In my last article on “Elden Ring,” I hypothesized that its player vs. player (PVP) experience would feel very much like the one found in “Dark Souls 3” but with substantial improvements. Well, now that I have played “Elden Ring” for 200+ hours, I can say that this hypothesis is only half true at the moment. I still maintain that this game is the best game I’ve ever played, and its PVP is a substantial improvement in terms of its variety, but it is way too imbalanced even when compared to previous installments.
Just like past entries, the multiplayer of “Elden Ring” consists of invasions and dueling. An Invasion is as it sounds: You can “invade” other players’ worlds as they’re going through the single-player campaign and try to kill them, a chaotic experience that is unfair by design since you can only invade people who are co-oping in this installment. Whereas dueling is a more controlled environment where two players agree to a one-on-one fight via summoning one player to another’s world. Many animations and sound effects were also carried over from “Dark Souls 3,” so people who have played that game will find the flow of combat of “Elden Ring” extremely similar. But this is pretty much where the similarities end.
One major problem with “Elden Ring’s” PVP is that there are many things that do too much damage too fast and too easily. There is a weapon skill called “Hoarfrost Stomp” that allowed players to create a large cone of ice that can almost one-shot people at the cost of very little resources, and it was highly spammable because the cast time was also decently fast. It was so overpowered, dominating both PVP and PVE, that it was finally nerfed about two weeks ago. But so many other weapons and skills can do the same thing if not even better. There’s “Moonveil,” a katana that shoots out magical beams of energy that come out lightning fast and do insane amounts of damage. There’s “Rivers of Blood,” also a katana, that unleashes a flurry of slashes that can bleed and stunlock you to death in one combo. Many dual-wielding bleed weapons have basically the same power: if you make a mistake and get hit by them, prepare to be stunned and bleed to death. Granted, “Dark Souls 3” also had horrible weapon balance, but even the best weapons can never one-shot or almost one-shot you. Now imagine facing two or three players using these overpowered strategies as an invader. You might squeeze out a win if you’re a “Souls” veteran using every tool at their disposal, but the truth is most players won’t stand any chance unless they’re also using the same weapons and skills. Even then the numbers advantage is just too much to handle most of the time. And an environment where people are constantly being one-shot is just not fun anyway.
On the flip side of things, some weapons and skills in comparison seem completely unviable, especially heavier weapons like great hammers and great axes. The point of these weapons is that they have lower attack speeds in exchange for high damage output, and so they are made basically irrelevant by the wildly over-tuned stuff that do way more damage at twice the speed. In addition, their movesets and speed have also been nerfed compared to the ones in “Dark Souls 3,” which is a weird choice given how they were already not very good and that almost everything else became way better in “Elden Ring.”
By itself, this problem of weapons having too much damage is still not that bad, at least in duels. There is room for counterplay, and I live for the challenge of facing these weapons with inferior loadouts. Most people who abuse these things aren’t very good anyway. However, the problem is made worse by two broken mechanics: poise and a weapon skill called “Bloodhound Step.” Poise is a stat that allows you to tank through attacks without being staggered. In “Dark Souls 3,” poise only applies to select weapons (mostly the heavier weapons like the ones I mentioned previously) and only when attacking, but poise in “Elden Ring” applies across the board: It doesn’t matter what weapon the player is using or whether they are attacking. With high amounts of poise, a character can remain uninterrupted for several attacks even by heavy weapons, which makes for very little counterplay. You can’t really punish your opponent’s attacks because they can just keep wailing at you while ignoring your own attacks. On the other hand, “Bloodhound Step” is a skill that allows a player to dash through a great distance while being invulnerable. It is highly spammable with little recovery time and low resource cost, so it acts as both a get out of jail free card and an insane tool for aggressive playstyles. It’s mind-boggling how something so absurdly powerful exists in this game—an inferior version of it is also present in “Dark Souls 3,” and it is already extremely overpowered. Now imagine going up against someone with not only one-shot weapons but also with high poise and “Bloodhound Step.” It is an utter nightmare to face, even in a dueling environment.
With all this said, I still think the PVP experience of “Elden Ring” can be a ton of fun, even to the point of surpassing that of “Dark Souls 3,” with the right conditions. The first thing I would recommend is to stay clear of high-level (level 125 to 150) invasions, which is where you’re most likely going to encounter the broken stuff. I think low-level invasions roughly around level 30 to level 70 are probably the most balanced PVP experiences, disregarding the fact that you’re always outnumbered as an invader, with not too much damage and poise to worry about, though “Bloodhound Step” might still be somewhat of a problem. But I actually found dueling at high levels to be the most fun at this time with some amazing variety that “Dark Souls 3” cannot possibly match. Despite the existence of these overpowered strategies, most players I’ve met aren’t using them. Thanks to the sheer number of options available in “Elden Ring,” there are still a lot of fun loadouts that are very strong but fair, and there is still a ton of player innovation going on with how new the game is. Even when you inevitably fight a poise-stacking, dashing monster wielding “Rivers of Blood,” the fight is still an interesting one because it doesn’t come up that often. You’re also given a good challenge that pushes you to improve. So I think PVP in the form of dueling is the best the “Souls” franchise has to offer so far, and I am confident that PVP as a whole will only improve from here. The game is receiving regular updates, while most of the issues I outlined here are easily fixed by tweaking some numbers. I just hope it doesn’t take the devs too long to do so.