Let’s be honest: we already knew that Elden Ring has moments when the AI seems to cheat a little – now we understand how it does it.
GamesRadar has reported that prolific data whistleblower Zullie the Witch has posted a new video that addresses a somewhat controversial aspect of Elden Ring’s much-discussed difficulty: the tendency for enemies to react to specific actions (like self-healing) almost as quickly as you perform them, sometimes referred to by fans as “input reading”.
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve reduced Godskin Guy’s life force to millimetres, just like he did to you. Luckily, on the brink of victory, you have an ace up your sleeve: the healing Flask of Crimson Tears. One sip, and you’ll have some breathing room in the final moments of battle. But as soon as you pull the flask from your belt, the Godskin Guy will be charging up his little black flame hadouken.
The drinking animation is still on, so you can just watch that fireball hit you in the face before your health can be restored. You’re dead!
But how does it happen? “Input reading” means that the AI follows your keystrokes, but Zullie’s results show that the enemy AI is programmed to watch your in-game movement animation in Elden Ring. It’s less about Godskin Guy reacting instantly when you press “X” and more about it reacting instantly to player use of certain items – a key difference when there are more obscure healing methods that Godskin Guys don’t punish.
Enemy AI uses a similar feature to detect and dodge projectile spells, the latter of which Zullie demonstrates by having a boss dodge even if he’s not being targeted with spells.
In his video, Zullie says he understands that some players still consider this an “unfair or artificial” difficulty. However, it is a result of evolution. FromSoftware, games have adapted over time to the way people play them. In Dark Souls, players hid behind their shields too much, so Bloodborne removed the shields and focused on evasion. FromSoft noticed that some players were spinning their dodging and ignoring parrying and positioning, so in Sekiro, FromSoft switched to a defence-dominated combat system and reduced the invincibility of the game’s dodge move.
Elden Ring notoriously confused players with its tricky dodge timing of attacks: bosses like Margaret or Crucible Knights follow infinitely long upkeeps with quick attacks, punishing early, sloppy dodging. The penalty for healing can also be linked to this.
In previous FromSoft games (and against many enemies in Elden Ring), it’s pretty easy to keep the distance between you and the enemy while healing. Punishing this behaviour is a new challenge and forces players to adapt. It’s possible to time your healing to avoid Godskin Guy’s punishment, but then you can also practice not getting hit as much.