Although From Software’s library of games typically have a similar sensibility when it comes to gameplay, there are plenty of ways in which each title differs from the next. Even within the Dark Souls franchise, there are some key differences that set the games apart from one another. But while Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice might be significantly different from Demon’s Souls, there are also similar features as well.
One aspect of all From Software Souls-like games is the healing mechanic. Every game has some form of consumable that players use to replenish their character’s health. When safe, players "pop" a healing item to try to recover from a devastating enemy hit or to prepare for another boss onslaught. For From Software, there are basically two approaches when it comes to healing, and with the studio’s next big game, Elden Ring, on the horizon, it will need to decide which approach it wants to use.
By all accounts, Elden Ring will be a familiar experience for fans of the Dark Souls franchise. A leaked trailer for the game has a lot of visual similarities and even some of the animations look like they are ripped straight from Dark Souls 3. Of course, Elden Ring is not meant to be Dark Souls 4, but the start of a new franchise, and a collaboration with Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. Even then, it’s safe to assume that it will have recognizable elements from other From Software games like healing. The only question is which type of healing the game will have.
The more traditional form of healing in a Dark Souls/From Software game manifests in the form of a healing potion, more commonly known as an Estus Flask. This type of healing gives the players a certain amount of “swigs” from the Flask before they run out and have to rely on other consumables, magic, or abilities in order to bring their HP back up.
Players start out with a limited number of Estus Flasks in the Dark Souls games, but they can increase the amount they carry by acquiring Estus Shards. In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, players need to find Gourd Seeds to upgrade their Healing Gourd. It's a mechanic that operates on the same principle; it just has a different name.
The Estus Flask concept is the one that is more commonly copied in Souls-like games not developed by From Software. It is more of a signifier of the From Software approach and it can lock in the challenge of the game. Players know that they only have so much healing available to them at any time, but if they fail on a boss fight or a tough enemy, they know that all of their healing will replenish up to a certain point. This approach also encourages a lot more exploration, since players will want to find the items that upgrade their healing swigs.
The other popular approach to healing in From Software games is the consumable. This is most notably seen in Demon’s Souls (with the various types of grass) and Bloodborne (with blood vials).
From Software games that use this type of healing will allow players to farm the healing items from enemies, but only carry a certain amount on their person at any time. Any excess collected will usually go to a storage that either refills the player’s inventory automatically, in the case of Bloodborne, or that players need to pull from, in the case of Demon’s Souls.
This approach in Souls-like games can increase the challenge because there is a finite amount of healing available. If players keep beating their heads against a boss they will eventually run out of healing items and either go through and farm more, or try to complete the encounter with less healing than the maximum.
Both approaches have their places in the From Software library of games, and both likely have their fans and critics. It’s not unlike those who say they prefer Bloodborne to Dark Souls for its pace and approach to combat. From Software tries different things within those two frameworks, and each has advantages and disadvantages.
As far as Elden Ring is concerned, fans still don’t know how far the game deviates from existing formulas in terms of gameplay, visuals, world design, or mechanics. How players heal in Elden Ring might not seem like a significant thing, but it can have an impact on the experience and the gameplay loop.
Trying to defeat a tough boss like Nameless King knowing that there are a certain number of heals available, is a lot different than trying to beat Ludwig knowing that each failure is depleting the stash of blood vials. Given that Elden Ring seems to be going for a more open-world approach, healing that involves farming consumables might be the more logical choice, but nothing is for certain.
Hopefully, From Software will have more to say about how Elden Ring will approach this key mechanic soon. There are rumors of a reveal in April, but thus far they have not been confirmed by Bandai Namco or From Software.
Elden Ring currently has no release date.