That’s not to say the decision was an easy one. I can totally appreciate every reason why Elden Ring picked up the big trophy, but there are just a few things that let it down. While it is a masterpiece, it’s not Game of the Year.
And that’s because of three things: accessibility, difficulty and approachability.
I understand why Elden Ring won
So, I thought I’d start by laying the groundwork for why Elden Ring deserved the win. It comes down to three key reasons.
- It’s unique: Elden Ring does, indeed, take some inspiration from the rest of From Software’s Souls games. But it is not a direct sequel like Ragnarök, and with its non-traditional open-world experience and storytelling, alongside an ever-building shared mythology through player deaths and co-op play, it breathes new air into this format.
- The art style is unlike anything else this year. There’s a reason Elden Ring vastly overshadowed Horizon: Forbidden West back at its launch. For me, it’s the striking artistic flair and design that delivers some truly eye-catching visuals. Fidelity is not the name of the game, but the creativity on show sets this apart from anything else available this year.
- Its gameplay is impressively versatile. For all the love I have for Ragnarök and its thoroughly perfected gameplay style, Elden Ring does provide you with more choice in how you build your character and how to approach situations.
…but that’s not enough
It’s not that a Game of the Year contender has to be everything to everyone. That’s simply not possible. But in my opinion, something that is deserving of this moniker should be able to take as many people as possible along for the journey.
Difficulty gatekeeping is a real thing, and Soulsborne games are at the top of this mountain when it comes to brutally challenging bosses and sections. Elden Ring, for all it has done in terms of inviting other players to help you and different prompts to help you, is also rock solid.
It’s going to alienate some players however, it definitely marginalized me. I wanted nothing more than to feast my eyes and hands on this gorgeous world and immerse myself in the lore, but the frustration rapidly grew and took me right back out of it. Saying all of this, Elden Ring is still one of the most played games of the entire year, so maybe it’s just me? Tweet us if you had a similar experience.
And finally, we’ve got to talk about accessibility. Elden Ring, in comparison to the rest of From Software’s lineage, is certainly a little more approachable for sure. But without accessibility features like controller remapping, playstyle alterations, challenge level customization and colorblind settings (that last one got me a little, as I can’t tell the difference between friendly and enemy phantoms), this is another form of unnecessary gatekeeping.
God of War Ragnarök should have won
Comparing Elden Ring to God of War Ragnarök is a quintessential “apples and oranges” situation. Both games may involve tasty hand-to-hand combat and epic encounters, but they are very different in execution.
That’s why I can absolutely see the reasons Elden Ring won, but purely on personal taste, I disagree and think Ragnarök is the superior game. You see, in the list above, I highlight the differences to God of War as if Santa Monica’s game had some weaknesses, but to me, these are actually its strengths.
The almost bafflingly high levels of artistic attention to detail pair with a higher level of polish that puts other AAA experiences on blast. Gameplay mechanics (while more concentrated than Elden Ring’s versatility) feel all the more amazing for its focus, with additional intricacies and a greater variety of enemies making it feel all the more sophisticated.
Telling you a clear story (rather than maintaining a non-linearity to it like Elden Ring) means each beat is delivered with an emotional maturity that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and refuses to let go.
Plus, with literal award-winning accessibility features and complex difficulty customization, Ragnarök can be just as challenging or approachable as you need it to be. It’s a special game that anyone is able to enjoy and immerse themselves in.
I tried to love Elden Ring just as much as my friends did. I really tried. But I couldn’t. It surprised everyone with its magnificence at the beginning of the year, and I thoroughly applaud From Software for making such a masterpiece that is adored by so many.
However, regardless of your thoughts on difficulty, a game has to be accessible to take you on its journey. Challenge is welcome, but it needs to be balanced with a positive sense of progress — be it dialogue that keeps the story going, complex accessibility options, or an option to tone down the difficulty when the fights get particularly perilous.
These are features that Elden Ring lacked, and God of War Ragnarök excelled in, along with superior storytelling, a tighter focus on providing a satisfying, concentrated gameplay loop that anyone feels welcome to pick up, and a truly unforgettable story.
Both games absolutely deserved GOTY, but in my opinion, the judges made the wrong decision.
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Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.