As reported by our friends at GamesRadar (opens in new tab), prolific Souls series dataminer Zullie the Witch (opens in new tab) has released a new video touching on a slightly controversial aspect of Elden Ring's much-discussed difficulty: enemies' propensity for reacting to certain actions (like self-healing) almost as fast as you can perform them, sometimes referred to by fans as "input reading."
Has this ever happened to you? You've whittled down the Godskin Guy's health to within bare millimeters of victory, as he has done to you. Thankfully, you've got an ace in the hole: the healing Flask of Crimson Tears. One little chug and you'll have some breathing room in these final moments of the battle. But as soon as you pull the flask from your belt the Godskin Guy is already charging up his little blackflame hadouken.
Already committed to the drinking animation, you can only watch as that fireball smacks you in the face before your health can fully restore. You die, everything is ruined, your marriage is in shambles, Rome has fallen, game over.
But how does this happen? "Input reading" almost implies the AI is tracking your keystrokes, but Zullie's findings show that enemy AI is keyed to watch for the in-game animation of your moves. It's less that the Godskin Guy instantaneously reacts to you pressing "X," and more that he instantaneously reacts to player usage of certain items—a key distinction when there are more obscure healing methods that the Godskin Guys will not punish.
Enemy AI will use a similar function to detect and dodge projectile spells. Zullie demonstrates this last point by showing a boss dodging even when she aims her spells away from it.
In her video, Zullie says she empathizes with some players feeling that this is still "unfair or artificial" difficulty, but you know what? I don't! I think it's awesome. FromSoftware's games have adapted to how people play them over time. Gamers hid behind their shields too much in Dark Souls, so Bloodborne removed shields and prioritized dodging. Noticing some players spamming their dodge and ignoring parries and positioning, FromSoft switched to a parry-dominant combat system in Sekiro, nerfing the invincibility frames of that game's dodge move.
Elden Ring has notoriously tripped players up with its tricky dodge timing on attacks: bosses like Margit or the Crucible Knights follow interminably long wind-ups with quick attack delivery, punishing early, sloppy dodging. I see the heal punishes as an extension of this design.
In previous FromSoft games (and with many enemies in Elden Ring) it's a simple enough matter to create some space between you and an enemy and heal up. Punishing that behavior keeps you on your toes and introduces difficulty in a clever, lateral fashion, one you can consciously adjust to. It's possible to time your heals to avoid a Godskin Guy's punish, but then it's also possible to practice not getting hit so many times.
So I'm glad the Godskin Guys will cheekily interrupt my healing with their obnoxious little flame blasts. They will come up and slap my drink out of my hand every time I go for a sip, and I will say "thank you" when they do it. I will improvise, adapt, and overcome, developing as a person and as an enlightened gamer.