first place.