Elden Ring Has A Major Design Flaw That Players Aren't Talking About

Fromsoft's "Elden Ring" has been out for a grand total of almost two weeks, having released on February 25, 2022, and it's already had its fair share of discussions surrounding many of the development team's design decisions. From a general lack of accessibility features to the lack of a pause button during offline play, to the now-infamous "tutorial pit," the game's been somewhat divisive, to put it charitably.

But those aren't the only bizarre design decisions hovering around "Elden Ring." In particular, the way the game gives its players the ability to spend the runes they earn (through combat or collected from usable items) to increase their character's stats is... not exactly well thought out. To the point where it's entirely possible to miss this very important feature entirely. It's along the same lines as the problem with the previously-mentioned tutorial pit, with the game making it a little too easy for someone to skip something they may not want to be skipping, except instead of bypassing control and gameplay mechanic instructions (and missing out on an emote), it's a central mechanic to the entire experience.

And in a game where making those numbers go up is essential (for overall fighting prowess, to be able to use some gear, and to access most spells) to all but the most determined players, that's kind of a problem.

What went wrong

Obfuscation and vagueness are nothing new to these types of Fromsoft games. There's little to no hand-holding, and many players get satisfaction out of discovering things for themselves. However, this shouldn't be the case for central mechanics like character leveling.

The specific problem with the way "Elden Ring" approaches this stems from the ability to spend runes to improve stats being tied to a specific cutscene moment — and that cutscene can only be instigated from one of two specific Sites of Grace (a place to rest, restore health and healing flasks, and resurrect most previously-defeated enemies that's functionally the same as the bonfires in the "Dark Souls" series). Not only that, but the necessary scene will only play out if the player rests at one of these two particular spots, not if they merely activate them.

This means it's entirely possible to reach the requisite Sites of Grace, turn them on so they can be used as fast-travel points or rested at later, then continue exploring without ever triggering this small bit of blink-and-you'll-miss-it story. It's also possible for them to keep playing well beyond those sites, follow the main story path (or just explore whoever they like), activate a new Site of Grace, and be none the wiser to what they missed.

It's a baffling design approach that has nothing to do with "getting good" and everything to do with not properly leading players — something that Fromsoft is usually much better at.

It could be better

Many of Fromsoft's other "Souls-like" games prevent players from being able to level up their characters right away, which makes sense as it both wants players to learn the fundamentals and (hopefully) build up a small number of resources beforehand. But in games like "Dark Souls" and "Bloodborne," players are pretty much metaphorically made to stand right in front of the thing they need to interact with, told they need to interact with it in order to level up, and then given the option to do so or to ignore it at their own discretion.

"Elden Ring," on the other hand, neither leads nor signposts this function adequately. Dialogue from one of the nearly unavoidable NPCs at the very beginning of the game would help, but more than that, it seems like the best answer would be to address what causes the cutscene to play out.

Have the scene play when players rest at any Site of Grace beyond a certain point, maybe. Or set it up so that the first time a player dies (which will happen) after activating either of the necessary Sites, regardless of any other ones they may have activated since, the game automatically resurrects them there and the scene begins as intended.

A ball was dropped somewhere along the way, but hopefully Fromsoft will pick it back up again soon. Players shouldn't have to lookup an essential, core gameplay function like this, and maybe, with a patch, they won't have to.