Elden Ring

Note: If you want to see our full list of 2022 nominees, check out our list here.

When it comes to the Game of the Year conversation, we tend to be a little unconventional at Half-Glass Gaming. Our philosophy is that the Game of the Year should be the most important game of the year, not necessarily the best game of the year. But most important is admittedly a subjective term, and there’s a lot of wiggle room for how we define it in any given year.

Here are some examples: In 2020, the year in which a global pandemic forced us inside for months on end, we chose Animal Crossing: New Horizons as our game of the year. It makes sense, right? The game that became our refuge from the crisis — a safehouse during the proverbial storm — felt important in 2020 in a way that it wouldn’t have in 2019.

In 2021, we had an even more unconventional (and controversial) winner: Final Fantasy XIV was our 2021 Game of the Year. Sure, the game originally launched in 2010, then relaunched in 2013, but MMORPGs have a completely different lifecycle than other video games. And in 2021, Final Fantasy XIV was the MMORPG to finally dethrone World of Warcraft. Remember how back in the heyday of the MMO, the conversation was always, “Is this new game the WoW-killer?” Well, in 2021, FFXIV was the first game to actually do it.

But in 2022, our Game of the Year is super obvious. It’s Elden Ring. Yeah, pretty much everyone else is giving their Game of the Year award to Elden Ring, so we’re certainly not breaking any fresh ground here. But when I look back over the year that was 2022, there’s not another game that deserves the title more. Elden Ring was a colossal masterpiece that completely broke the open-world RPG mold.

Elden Ring

And for me personally, Elden Ring was important. At the end of 2021, I fought a battle against cancer that left me pretty messed up going into 2022 (I wrote in detail about this experience in a post on my band’s website, so I wont’ go over all the details here). After six weeks of barely being able to get off my couch, the last thing I wanted to do in February was play more video games. But February was a relentless month for the games industry, and my job is to play these things.

I reached a point where I had burned out, emotionally and mentally fried from my harrowing battle with death, and physically exhausted from the sheer onslaught that was February, 2022. When Elden Ring came out, I didn’t even want to play it all that much, if I’m being perfectly honest.

But within my first three hours, something awakened inside me. I found myself falling completely in love with Elden Ring — and falling in love with video games all over again.

Elden Ring - Thou Shouldst Take the Crown

Look, as much as I love video games, there are things about playing them that can be super annoying. For example, while the Assassin’s Creed formula can be comforting sometimes, it also gets repetitive and boring whenever you realize that you’re not actually having fun — you’re just picking out predetermined icons on a map and doing what the game expects you to do at each one.

Elden Ring feels different. From the moment you set foot in its world, you’re overcome with this sense of adventure. The game doesn’t tell you what you’re supposed to be doing; it just lets you wander around and figure it out for yourself. There are no quest logs or scavenger-hunt icons on your map; just a massive world connected by bonfire fast-travel points. If you want to tumble off into some precarious dungeon before you’ve even geared up, go for it. If you just want to ride around picking herbs for hours at a time, you can do that too. Elden Ring doesn’t care.

There are enormous chunks of this game world you might never even discover after multiple playthroughs. There are secrets hidden inside other secrets in this tangled mess of an interactive experience, and the game just lets you stumble into its complex web. Getting yourself untangled is part of the fun, and Elden Ring has enough confidence in itself to not care if you get frustrated with it.

Elden Ring - Squashbert

Allow me to make an analogy.

I once traveled out to Arizona to meet up with my parents for a few days. My luggage ended up on the wrong plane, so I had a pretty stressful first day. My mom had planned this packed itinerary for me, so I was being whisked off from place to place, stressed out about my luggage and seeing way more things than I could even process. Finally, I took my mom aside and said, “Look, I appreciate you sharing all of these great things with me, but I kind of need to de-stress for a couple hours.” So we found a small coffee shop where I just sat and read a book for a while. That ended up being my favorite part of that entire trip.

Most open-world games are like that — the game packs out your itinerary because it’s nervous that you’re going to get bored. If you slow down for a second, the game panics and tries to distract you with something else. But Elden Ring is perfectly comfortable letting you approach it on your own terms. It doesn’t try to distract you, or overwhelm you with map icons, or roadblock you into seeing its coolest parts because it’s afraid you’re going to miss them.

Elden Ring - Stormveil Castle

Elden Ring is an open-world game that completely chucks the traditional open-world formula out the window — something that I don’t think has happened to this extent since Breath of the Wild. Elden Ring understands that sometimes, the itinerary is just a distraction, so it sets it ablaze and lets you find the good parts on your own. I hope that, as we leave 2022 behind us, other game developers take note. The gaming audience doesn’t need flashing lights and quest markers and directional arrows — we just need compelling worlds to get lost in.

Elden Ring could very well be a new direction for open-world video games in the future, and I think that’s something we’re going to be talking about for a very long time.

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