Just two weeks out from the game’s launch, we caught up with Elden Ring producer Yasuhiro Kitao about all things Elden Ring, including the game’s flexible character creator and other feedback from the community.
Yasuhiro Kitao was happy to share with us his thoughts on Elden Ring, especially with regards to difficulty and balancing for the game.
Improving The HUD for Elden Ring
The game had received a lot of critique following its Closed Network Test from the fervant Soulsborne community. According to Kitao, a lot of this feedback was taken into consideration moving towards the release build for Elden Ring.
“If we had to say one thing in particular, it’d be about the HUD and the gauge design”, Kitao says. “We did plan to make adjustments to these areas but of course after seeing feedback from the network test it was clear that the current designs were far too simple and far too basic. We needed something that would match better with the world and the setting and something that would be more appealing to the eye, so we’re very grateful for this feedback from the players”.
He’s referring, of course, to a common complaint that Elden Ring’s UI was much too simple, especially compared to the more ornate UI of other titles like Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne.
It wasn’t all just prettier life bars, though. Yasuhiro Kitao also talked about several aspects of the combat in Elden Ring, which players got to try last year during the Closed Network Test.
One more things fans noticed was ideas from Dark Souls 2 being present in the game. For the uninitiated the follow-up to Dark Souls has largely been considered the black sheep of the Souls series, despite the vocal minority singing its praises. While Kitao had nothing to say about the reputation, he did stress that Elden Ring was a proper successor of the Soulsborne franchise, and that meant lifting ideas from the game’s history too.
“We’d like to think Elden Ring as the culmination of all that experience coming together”, he says. “Elden Ring is a traditional successor to Dark Souls series as our next big fantasy action RPG, so we wanted to take that series as a base and expand on the scope and the scale of it in ways we couldn’t before. So of course we took elements of Dark Souls 2 and the other games and adapted them to suit the gameplay and world of Elden Ring”.
“Of course this isn’t just a copy and paste job, we have to actually adapt and adjust them so they fit the world and mechanics of this new title, but yeah a lot of inspiration was taken from our previous titles”.
Balancing Magic And Fell Omens
One thing fans may have noticed from the Elden Ring beta was just how powerful magic is- many enemies just aren’t prepared to deal with a long-range attack, leading fans to see it as overpowered.
“We just want to make the game fun for many different types of players and we don’t intentionally try to make it easy, depending on the playstyle from one player to another. This is the case with Elden Ring as well of course and for the Network Test, it was simply a matter of balancing”, Kitao says. “So the Network Test wasn’t yet completely tuned, there are some balancing work to be done before release, but it gave us a good idea of where to focus our attention for the main game.”.
He also reassured fans (possibly to their dismay) that you’re likely to have a new experience with magic once the game launches.
“So in the final game you’ll see that melee, magic and other types of projectile weapons have been tuned, hopefully to be more balanced across the board as well as on things on the enemy sides, such as enemy reactions and motions in response to your attacks, things like this which also make it easier to read the situation and to adapt accordingly.”
As anyone who actually knows game dev would know, it’s not so simple as pressing a giant NERF button. Kitao was kind enough to share with us just exactly how his team would go about trying to tune the game’s magic system.
“There is an awful lot of types of equipment to cater with different playstyle and we literally have to address each piece of weaponry one by one, is there something that is too strong so we have to check the parameters, animations, the timing and see what can be changed”, he explains. “It could be a case of tweaking some numbers, other times it’s more complicated, but this time we feel like because of the more expansive world and just the largest scope of the game, we feel like we’re gonna see a trend of mixed playstyle, so players who don’t just stick to one kind of build maybe can make a hybrid build and how you approach enemies in different situations”.
“There’s gonna be a lot more variety there so players would have a lot more freedom to experiment in that sense. Also there are many different items in the game, some of which utilize magic as well, so players might want to branch out from their comfort zone and try different things to combat the situation differently. We think this is a new trend we might see in Elden Ring”, he adds.
It’s not just the weapons and abilities getting tweaked, either- according to Yasuhiro Kitao, some rebalancing had to be done to Margit The Fell Omen, the tentpole boss of the Elden Ring Closed Network Test.
“We didn’t want to set out to make bosses harder for the sake of it”, Kitao explains. “Margit was just too hard for the network test, we believe. He was just a little bit tweaked on the high end, so he does need some balancing for that early point in the game”.
Before you head to reddit decrying the casualization of Elden Ring, though, Yasuhiro Kitao managed to explain that there are totally going to be hidden bosses that will really test your limits, like the optional Orphan of Kos or Darkeater Midir in Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, respectively. The idea was that they didn’t want massive roadblocks acting as roadblocks for the player. Now, if you happened to accidentally fall down a pit and find Lady Maria, that was a different matter entirely.
“That of course applies to bosses who are crucial to progress the story of the game and beat the game. In terms of bosses that are unessential and optional and hidden, there are some of these that we have deliberately increased the challenge for those players who want to seek out this kind of experience. Hopefully if you’re that way inclined, you can seek out some really tough challenges hidden away in the world”, Kitao says with a smile.
He also talked about the new Stakes Of Marika, and making the runback to each boss more accomodating:
“While it’s not all bosses, but it certainly the case that we were more mindful of this distance between the Site of Graces and the Stakes of Marika in each boss fight. We wanted to reduce the stress of repeating that track to the boss room and we feel like with a much more expansive world of Elden Ring, this would definitely result in stress where we have a long run back to the boss every single time”, he says.
“The Stakes of Marika in particular are placed strategically in order for us to alleviate that stress when exploring in the open and to encourage that exploration. So yeah, having a checkpoint just before the boss also let players to tune their builds, tune their characters, level up a little bit in order to try different strategies and face the boss again in order to make that encounter the most important thing”, he says.
No More Path of the Dragon
Speaking of hidden content, Yasuhiro Kitao also mentioned Elden Ring would feature hidden areas, as per the Souls game tradition.
“First we should say that yes, there are some hidden areas that you can be transported to in Elden Ring’s world , this wont work exactly the same way as it did in the case of the Nameless King in Dark Souls 3, you wont have to perform a gesture for a long time just to get transported somewhere but there will be some nice surprises for the players and some encounters and bosses that are maybe a little bit tricky to reach and we hope you discover each of these”, he said.
He did, however, have this to say about the game’s map:
“It’s not just about the map size for us, it’s about the content and the motivation to explore it”, he said.
He also answered a bunch of assorted questions about features in Elden Ring, presented as follows:
Will players be able to relocate stats and change their appearance in the middle of the game, and if yes will it be easy to do so or required rare item like it did in Dark Souls 2 and 3?
Kitao: Yes you can do both. Both relocation of stats and changing up appearance are possible in Elden Ring. For relocation of the stats, you do need to meet some certain conditions and you will need a slightly rare item, but it will be possible. For appearance, it’s a little bit more free or easygoing, Miyazaki himself has gone on record sort of half jokingly saying that he wants players to feel a lot less restricted when it comes to the appearance because of the length and size of the game, maybe switch up their appearance on the fly or maybe something surprising or scary happens to their character and they want to turn their hair shock white or something like that. This should be possible in Elden Ring.
Will there be an option for players to replay boss battles?
Kitao: There will not be a boss rush or boss rematch mode in Elden Ring, and we’re not currently planning one.
What are the biggest difficulties faced in shifting the mobility in the game?
Kitao: First of all, the mount came from the fact that its such a huge world that we need a way to explore it and traverse it comfortably in a fun way. It also partly comes from Miyazaki’s personal taste, when designing a fantasy world that you can explore, you need to have a trusty steed at your side .
This just feels like the right thing to do.
We didnt want to just have a typical horse, thats very majestic looking, long legs and graceful. We wanted to have soemthing that’s a little more From-esque, you know maybe a little bit rough around the edges, a little bit well worn, things like this. We wanted to have a horse that fits the world and fits our style of game.
So thats why you have this kind of strange looking four legged creature who also happens to be a spiritual buddy.
How have the recent server issues with the Dark Souls games affected the development of Elden Ring?
Kitao: First of all, we want to take this opportunity to apologize to you and our players for this inconvenience, and we greatly appreciate all of the information and feedback that have been shared regarding this issue. We want players to rest assured that the issue has been addressed in regard to Elden Rings release. And this is not going to be an issue when the game launches at the end of this month. For the Dark Souls series, the development environment will need some time to set up and to address in that sense. So we’re again, we apologize for the inconvenience there, but Elden Ring had to take top priority to ensure that we had those security measures in place and to ensure our players could go in with no extra worries.
What was it like working with George R.R Martin?
Kitao: Above all we took great inspiration from working with George R.R Martin. Of course this is something that Miyazaki has spoken about before but this is the first time that we made a game based on soemthing written by another creator. It was a great new challenge for us and a great new source of impetus.
In the original manuscript that Mr Martin wrote, it was full of mythological drama, of deep intrigue and conspiracy and family relationships that really shape the world that you see in Elden Ring and its history. So we’re really looking forward to players meeting these characters and facing these bosses and using their imaginations to piece together everything that took place before the events of the game.
On The Player Story Experience
Kitao: We’d like to think that the player’s story always comes first in our games and Elden Ring is no different from that. We’re using the same sort of narrative style in our previous titles and that we wanted to go hand in hand with the gameplay and we want players to tell their own story through the journey and we don’t want to force the narrative upon them, we don’t want it to be a narrative driven experience.
The user will go through the world, explore, find these clues and they will observe their surroundings and interpret their own narrative that way. Also Sekiro had a little bit of this which were trying to expand upon Elden Ring, but there are a lot of NPC characters with their own voices and their own goals as well, so the player will not just be picking up the narrative through items description, they’ll be able to interact with these characters and get a much better idea of the narrative and world-building through the characters themselves.
How has the recent server issue on the Dark Souls games affected the development of Elden during specifically multiplayer on PC for the upcoming game?
Kitao: First of all, we want to take this opportunity to apologize to you and our players for this inconvenience, and we greatly appreciate all of the information and feedback that have been shared regarding this issue. We want players to rest assured that the issue has been addressed in regard to Elden Rings release. And this is not going to be an issue when the game launches at the end of this month. For the Dark Souls series, the development environment will need some time to set up and to address in that sense. So we’re again, we apologize for the inconvenience there, but Elden Ring had to take top priority to ensure that we had
What are the teams expectations for Elden Ring?
Kitao: Naturally, we feel like Elden Ring is in a good place right now. It feels good after seeing the results of the network test last year and hearing the feedback from fans. So we’re confident that it’s going to meet expectations. Of course before release, there’s always a bit of apprehension mixed in with the excitement because we never know how these things are going to be received at the end of the day.
It is a bit of a different game and that Sekiro had a very specific hook, which in its deflection system. It was quite different from what we’ve done in previous titles and we were worried if would be accepted by the players. So in that sense, Elden Ring is a bit more of a mixed bag. It has various elements adapted, and tweaked from our back catalog that we wanted to employ and match this brand new world on this new level of scale and scope. So in that sense, it really is a sort of a combination of our previous experience. And it’s something that there’s a lot of expectations riding on it in terms of it being a new flagship for the company.
Our thanks again to Yasuhiro Kitao for taking the time to answer our burning Elden Ring-related questions, especially with the game finally coming out after so long. Elden Ring is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Series X|S starting from February 25th.