Wednesday 23 March 2022


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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Like so many others I've been playing a lot of Elden Ring over the past few weeks. I'm 27 hours in, and so far it's already been one of my favourite videogame experiences. I played the original Dark Souls 10 years ago, enjoying it but getting stuck at some point and never finishing it. I haven't gone back into the series since, and was mostly drawn into Elden Ring by the comparisons to Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild was the best and worst thing to happen to my experience with videogames. Its inviting world, near limitless freedom, and wide open structure tapped into everything I want from a game, but it lowered my tolerance for games that fail to deliver. Clever systems and finely-tuned challenges are good, but above all else I want to feel like I'm exploring a world in my own way, and that the world is worth exploring. 

Years later I dipped into a remaster of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag hoping for the same feeling, but it always felt like the world was behind a fluttering curtain of systems, and my plans weighed down by a rigid structure for what I should be doing at any given time. No Man's Sky had a lot to like by the time I came to it, but it still felt like there was a game developer's hand on my shoulder as I played. I picked up Shadow of War for free and I don't know if I even made it into the sandbox, dragged down into the tutorial-mire before I could even run freely. 

So I wanted to acknowledge some of the ways in which Elden Ring gets it right for me and nails the element of exploration in a way that so many other games fail. Might be a good checklist if you're hoping to stimulate that same feeling in your tabletop RPG.

It lets me do what I want, not what I should be doing.

It lets me go to dangerous places even if I should probably come back later.

It lets me run away.

It lets me sneak.

It lets me grab some treasure without fighting.

It (usually) shows me the dangerous thing before it kills me.

It shows me big, distant places that I can go to.

It doesn't note down everything for me, and expects me to pay attention.

It sometimes points in a certain direction, but doesn't tell me why.

It lets me visit most regions of the world (perhaps all of them, I'm not sure yet!) without fighting a single boss.

It  puts some weak enemies in the strong areas and some strong enemies in the weak areas. 

It has wandering encounters.

It changes between night and day.

It punishes you for dying, but not too much, and throws you right back in.

It puts some treasure just in a remote place, not necessarily behind a guard. 

It has lore, but most of the time bombards you with flavour.

It has a plot, but it feels more about whatever your character is currently doing.

It lets you change your mind and do something else instead.

It lets me play for 10 minutes or 10 hours and feel satisfied either way.

Perhaps I'll go and dip in right now.


  1. I found this post from a link in a Discord (that just had the title and the thumbnail), and tbh I think that's almost all that's needed. "How do you do Exploration right? Elden Ring"

    Great fun, and if my players can feel one fraction of the wonder and tension Elden Ring inspires in me while playing, I've done my job.

  2. I find it interesting that Breath of the Wild is the bar you've set for games, since it's one of the best games out there. Breath of the Wild confronted me about how I approach gameplay at a time when I was growing bored of video games, and I think I also demand more of my games now.