Elden Ring’s half-assed mouse and keyboard controls could be so much better with a few fixes

It’s 2022, and for some reason, the game is asking me to take my hand off the mouse in order to use the arrow keys to switch items. Do you know arrow keys? The ones we used to move into Wolfenstein 3D back in 1992 before WASD took over? After a full decade of releasing their games on PC and selling millions of copies, FromSoftware is still releasing games with quirky and simple mouse and keyboard controls, and in a way, Elden Ring is actually a step up. Back.

But it’s not a complete disaster, which makes Elden Ring’s shortcomings particularly disappointing. To be honest, Okay is even within reach! FromSoftware’s biggest game deserves the best on PC, and some small changes will make a big difference.

It’s been a long road to decent mouse and keyboard control.

Ever since FromSoftware started releasing their games on PC, the developers have clearly been trying to improve mouse and keyboard control from game to game. Mouse input in the original Dark Souls was unusable without a mod, and some of the default keyboard shortcuts were so esoteric it was hard to believe they were chosen by someone who had ever used a keyboard. These bindings changed in Dark Souls 2 and again in Dark Souls 3, after which everything at least worked smoothly despite some odd keyboard layout variations.

Somehow it took us until Sekiro 2019 to be able to display keyboard hints in the UI. The mouse and keyboard were meant to exist only as a last resort for those who don’t (or can’t) use a controller.

FromSoftware games are designed around controllers: they essentially used the same layout as Demon’s Souls in 2009. If FromSoftware hadn’t recently released Sekiro, a fast-paced fighting game with superhumanly athletic ninjas, I doubt Elden Ring would have had the opportunity at all. The jump button is the biggest change in years. Otherwise, you still use the D-pad to switch between weapons and items, still use the shoulder buttons to attack with your left or right hand, still use the same face buttons for drinking a potion, and taking a weapon with both hands.

These controls must have laid permanent neural pathways in the brains of every FromSoftware designer by now, which explains why the PC layout seems to be trying to replicate the controller experience rather than adapting it to the keyboard’s strengths.

Elden Ring won’t let you remap two primary keys.

This is a strange regression compared to all Dark Souls games on PC: there are some features that Elden Ring simply does not allow you to change. The key binding options do not include a record of how you access the main menu (Start on the controller): it is hardwired to Esc. It also doesn’t include an option for a map that is hardcoded to G (view button on Xbox, touchpad on PlayStation).

What a strange omission. Even in Dark Souls 1, you can change the menu key!

Allowing us to override these options is an obvious first step, but more importantly, separate how they work on the controller from how they work on the keyboard since the Esc key is used to bring up the menu in the game, which is quite logical for the start button on the controller! – it cannot be used on the keyboard to exit the options screens. That’s the whole purpose of the Esc key in life! On a PC, Esc should always be able to exit the menu, even if you don’t do the same with the start button. This makes sense as a literal translation of the controller function to the keyboard but makes no practical sense, which also applies to how Elden Ring works with your inventory.

Elden Ring really needs to allow us to bind inventory items to separate hotkeys.

I understand why the Elden Ring designers chose to map the D-pad controls to the arrow keys because it really does seem logical. You have the perfect up-down-left-right input method to change weapons in each hand and cycle through items and spells. But the arrangement of the arrow keys means you have to fully take your hand off the mouse to make these changes, while on a controller, you can slide your thumb off the joystick to quickly switch; The layout just doesn’t work on the keyboard at all.

A game nearly, although he understands. You can at least remap the arrow keys however you want, and you can even use the mouse wheel as an additional way to switch weapons. But it really falls apart when you pick up the bag, which is designed to give you quick access to four items of your choice. On a controller, this makes sense for a d-pad, but on a keyboard, it’s silly that we can’t just bind each element to its own individual label.

Computer games have been doing this for ages. Many shooters allow you to switch between weapons using the mouse wheel by holding down a key to bring up a visual quick swap wheel, as well as pressing an individual number key to switch directly to a specific weapon. Souls fans might argue that having to frantically scroll through their equipped items during combat is an intentional part of the experience, but Elden Ring can at least provide hotkeys for each shortcut item while retaining the spirit of the original design.

I think FromSoftware should go further and allow us to also bind individual spell slots to keys that have already been added to the game with a mod called Improved Moveset Utility. With more space on the keyboard, other actions that require multiple taps on the controller, such as two-handed weapons, can easily get their own keys. Again, you might argue that this is against the way Elden Ring was designed, but Capcom has added similar flexible shortcuts to Monster Hunter World. When he released Usborne, removing a couple of unnecessary keystrokes didn’t break the game. The options are great.

Dual keybindings could be better.

Good job, Elden Ring, for being able to bind actions to both keyboard and mouse! Duplicate keyboard shortcuts are great. Unfortunately, the implementation is again limited here: for accessibility reasons, you should be allowed to bind movements such as forward/backward to mouse buttons, but these commands are disabled in the key binding options.

And while Elden Ring allows you to duplicate mouse and keyboard bindings, if the secondary mouse buttons are configured to enter keyboard commands in Windows, Elden Ring does not recognize them as mouse buttons. More keybinding options that aren’t limited to input type just work better.

Most PC games today can automatically detect input controls.

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Finally, FromSoftware has added the ability to display mouse and keyboard prompts instead of controller options in Sekiro, its fourth modern PC game. This option extends to Elden Ring, and yet it still feels like a minimal implementation of what other games have done better over the years.

Most of the games I play today that support controllers automatically switch their icons depending on what you clicked last. It is now the PC standard. Heck, independent developer Supergiant did it with Transistor in 2014!

The “bind mouse cursor to screen” option should become standard in DX12 games.

In DirectX 12, there is no such thing as exclusive full-screen mode anymore: everything runs in borderless windowed mode. Elden Ring is a DX12 game, which means that Elden Ring is lying to you when it says “fullscreen” in the video mode settings. This leads to a small problem in Elden Ring and other borderless games: you can move the mouse cursor directly from the game to an additional monitor, even if that monitor is turned off.

This is not a big problem in Elden Ring because it only happens in the menu – when you control your character, the cursor disappears. But it can still be annoying. More DX12-only games should implement a menu item to snap the cursor to the screen. Lost Ark is an example of a recent game with exactly this setting, although it is not exclusive to DX12.

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