For all the hundreds of titles that release each year, the existence of a genuine video game phenomenon remains pretty rare. I’m not talking about a simple best-seller, but a title capable of stealing the spotlight from everything else that launches within six months of it. A game that’s still selling millions years after its release, turning up on new platform after new platform, and making headlines every time it does. Over the past decade or so, you could probably count the number of games that fit those criteria on your fingers; Skyrim, Fortnite, and GTA 5.
There’s little doubt in my mind that we’ve recently seen the latest addition to that exclusive club. Elden Ring launched into an unprecedentedly busy spring, and proceeded to suck all of the oxygen out of the rest of the room. At another time, any of the glut of major titles that launched between January and April might have been the biggest game of their moment; Pokemon Legends Arceus, Horizon Forbidden West, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Dying Light 2, and plenty of others. All seem to have performed well but, regardless of their critical or commercial success, were simply drowned out by the cacophonous noise of The Lands Between.
For all of Elden Ring’s success so far this year, however, its path to outright domination has long been beset with potential obstacles. The first of those was Horizon Forbidden West, which might have claimed the lion’s share of attention from PlayStation fans, but Aloy has already been swept aside. Next up on Sony’s slate is God of War: Ragnarok, but console exclusivity has already proved to be no challenge for FromSoftware. Elsewhere, Nintendo’s next major offering is Pokemon Scarlet and Violet – another console exclusive following hot on the heels of two recent entries in the same franchise – while legions of Harry Potter fans could turn Hogwarts Legacy into a smash hit, if its massive scope doesn’t push it into 2023.
Plenty of potential obstacles remain, but Elden Ring has arguably already seen off two of its biggest challengers. Both Starfield and the Breath of the Wild sequel were likely to be among the biggest games of whichever year they released, but after delays for both titles, that year will no longer be 2022. Those two massive holes in the schedule are good news for other projects hoping to launch towards the end of the year, but they’re also great news for Elden Ring – having established itself as the biggest game of the first half of the year, it’ll now presumably get to ride that train through to December, whether or not it gets any DLC some time over the next few months.
The Elden Scrolls
A smash-hit so assured that you can see the end of year headlines more than six months in advance doesn’t come along very often. The cadence isn’t exactly perfect, but I reckon it’s around every other year – the last time we got a hit this all-consuming was arguably Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which seemed all-but untouchable in the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Before that, it was Fortnite, which was all I seemed to write about for vast swathes of 2018. 2014’s Destiny is the next most likely contender, with Skyrim unquestionably dominating the early years of the 2010s.
But while Tom Nook and co were the perfect antidote to early 2020, it was The Last of Us 2 that eventually walked away with the bulk of that year’s Game of the Year awards. Fortnite might have hopped on the battle royale bandwagon in 2017 and helped kickstart the metaverse in 2018, but it was the original Breath of the Wild and God of War that claimed those respective top prizes. For almost any game that you might think of as the biggest of its year, there’s at least one major challenger to its title. Even Skyrim, which walked away with more than half of all of the GOTY awards given out in 2011, had to contend with the likes of Portal 2, and, ironically, Dark Souls.
Realistically, it’s far too early in the year to be genuinely discussing Game of the Year. When it comes to quality, there’s a lot I’m yet to play, plenty more that’s yet to launch, and a summer conference season formerly known as E3 2022 that’s sure to reveal great games that haven’t even been announced yet. But there’s an important distinction to be drawn between the best game of the year and the biggest game of the year. The noise surrounding Elden Ring has been deafening, and with Starfield and Breath of the Wild 2 out of the picture, the few games currently left to stand against it might well struggle with console exclusivity or further release date woes. There’s always a chance FromSoft’s latest won’t sweep the Game of the Year lists, but that’s unlikely to stop 2022 from being the Year of Elden Ring regardless.
Want to make sure you keep up to date with all of this summer’s announcements? Here’s our guide to the E3 2022 schedule.