Elden Ring has taken the world by storm, with some calling it the best open-world game ever. For many, myself included, the game to hold that title previously was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The comparison between these two games has struck quite the conversation in some circles.
As for me, I really enjoy both. They're each incredible games that can really make the time fly by. But a friend asked me which one I think is better and I'm hard-pressed to come up with answer. Now that the honeymoon period has ended for both games (several years in Breath of the Wild's case), I wanted to try to answer that question.
Remember that we all enjoy different things to varying degrees, so my experience may not mirror yours.
How Elden Ring and Breath of the Wild compare
Breath of the Wild sees Link try to tackle the vast expanse of Hyrule in the biggest Zelda game to date. It's also the most somber of any of the series that I've played, getting darker than Twilight Princess did in some places. To help you keep some sanity while exploring the world, you get a quest tracker with waypoints to guide you.
In contrast, Elden Ring does no such handholding, sometimes to its detriment. Like any other recent FromSoftware game, Elden Ring is very dark fantasy — bordering on grimdark depending on your perspective — and it pulls no punches. The world is in a bad spot and you're left to pick up the pieces in your quest to become the Elden Lord.
You don't really play either game to feel happy, since both take place after an apocalypse. Breath of the Wild hits you over the head with memories and sorrow, while Elden Ring bludgeons with you with hopelessness. Which style I prefer depends on my mood on a given day.
Both games give you a massive world to explore and drop you into the deep end with naught but a halfhearted wish for good luck. You will find that you quickly die in either instance. Breath of the Wild even throws temperature extremes at you, with Link needing special equipment to survive the cold peaks, the hot Gerudo Desert or the fiery air of Death Mountain. Elden Ring asks no such thing of you.
But these two games differ wildly in presentation. While we can chalk up some artistic differences to Breath of the Wild needing to run on the criminally underpowered Switch (and not very well at that), Elden Ring adopts a grimmer, grittier tone, even with the golden Erdtree shining in the distance. Breath of the Wild looks more lighthearted with a very Nintendo-style design.
I can't shake the Elden Ring fatigue
I've loved every FromSoftware game since Demon's Souls (go to hell, Flamelurker) and I've cleared each one since multiple times. I love Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne, so I'm used to how the Soulsborne games don't let up. Getting to a bonfire or a lantern is an absolute godsend, a chance to let out that breath I'd been holding while my health and healing items slowly dwindled.
So imagine my shock and even unease when I started to figure out that Elden Ring left me positively exhausted. I was so fatigued that I couldn't make myself turn on my PC to play the game. I went a week without touching it. Every time I thought about loading back into the Lands Between, my heart sank.
Furthermore, I grew distressed by what was obviously burnout. I love Elden Ring, but even after a two-week break, I cannot imagine myself going back to it. Meanwhile, Breath of the Wild has captured my attention again. Part of why is that I can play on my Switch in my living room while my wife watches TV versus me playing on my PC in the basement.
But the game feels much more approachable than Elden Ring. I can pick it up, mess around, save, and put my Switch to sleep. Elden Ring feels like a huge time investment, especially since my exploration thus far has amounted to more duds than treasures. Since I never finished Breath of the Wild way back when, I'm excited to find more towers and explore things that look so far distant.
When I think about Elden Ring, once the irrational guilt for not playing subsides, I only want to play Breath of the Wild — if I want to play a video game at all. I won't deny that I'm generally burnt out and perhaps that might have something to do with my Elden Ring fatigue. However, Breath of the Wild is a much more relaxed experience for me and I find myself preferring it over the constant weight of Elden Ring.
Like I said, I've put hundreds of hours into FromSoftware games. Sister Friede in Dark Souls 3 alone has counted for several. But when I hear about people putting 100+ hours into Elden Ring, my heart drops. While I'm perfectly capable of devoting that much time to a single-player game, such as I did for Cyberpunk 2077, I struggle to foresee myself doing the same for Elden Ring. Breath of the Wild? I'm already well on my way to that benchmark.
Elden Ring vs. Breath of the Wild: Outlook
Elden Ring is probably the best video game I've ever played. It's everything I could have wanted from a follow-up to Soulsborne. But the fatigue I've experienced is not one I've felt for a single-player game since my ill-fated attempt to find Red Dead Redemption 2 interesting. The closest I've ever come to this is my love-hate relationship with Destiny 2.
Yet I find myself drawn more to Breath of the Wild. It's a lot easier to pick up and play without fuss and while it can be challenging, it wears on me less than the constant knowledge that I will invariably meet my demise somewhere along Elden Ring's many roads. That's an odd feeling for me as a huge FromSoftware fanboy.
So to go back to my friend's question of which game is "better," I had hoped that while writing this I would have an answer. I don't. My gut says that Elden Ring is superior with way better combat and higher stakes. However, I cannot deny that Breath of the Wild has become my preference and has honestly instilled a stronger sense of wonder than Elden Ring has.
Will I ever return to the Lands Between and take on the horrors that lie within? I can't say. Maybe the fatigue will eventually wear off if I take a long enough break, but I have this sinking feeling that Elden Ring will be the first FromSoftware game that I never finish.