If you’ve spent any time on the internet in the last week, you would’ve likely seen a number of intense debates happening over Elden Ring. The usual accessibility and difficulty discourse still permeates much of the conversation around the game, but the newest point of contention was actually Elden Ring’s user interface. You know, the menus and onscreen elements that give you information about your health pool and rune count.
Like Souls-likes before it, Elden Ring has some sparse UI design. The HUD shows the most relevant information, including your stamina bar and equipped items–and that’s about it. The user experience isn’t particularly intuitive at first, especially given the number of options the game provides without stopping to actually break each individual bit down. Doing things like using your pouch or peeking at the map are also a pain in the ass to do while exploring the Lands Between or in a tense battle, but par for the course for a FromSoftware game. Still, that hasn’t stopped folks from theorizing about a more “mainstream” take on Elden Ring instead.
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A Reddit user named gamboozino posted a heavily-photoshopped image on March 5 of what Ubisoft’s Elden Ring might look like. You can imagine how cluttered the screen is, with button prompts for “Tarnished Sense” (lol) and obnoxious notifications about which boss to defeat next. Admittedly, it seems to be an over-exaggeration of Ubisoft’s design, but the image has been painted in the mind, and it totally contradicts Elden Ring’s vibe.
The photo jumped from Reddit to Twitter and has since been memeified, serving as one of the progenitors for the ongoing user interface debate. Since then, multiple folks—apparently including developers from Guerrilla Games, Nixxes Software, and Ubisoft—have waded in with copious hot takes. Many argued that Elden Ring’s user interface (and by extension, its user experience) sucks, particularly because it does a bad job of communicating what certain icons mean if you don’t read the equipment descriptions first or how they affect you as you play. Others praised FromSoft’s minimal UI design for its simplicity and straightforwardness.
Elden Ring’s UI is just different, something some developers could ideally learn from considering how successful the game has been for FromSoft since its launch. A senior UI engineer at Blizzard Entertainment named Valentine Powell pretty much echoed that sentiment in a short Twitter thread. Powell said that features, like intrusive UI elements, don’t have to be in every game simply because they work well in other games. Instead, what Elden Ring is doing could–and should–be a teachable moment for Western devs.
Bruno Dias, a designer and writer at Sunless Skies developer Failbetter Games, told Kotaku over Twitter DMs that the heated debate shows that some folks don’t understand what FromSoft is trying to do with Elden Ring.
“It’s pretty easy to be critical of Elden Ring’s UI/UX but it seems incurious to me to just proclaim that it’s bad in a general sense,” Dias said. “It’s...fine, definitely livable for most people playing the game. And there’s definitely some level of not trying to understand why some things are the way they are.”
Dias pointed out that, unlike other open-world games, the Elden Ring map does not always update to depict your most recent developments, though it offers tools to let you mark it up by hand.
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Still, the pared-back UI compliments Elden Ring’s strength as an open-world exploration game. The minimal HUD allows you to stroll the Lands Between unimpeded by objective markers or superfluous icons. You can simply get lost without feeling the pressure of completing this task of defeating that boss. It’s calming and, more specifically, reinvigorating because the game trusts that you’ll find your way whether by intuition, guides, observation, or all three.
“I don’t think every single decision [FromSoft] makes is perfectly intentional and objectively correct, but there [are] a few things where Elden Ring seems to be doing things a certain way for a reason,” Dias said.