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The open-world format is something that has been done in so many different ways by developers. We have seen examples of games that drop you into a vast landscape, like Breath of the Wild, and ask the player to figure things out for themselves.
Then we have had the antithesis to this in the form of just about any Ubisoft game that guides you through every minute detail of the world through endless map markers and tutorials.
I’m not knocking it, as accessibility is great for those who crave it. What I’m saying is that it’s unfair to label all open-world adventures as one collective, as they all have their own quirks, mechanics, and approaches that make them unique, and that could not be more true of Elden Ring, and Skyrim.
While these two games are inherently different in almost every way, they have one primary similarity. They are both standout open-world, Fantasy RPG titles.
If we dig a little deeper, we can draw further comparisons, such as the pair both offering melee and magic combat, both games having rich environments with their own silent stories to tell, and both titles coming from a rich vein of past titles in their respective series, allowing these games to lean on past successes as well as forge their own path to glory.
Honestly, while it would be easy to peg these games as chalk and cheese, they have more comparative aspects than you might think.
However, you may be a new RPG fan who doesn’t want to split their time between two huge adventures and needs to choose the one that is right for them.
Well, if that happens to be you, then you have landed on the right article! In this comparison guide, we will break down all of the core components that make these games great, comparing and contrasting to give you a clearer picture and make your decision much easier. Okay, let’s jump in. Here is Scrolls Guided’s Elden Ring Vs Skyrim Compared Guide!
Main Differences Between Elden Ring vs Skyrim
The main differences between Elden Ring vs Skyrim are:
While I will be trying to tie these games together where possible, the simple fact of the matter is, they are quite different in their approach to creating a rich RPG experience. So let me document the various ways they differ below:
- Skyrim is a game with traditional questlines, and side quests in abundance, with a clear core narrative throughout. Whereas Elden Ring is a much more open experience with one ultimate goal, and a few optional side-quests dotted around the map.
- Skyrim is a first-person adventure that can be played in 3rd-person if you wish. Whereas Elden Ring is a strictly first-person experience
- Skyrim is thematically much more lighthearted and whimsical both in terms of narrative and aesthetics. Whereas Elden Ring is quite dark and gritty, with plenty of gory scenes and troubling tales.
- Skyrim’s combat is much more accessible and simplistic when compared to Elden Ring, which offers a much more difficult and complex combat system to get your head around.
- Elden Ring’s progression is mainly centered around defeating bosses. Whereas Skyrim has more traditional progression in the form of quests, skill trees, etc.
- Skyrim offers a world where you are free to explore everywhere, right from the word ‘go.’ Whereas Elden Ring technically does that, but choosing to go to certain areas will almost definitely end with you dying in a tragic and horrific manner.
- Skyrim currently has DLC to offer. Whereas Elden Ring does not at the time of writing. However, Elden Ring DLC is currently in production.
- Skyrim has thousands of characters and innumerable lines of dialogue. Whereas Elden Ring offers minimal dialogue and only a handful of friendly NPCS.
Let’s kick off with how pretty these titles are. After all, games can play amazingly, but you need eye candy too! Thankfully both games have that in spades but in very different ways.
Speaking firstly about Skyrim, this game aims to offer a fantasy world that is steeped in Nordic inspiration, and offers something not too far removed from its predecessor The Elder Scrolls Oblivion, but admittedly, with a much more washed out and earthy color palette, and much more modern textures.
In short, it was a much more realistic setting that was a real step up from what had come before, and thanks to more modern remaster, this game still has that ‘wow’ factor on current-gen consoles.
The game offers diverse weather settings, varied biomes to explore, and tonnes of points of interest worth seeking out. It cannot be stressed enough that every single town or settlement in Skyrim feels like it has been made from the ground up, offering distinct environments that feel lived-in and alive.
From the sleepy village of Riverwood, to the more industrious city of Markarth, Skyrim always seeks to captivate the player by drawing them further into its monumental world. The only aspect of the game where I feel this isn’t the case is the dungeons and ruins, which feel much more cookie-cutter, but in a game of this size, corners need to be cut somewhere.
Skyrim’s art director referred to this game’s approach as ‘Epic Reality.’ Which, in his own words, translates to ‘epic views no matter where you go.’ It’s an ambitious goal, but one that Bethesda managed to achieve. The move from standard European fantasy to this cold, more gritty Nordic region was a massive success, and in turn, Skyrim is aesthetically very competent, even today.
Then we move on to Elden Ring’s art style, which is intrinsically linked to the gothic fantasy style that FromSoftware games are known for.
Linking it as close to another Souls title as I can, I feel that this game is an extension of the Dark Souls trilogy, providing an open-world iteration of these titles, right down to the overall presentation.
However, Elden Ring also does a lot of things to diversify its aesthetic portfolio to avoid being ‘just another Dark Souls.’ Primarily through offering serenity and beauty amongst the death and destruction.
You see, The Lands Between is a cruel and punishing place, but if you stripped it of its terrifying inhabitants, it’s one of the most beautiful settings around, with tonnes more color than, say, the ashy grey landscape of Dark Souls 3.
This game achieves Skyrim’s ‘Epic Reality’ goal through its design, but I would argue, does it with more charm, nuance, and with ‘wow’ moments in a higher volume.
This mainly comes down to the fact that Elden Ring offers more detail per square meter. Sure, there are large expanses of grass and nothingness. What open world doesn’t? However, these areas are bursting with life in the form of flora and fauna.
Every which way you turn, you can drink in a simply sumptuous view, usually with the Great Erdtree in view. Plus, even in these more sparse areas, there is usually a hidden Catacomb or point of interest you just haven’t uncovered yet.
Skyrim offers a much more holistic approach to its art style, meaning that everything feels linked and cohesive. Which is great when visiting cities and settlements.
However, the areas between often feel like more non-descript open terrain. In contrast, Elden Ring’s focus on segmenting the map, hyper-focusing on adding value to each minute section, and jam-packing the map with innumerable distinct points of interest make it the visual winner in my book.
This is the part that might feel more like comparing chalk and cheese, but here goes anyway. So, to begin with, Skyrim, this game plays out much like all the other Elder Scrolls titles of old, more or less. You build your character, and level them up by fighting, completing quests, and performing certain actions.
The game isn’t so much about completing any one goal, but rather existing in this world and becoming part of its legend by unraveling stories, getting to know its inhabitants, and making Skyrim a place to call home. This is something that Skyrim excels in that Elden Ring simply cannot.
As it is one of those rare attempts to be an ‘Everything you want’ game that actually succeeds in allowing this complete player freedom. Take notes, Peter Molyneux.
If the player wants to roleplay as a Blacksmith and never become the Dragonborn, they can. If you want to become a dedicated alchemist that scours the land for the rarest ingredients for your potions, then the option is there. Or if you want to be the hero of the realm who speaks in the Dragon’s tongue, then you follow the main quest line.
Skyrim’s USP, at least in my eyes, is the freedom and variety of gameplay options that it provides for the player. This does mean that the game is absent of a primary gameplay loop, meaning players have to largely motivate themselves to keep engaging with this world, but the content on offer is good enough to keep players onside.
The criticism I have with the gameplay is that, while everything is competent, much like a lot of Bethesda open-worlds, it doesn’t excel in any department.
Most things are a nine, but nothing is 10/10. Combat is competent, mirroring the two-hand system made famous by Bioshock, but it’s not groundbreaking by any means. Exploration is rewarding, but dungeons become predictable, and loot becomes less relevant as time goes on. The list goes on.
In short, if you are someone that loves having the ability to do whatever you want in an RPG sandbox, Skyrim is probably still the best example of this around, but don’t expect a completely flawless experience.
When it comes to Elden Ring’s gameplay, I would honestly say that it’s very hard to find any fault with it at all. In fact, when I reviewed the title, my only gripe was that it didn’t offer the capacity for fast and frantic risk-taking as Bloodborne did. However, the important caveat to this is, that the Souls format is not for everyone.
There is no accessible, easy path, and no hand-holding. You either succeed, or you fail; there is no in-between. I have always been a huge fan of this format that forces you to get better, learn from mistakes, and overcome insurmountable obstacles, but I’ll admit, it’s not always enjoyable. The fact is, you need the pain for the immense elation to follow.
Elden Ring’s gameplay is focused on two things, exploration, and intense combat. With Elden Ring pivoting to an open-world setting, players are able to engage with any aspect of the world that they choose, when they choose, and this allows for frustrated Souls quitters of old to jump in, and walk away from tough battles instead of beating their head against a wall until they eventually break through like in past Souls games. It’s the most accessible Souls title for new players yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple by any means.
The game is largely punctuated by truly barbaric boss battles that each require intense analysis and refined strategies to overcome.
That’s where this game excels, as its predecessors have before. The boss battles are consistently enthralling, and the combat system is flexible enough to offer a variety of solutions to each monstrous hurdle before you. As a Soulsborne title, it really doesn’t get much better than this, but that’s just it. It’s a Souls game, and while it does what it does better than anything out there, it is more limited in scope than Skyrim.
Elden Ring is combat-focused gameplay, with a vast world to explore, and some subtle narrative aspects. If this is enough for you, then Elden Ring is fantastic, but for variety, Skyrim takes the biscuit.
Next, let’s talk world design, beginning with Skyrim. Skyrim’s overall world design is all about immersion, as the UI and general format aren’t too far removed from the Ubisoft model that dominates the landscape today. You explore the world, uncover more map markers and clear them out as you find them.
Skyrim does stop short of pinning quests and activities to the map, but it still leans towards the more pandering tone of Assassin’s Creed and the like. That being said, while the game settles for the norm on that front, the world there in front of the player is jam-packed with little details that make the world feel like one cohesive unit.
Take the skill books, for example. These are collectibles that, when read, will boost a specific stat, and if the player wishes, they can discard the book or sell it, and that’ll be the end of it.
However, the books are all literal books with pages of informative content, short stories, and lore that help players further immerse themselves in the land of Skyrim. Then you have the way Skyrim handles NPCs, improving on Oblivion’s groundbreaking Radiant AI.
Each character has a daily routine that is meticulously mapped to fit their character description and their setting. If you come across a logger in Riverwood, they aren’t just a logger in name alone. You’ll find them down the sawmill every day and be able to follow them back home when they clock off.
Where Skyrim’s world design falls down is that, outside of these rich, densely packed areas, the game does occasionally fall short of its goal of being this immersive, cohesive unit. However, you can forgive these lackluster walks through the mountains, fighting Frost Trolls, when you know you are on the way to another immersive locale.
Elden Ring’s world design is such a leap forward for the Souls genre, as many would have believed that an open-world Souls game would have been inconceivable.
However, Elden Ring manages to do this through some clever means. Firstly, the game opens the world up to the player immediately, allowing players to run right up to Stormveil Castle to take on Godrick if they please. However, through a precise balancing of each region, players are penned into a radius that matches their respective level, and venturing out of this invisible barrier offers a risk and reward that players must assess.
However, you may be wondering how players are guided through this game and make progress. Well, Elden Ring is a master of using environmental clues to guide the player in lieu of HUD implementation and pop-ups.
The player is guided to each Shardbearer with a golden whispy line from one Site of Grace to the next, kind of like Dead Space’s holographic lines from Issac Clarke’s suit, but without the need to trigger a waypoint. This dedication to making each aspect of how the player interacts with the world is pretty spectacular.
The Elden Ring map isn’t a series of markers, but rather a series of discovered Sites of Grace, and everything else of note will need to be manually marked by the player, forcing you to be a cartographer as well as a warrior.
It even boils right down to the finer details, like the tutorial, for example. The player isn’t forced to suffer through an obligatory tutorial with each new playthrough. If the player wants to do this, they hop down a hole at the start location, and if they don’t, they push forward.
Masterful game design, if you ask me. Plus, the game manages to give veteran Souls players sections of linear boss gauntlet gameplay they know and love through the game’s various Legacy Dungeons. It really does cater to everyone, aside from the immense difficulty.
That’s, again, the only criticism. The game asks the player to make discoveries, chart their own course, and learn how to exist in The Lands Between. It’s not for everyone, which is why the Ubisoft model is so prevalent in the industry, but for those who want to be let off the leash, Elden Ring is sublime. Oh, and you might want to give Morrowind a try instead of Skyrim!
It’s ironic that Elden Ring is largely absent of a core narrative, and yet I’m going to be more critical of Skyrim’s narrative. I want to be clear, though. Skyrim has pockets of really interesting lore and narrative dotted around the game, and some of the one-off quests are truly magnificent.
Heck, even some of the more bulky questlines like The Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild questlines are probably the best versions of these guild quests yet. However, Bethesda has never been blessed with masterful writers, which is why Obsidian outclassed them despite a very tight development cycle when producing Fallout New Vegas.
You never want to be worse at producing games of your own IP than 3rd parties. Well, this lack of writing chops holds true in Skyrim.
While a lot of the quests are conceptually very cool, there is a lack of nuance at times. There are rarely any branching paths or player choices. Quests, at worst, play out the same every time, and at best, have a good or bad moral decision to cap them off. It’s just lazy writing and shows the limitations of the creatives in the writing room.
However, even if we put that to one side, a lot of the quests are dull fetch quests, a lot of linear quests without choice are uneventful, and most offensively, the finale of the main questline is about as anticlimactic as it gets. When you beat Alduin, that’s it. No fan fare, no epilogue. You just leave and go collect some Nirnroot or something. It’s pitiful.
The saving grace is that thanks to the abundance of content, there are a lot of peaks and valleys, and even though the lows are pretty disappointing, the player will still be satisfied enough to trudge through to experience the best-in-class content. In short, a pretty mixed bag.
Then we have Elden Ring’s story, which, as mentioned, is pretty hard to decipher. The story is largely told through a solid core premise to push the player off the starting block, some punctuation in the form of quick story beats from bosses and NPCs, and then a rich environment that offers context for all those willing to dig deep to look for it and connect the dots.
Connecting the dots is the perfect way to describe it. All the parts are there, on display as you explore The Lands Between, but unless you stop to ask questions, read item and enemy descriptions, analyze your surroundings, and then draw your own conclusions, the story has the potential to fly right over your head.
You’ll still get the gist of what’s happening, but for those that really study the lore and become acclimatized in this harsh landscape, there is so much more to discover. The story and overworld was a brainchild in part of Game of Thrones creator George R.R Martin, and you can see his fingerprints all over the dark and sinister tapestry this game weaves.
To summarise, Skyrim is a much more accessible story, but a weaker one overall when compared to Elden Ring’s subtly told but expertly crafted story.
Then lastly, we briefly touch on each game’s replayability, and I would say both games warrant jumping in more than once. Now, to contradict myself, Skyrim was a one-and-done experience for me, because after I had seen the conclusion of each quest, and explored every location, I found it hard to motivate myself to go again.
However, because the game is so old, chances are that players who played this title 10+ years ago will have largely forgotten what went on, and will be open to trying again.
Plus, even if that’s not the case, there is the capacity to play with a completely new class, to roleplay as a very specific character, or you could make use of the community mods to enhance the vanilla game experience. I would say that mileage may vary, but due to the freedom that this game offers, if you want to forge a new way to play Skyrim, this title will provide.
Elden Ring of the two offers a much richer replay experience for a variety of reasons. Firstly you have the built-in New Game Plus mode, which essentially dares players to do it all again, but this time it’s even harder.
Plus, the game’s versatile combat system allows players to respec their character with Larval Tears to become a mage rather than a warrior, for example. This sounds like a small change, but unlike swapping a mage for a stealth archer build in Skyrim, this swap in Elden Ring really does change the playthrough immensely.
Then on top of that, due to the open-ended progression, players can play again but attack the Shardbearers in a completely different order, which usually comes with its own unique challenges to overcome. Oh, and there are three unique endings to achieve, so you might even want to loop around for a third lap if you are feeling super sadistic.
Which Is Better?
Choice: Elden Ring
In the end, I have to give the win overall to Elden Ring. As an open-world RPG, it’s the complete package. It’s rich in lore; it looks phenomenal; exploration is key; the silent narrative is excellent; the combat is unparalleled, and because of the various classes and ways to progress, replayability value is rather high too.
That’s not to say that Skyrim isn’t excellent in its own right, because it is. It has much more content if you want bang for your buck, it offers a more accessible RPG experience, some of the questlines within this game are unforgettably good, and even in 2023, twelve years after its initial release, it still looks the part.
The defining factor in my decision is that, Skyrim makes some mistakes, whereas Elden Ring makes practically none, as you can read in my review. Skyrim still has that Bethesda bugginess; it has a main questline that has a dreadful, anticlimactic ending, and the combat system feels pretty dated by today’s standards. These are small gripes, but they make all the difference when comparing two RPG behemoths.
My final statement would be, if you don’t have to choose between the two, play both. However, if you want to play the definitively better title, then Elden Ring is the one I would point you to.
If you want to load your library with a tonne of games that are of the same ilk as either Elden Ring or Skyrim, then you might want to check out some of the incredible titles listed down below:
- Fallout 3
- Fallout 4
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Ghosts of Tsushima
- Hogwarts Legacy
- Dragon Age: Inquisition
- Dark Souls Trilogy
- Mortal Shell
- Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Question: What’s The Most Recent Skyrim?
Answer: The most recent iteration of Skyrim is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Anniversary Edition which marked the ten-year anniversary of the title. This came with all DLCs, various graphical improvements, and additional content in the form of Creation Club mods. This was released on the 11th of November, 2021.
Question: When Does Elden Ring’s DLC Release?
Answer: Elden Ring’s upcoming DLC, Shadow of the Erdtree, currently has no nailed-down release date. However, many believe that this DLC will drop at the back end of 2023, around October/November.
Question: Is Elden Ring Cross Platform?
Answer: The simple answer is, no, Elden Ring is not cross-platform, but if you want more detail, check out this handy guide!
Elden Ring vs Skyrim Compared: Final Thoughts
As you can see, while these games offer a vastly different experience overall, there is enough crossover to make the argument that, if you liked Skyrim, you’ll probably like Elden Ring, and vice versa. Each game offers a wonderful fantasy setting, fun exploration opportunities, complete player freedom, mountains of content, and gorgeous points of interest that will make you stop in your tracks to drink it all in.
I will caveat that by saying that if you aren’t someone that seeks out a stiff challenge when playing games, then Elden Ring is obviously not for you, making Skyrim the clear choice. However, it is the most accessible Souls game to date, so you may surprise yourself.
Which leads me to my sign-off. Play both of these games if you get the chance, as they will both go down in history as timeless epics that will be enjoyed for decades to come, especially if Todd Howard keeps re-releasing Skyrim. As always, thanks for reading Scrolls Guided.