A controversial aspect in challenging video games is artificial difficulty. One way this can manifest is input reading, a technique that allows the game’s AI to respond to certain player moves in order to consistently punish them.
Since its release, many Elden Ring players suspected that a few of the game’s bosses, especially those who have given us all the hardest time, can read our control inputs, which wades into unfair territory.
This idea isn’t actually new, and has been brought up time and again with other FromSoftware games, more recently with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But Elden Ring is a massive game by any standard, so while those instances are few compared to the sheer number of bosses the game has, there are enough of them to raise a few eyebrows.
So, does Elden Ring actually read player inputs? The answer is – technically – it does not. That’s according to modder Zullie the Witch, who took it upon themselves to analyse the AI behaviour of the worst-offending bosses to see if they’re programmed to perform certain moves in response to player actions.
However, what happens is, in practice, effectively input reading. As you can see in the video below, bosses are programmed to react to specific player animations, regardless of the context – such as when the AI detects the player iniating some healing animations.
Crucially, though, this doesn’t cover all ways of regaining HP in the fight, only those that use the healing flask animation. In the footage, Zullie isolated the AI of the Godskin Apostle boss to only trigger healing punish and dodges.
When the animation starts, it creates a flag that the boss AI detects, and quickly responds to. This is why, in the case of the Godskin Apostle, it will always throw a Black Flame at you the instant you pull out the flask. As Zullie notes, the way animations blend together makes it hard to detect exactly when that response happens under normal circumstances.
This same approach is also used to allow some enemies and bosses to dodge your ranged/spell attacks. With that, the AI looks for a different flag, and dodges away. Even if you’re not directly aiming at them, the animation is enough for them to initiate the dodge. This doesn’t apply to all spells, of course, only those with accurate tracking.
This can make certain fights unfair, but now that we know what’s actually happening, we can at least prevent ourselves from going crazy trying to prove bosses are psychic.
Zullie the Witch has been a source of a great many discoveries in Elden Ring since its release. Our Elden Ring tag has many of those, and they’re all illuminating in different ways.