Video Games

Wordle Has Only One Real Competitor for the Year’s Best Game

We compared the puzzle-game phenomenon to the year’s other big contender and chose a true winner.

An Elden Ring character in a cloak stands on a mountaintop staring at a six-by-five grid in front of him
Photo illustration by Slate. Images via FromSoftware and Josh Wardle.

Two massive cultural juggernauts currently stand astride the video gaming landscape. One is Wordle, a minimalist word-guessing game that combines elements of hangman and Mastermind with 3 million total players, many of whom have logged on to play each day’s new puzzle for months and counting. The other is Elden Ring, a brutal fantasy role-playing game released in February, which has received near-perfect reviews from gaming critics and players since release. So far, estimates suggest the multiplatform game has sold 10 million copies on PC alone—a big feat for a game that’s not even a month old.

Advertisement

As games, they couldn’t be more different. Heck, Wordle doesn’t even have any graphics, and failing to solve Elden Ring’s puzzles results in (in-game) death, not a broken win streak. But their differences aside, no two games have generated more discussion and discourse in 2022 than these. They’re early Game of the Year contenders, not soon to be forgotten or toppled. We all know, however, that only one game can be the year’s best game—and while it may be too early to tell, it doesn’t hurt to ask ourselves: Is Wordle or Elden Ring more deserving of the title?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

To answer this, I came up with 10 categories of gaming excellence to judge them against. If you’re wondering which video game would win in an actual fight, it seems obvious that Elden Ring would club Wordle to death with the bloody femur of a goblin king. To learn which game wins this theoretical fight with much lower stakes, meanwhile, read on.

Graphics/Art

Video games are a visual medium, so assessing graphics and art style is an obvious starting point. Elden Ring immerses the player in a lush fantasy world. Jumping into the game is akin to finding oneself inside a painting by Hieronymus Bosch—intricate, wondrous, and strange.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Wordle’s “graphics,” on the other hand, consist of green, yellow, and gray emoji squares. Yuck.

Winner: Elden Ring wins this first category hands down.

Gameplay

Gameplay describes the interactive elements of a video game, as distinct from how it looks or sounds. Good gameplay is engaging, intuitive, and easy to immerse oneself in.

Elden Ring’s gameplay is anchored by exploration and discovery, rewarding players for poking into every corner and crevice of a massive open world. To this, it adds combat-heavy dungeon crawling and puzzlelike boss fights. Each element is immensely satisfying and works together seamlessly. The controls are not particularly difficult to learn, and once you’ve developed some muscle memory, it feels great to play. Options to play as different character classes allow for radically different play styles, which all feel well designed and satisfying.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Wordle’s controls can be grasped in mere seconds, and it accommodates a couple different styles of play. It’s mentally engaging and challenging without being overwhelmingly difficult. It also has difficulty settings: You can toggle on “hard mode,” forcing you to use information from previous guesses upon each subsequent attempt.

Advertisement
Advertisement

That’s not to say there aren’t ways to optimize your Wordle strategy, as many “hardcore” Wordlers have found. There are tons of videos, articles, and Twitter threads about the best possible word to start with, how to solve the puzzle each day in as few turns as possible, and other intense strategies. But those are all optional. If you like to play Wordle as a way to chill out, you certainly can.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Winner: Wordle. While Elden Ring’s gameplay is much deeper and offers more varied rewards, there’s a fairly steep learning curve before it starts feeling fun, annoying menus to navigate, and frustrating camera issues at times. There’s even a bug where, if you get trapped by branches or furniture, the game simply kills you. Wordle, meanwhile, has no camera or menus or murderous glitches. It’s easy to grasp, easy to play, and easy to obsess over.

Story

There’s long been debate in gaming circles about whether a game needs to be well written in order to be great. I don’t believe so, personally, and Wordle is a great example of the type of game where the gameplay is so good it speaks for itself.

Advertisement
Advertisement

By contrast, Elden Ring has a story, one that draws you in. But the game also never beats you over the head with what’s going on. Instead, it reveals the dark and labyrinthine lore in a multitude of ways, from gorgeous cut scenes, to detailed item descriptions, to hidden messages that uncover secret story connections that most players would never stumble over otherwise.

Winner: Elden Ring. While Wordle has no need for a story, it’s impossible not to give this one to the game that does need one—and tells its story well.

Simplicity

A simple game is one whose core concept can be grasped quickly and easily by a newcomer, without requiring prior experience, research, or other outside knowledge.

Advertisement
Advertisement

While a game doesn’t have to be simple to be good, there’s something magical about a good game that is also a simple game. Tetris is one of the greatest video games of all time due to how uncomplicated it is, and Wordle is the strongest example of a perfectly straightforward premise in ages. Elden Ring, though it seeks to be more approachable than developer FromSoftware’s notoriously dense other titles, is simply not at all simple. Its systems are complex and its secrets numerous, and many players will have a better experience if they refer to guides or wikis for help.

Winner: Wordle. Elden Ring’s opacity is part of its charm, but Wordle’s simplicity is its greatest achievement.

Sound Design

Sound design in games encompasses all music, sound effects, the player character’s grunts of exertion (or “efforts”), and ambient noises. Wordle has none of these: Its sound design is a total lack of sound. Ironically, though, Wordle’s silence is one of its most endearing aspects. Imagine how annoying it would be if it played a little tune while you played, or if sound effects marked your success or failure. Wordle’s nonexistent sound contributes to its air of calm.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Elden Ring, however, is a masterpiece of sound design. From the anguished wails of the player character when you take a big hit, to the stirring music that swells to accompany big boss fights, to the ambient sound and subtle music of the open world and the varied, often humorous noises that erupt from enemies, every element enhances the core feeling of entering a dark fantasy novel.

Winner: Elden Ring’s lush soundscape dominates Wordle’s silence in this area.

Performance

Performance just means whether a game runs smoothly when you’re playing it. Blessedly, Wordle will never tax the resources of the desktop, laptop, smartphone, or pocket calculator on which you run it. Elden Ring, by contrast, has been plagued by performance issues since launch, particularly on PC, which have been only partially addressed by patches from the devs.

Advertisement

Winner: Wordle wins. FromSoftware, go fix those problems already.

Accessibility

An accessible game can be played by people with a variety of disabilities, such as physical mobility challenges, vision or hearing impairment, seizure disorders, and intellectual or emotional differences. Since I’m not an expert in assessing content in regard to this area, I asked an expert to weigh in. Grant Stoner is a writer and disability activist who recently wrote about Elden Ring’s accessibility and his positive experiences playing with a neuromuscular disorder that limits his mobility. He weighed Wordle and Elden Ring against each other with this in mind:

Advertisement

Accessibility is one of those things that is absolutely necessary for disabled people, but what works for one may not work for another, even if two people share the same disability. By design, Wordle is relatively simple, especially for people like me who have physical disabilities. Because players can access the game on multiple platforms, and because there are no rapid movements or multiple button presses, there’s very little to be exhausted by. And for deaf/hard of hearing users, there is no need for subtitles or visual cues. That being said, I’m unsure if blind/envisioned players can use accessibility features like screen readers for this game. If not, that’s a massive barrier that prevents them from joining in on the fun.

Elden Ring is an entirely different situation. It is a fully realized open world game that encourages player choice. While this is where its accessibility shines, especially with letting players customize their character, choose where they wish to go and what to fight, it poses so many unintentional barriers for a wide array of disabilities. While I thoroughly enjoy it, [because of] its lack of accessibility options, particularly for deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision players, and how the lack of these options creates impossible scenarios, I cannot recommend it for most. That being said, I do think developers should examine it, particularly with how it operates as an open world game. Choice is key for many disabled players, and Elden Ring does it almost perfectly.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Winner: Wordle, but it’s a closer call than you might have expected. (And for more from Stoner on the subject of Elden Ring and accessibility, check out the video below.)

Variety

Variety captures the range of experiences a game has on offer. Variety in Wordle comes from the vast number of five-letter words in the English language, which means each day’s new puzzle has the chance to surprise you with a rare letter combo. Elden Ring, however, stacks variety on top of variety, then stuffs it with more variety. There’s a variety of regions to traverse, each with a unique feel and style. There’s a variety of character classes, letting you customize your stats, weapons, spells, and summoned creatures. There’s a variety of boss fights, each one (mostly) different and (very) challenging. There’s a variety of odd or horrifying enemies, requiring varied strategies to defeat and/or avoid them.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Winner: Elden Ring. Guessing a new word each day is fun, but Elden Ring’s got surprises in spades.

Development Conditions

An ongoing story in gaming is the working conditions in the gaming industry. Combining low pay with extremely long hours, too often gaming companies dehumanize and burn out the workers who create the memorable, transportive experiences gamers love. FromSoftware has a typically brutal developer work environment, though parent company Bandai Namco recently announced a pay raise for Japanese employees.

Advertisement

Wordle was made by one man in his spare time, and he made over $1 million because of it.

Winner: Wordle. One hundred percent of the people who worked on it seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

Value

Like all goods and services in our society, games  exist under capitalism—which is why I’ve always believed they must be evaluated in part on how much value your gaming dollar brings you. Yes, that’s all relative, but the world tells us money matters, and therefore, let’s talk about the matter of money: For the standard AAA price of $59.99, Elden Ring gives you well over 100 hours of adventure, one of the best values for the price point around. Wordle, however, is free. While it only takes a few minutes to play the daily puzzle, it’s easy to imagine it being part of people’s daily routines for years to come.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Winer: Wordle. The day may come when the New York Times sticks the game behind its paywall, but until that happens, it’s got the most bang for your buck.

The Final Verdict

As a huge fan of Elden Ring, I expected the numbers would bear out my gut sense that puny Wordle could never hold a candle to FromSoftware’s magnum opus. Yet after completing this completely objective and unbiased ranking, Wordle has somehow managed the impossible. Taking six categories to Elden Ring’s four, Wordle emerged victorious.

It’s official: Wordle is a better video game than Elden Ring.

Advertisement