30 votes

A long-ish essay about Elden Ring

This one's a long one folks.

I like to compose my thoughts on stuff now and then, and ya'll have shown a willingness to engage, so I wanted to share one of those with you. I guess I could do a video essay, but that would take me a while to accomplish and I like this niche of the internet a lot. I'm also not very good at video editing. So it's for you first, so to speak. Let's drop a bunch of what we're concerned with/worried about and go hard on something cool and fun on a lazy Sunday, is what I'd say to you if we were in person. I think I could expand some parts, but I like discussion so I've saved some for that. I do lay out a bit some boundaries of the discussion I'd like to have, but it's meant more to constrain the experience of reading it than it is to delimit the discussion itself.

Elden Ring: A Masterpiece - Introduction

In this piece I would like to express why I think Elden Ring is a masterpiece, a kind of great work. In doing that I intend not to merely express opinion, but to analyze and understand. To deliver an advanced opinion, if you will. That, for no other reason than to simply commit the words to the page, for the hell of it. It's not an attempt to unload feelings, to rationalize or reframe things outside the game, nor an attempt to obtain agreement/consensus or some form of emotional catharsis. It's a statement, an argument meant to be taken in, considered, and discussed if folks want to do that (I would!). It's in the discussion we can go through the details of things like the feelings, how it can operate as a vehicle, where it could be improved, etc. No work is perfect, but some get closer than others, and I think this one bears some witnessing by more than just forefathers one and all.

Before I begin, I would like to set the stage. This is not a review in the traditional sense. It's not about just the game, but how it came to be and why that can matter. The piece assumes some things. That you know this game exists, that its DLC exists, that there is a complete work out there called "Elden Ring" which includes "Shadow of the Erdtree". That's about it! You don't need to have played the game at all, and in fact I'd be interested in perspectives of folk who consider other forms of art as deeply as I'm attempting to do with this here. My statement is that this game deserves a place. It earns a spot alongside other works we consider "great" regardless whether we have ourselves accessed them. In different language, my attempt is to justify the statement, "Elden Ring is a masterpiece", to as wide an audience as possible.

The piece is constrained to analysis in a really broad way. I'm not really trying to talk about what I like in particular, what works and what doesn't, what's good and what's bad or how I feel. That is all for the discussion, it's not the point of this piece of writing to engage in that way with it. Trying to tailor my words to thoughts/feelings I don't yet know, is just not something I'm very good at doing. I hope to foster a fruitful discussion, not have an argument, nor persuade folks to go buy something.

I want to be considerate of my audience, too. We are reading, here. You don't get to have things like body language, tone, and reflection of feelings to take in and supplement your understanding while you read it. No combination of words, however flowery and well structured, can deliver what those things do. That circumstance operates in the reverse: I can't see your face, hear your tone, watch you and know whether what I've said is making any sense to you. So, in constructing this piece as well as in you considering it, these facts must be kept top of mind to get to the sort of discussion I'd hope to foster. If you read something and think to yourself, that you're being accused, that something you enjoy is being attacked, that something you experienced is invalid, understand that you are misapprehending what I am intending to communicate. I won't engage on that level with it, because text can't do what talking to you myself can do. I have to render my thoughts with tools that can only do so much.

As well, this piece is not a research paper. I'm not attempting to provide sources for everything, because what I'm more interested in is delivering the broad point. That said, I have investigated what material exists - interviews, articles, statements and history. It's not my intention to display to you, how much of these things or how many of them I know. I leave it to you, the reader and discussion partner, to assert when something I've written doesn't align with what exists, when a piece of the history doesn't mean what I thought it meant.

Ok, stage set, let's go.

Elden Ring is a masterpiece. What does this mean, coming from me? What does it mean to use that word, in a world where words have fluid meaning? What distinguishes a work such that I can use that word, and you, regardless of your history and experience, can accept it?

I can only offer what I have, so here goes. Elden Ring is a work which has a goal, an intended form, and it is my statement that it not only achieves that form, but that it does so, so completely and so well that it deserves recognition outside of its medium. That for something to be a "masterpiece", it must be understood as having been so successful that those who do not directly access it, can understand and accept such a status. To what end ultimately isn't really my point; you decide on that. It makes no difference to me, because at the end of the day I can just go play the game and enjoy it regardless what anyone thinks/believes about it (here's my ng+ build if you wanna see).

That's a different statement from simply saying the game is good, that it is fun to play, that it does specific things well, that it avoids certain problems and/or that it sold well. None of those things are really part of the analysis here, because my goal in writing this is to deliver justification for calling this game a kind of "great work". A work which can stand alongside other works, other things recognized outside their medium for being exceptionally well crafted and capable of delivering exactly what they intended to deliver. It's this quality, these aspects, which make for a masterpiece, is the underlying assumption of my piece here.

So, to be more practical, what does this game do, that other popular and successful games do not? What about Elden Ring merits such an elevated status? This is what I hope to deliver here. To do that, I think an analysis needs to tackle not just the qualities of the game itself, but the medium it belongs to, and the relationship between that medium and broader ideas of what constitutes art.

I: Art and a Video Game

Going back as far as I can remember, there have been debates on the artistic merits of video games. Though games began as a sort of commercial plaything, a toy, it was clear as more people made them that potential existed for something more. That, with enough effort, enough detail, enough attention and success, a video game could be something similar to other forms of art, like books, movies, paintings, music, and so on. It is because of its history as a commercial product that this discussion often gets very muddy. For the sake of keeping this piece on track, we're going to define how we're looking at it.

Video games can be art. They have the necessary ingredients. Though they exist as combinations of other forms, various media, and though they exist as works which demand multiple individuals contribute (in most instances, at least), they possess the qualities that make artistic works what they are. I mean this in the broadest way. Art, broadly, is expression, it's a thing a person made. We can very quickly end up in very different discussions if we get more precise than that, and again I'd like to keep my piece on track here. If a person makes a thing, that thing can be art. It depends on some further details, whether it counts, but this is the foundation. Video games have that foundation.

Not only do they have that foundation, but because of how a video game is constructed, it has the potential to exist as both, a singular work of art and as a multitude, simultaneously. The music of a game can stand on its own, as its own artistic expression, its own work. So too, can visual elements, voice work/acting, modeling and animation, so on and so forth. Where video games become a unique medium, in my view, is when all of these pieces are working in tandem: They each stand on their own, like columns which support a structure, and inside that structure is where the Art of the Game lives. With other media, it is as though they are houses unto themselves. The video game has the potential to be to the house, a neighborhood - an array of houses, each beautiful and luxurious, which come together into a neighborhood that is unto itself a beautiful thing.

It's the beauty we're after, in my opinion. Look for the beauty and we find the meaning, and Elden Ring is a beautiful work. Because this particular work is a video game, it means this is a double edged sword - we can miss a forest for the trees, and we can get stuck on the beauty of one aspect not realizing how it contributes to a larger, more complex beauty.

II: What is beauty, and what makes a video game beautiful?

What makes something beautiful, from this viewpoint? What does it mean to say, "this is beautiful", and further what does it mean to call a video game "beautiful"? Why is beauty being used as a measure, and not something else?

Let's see.

"Beauty", for the sake of this piece, is the extent to which something exists as the object of intention. It is not appeal, on its own. What makes something "beautiful", is how close it comes to being what was envisioned by the creator, how successfully it exists in the minds of others as the thing the artist meant for them to have, as best as can be understood. What defines a "masterpiece", in this view, is when the alignment is so strong, that even when individuals cannot access the work directly, they still receive some of what was intended. The work "stands alone", in that one can experience it, know nothing more about it, and come out of that experience with an understanding that aligns with what the artist intended to convey.

Video games, as a medium, make this type of analysis both easy and difficult. Video games are meant to be played, they are experiences. So, it's easier to see when an experience is what was intended - you press the button, it does what it's supposed to do, gun goes boom, there's a speck of beauty in that. Where it gets more fraught, is in trying to consider the extent - did the gun go boom the way the guy who made the model thought it should? Was my time pressing the button understood as more than simply pressing a button, as more than "gun went boom"? So on and so forth. We'll come back to this with Elden Ring, but for now just sit with that.

Why measure in this way? Let's return to the metaphor, of a neighborhood. The neighborhood is a distinct idea, something independent of the individual houses of which it is composed. In order to evaluate the neighborhood, we need something more than what we use to evaluate the houses. The attempt in this piece, is to establish such a tool, a form of analysis which allows us to consider the whole alongside its constituent parts, because we are dealing with a medium with many interconnected, constituent parts. We need a means to understand and evaluate the whole, and I've chosen the word "beauty" to represent this, defined it as I have so that the fullness of my statement, "Elden Ring is a masterpiece", can be understood.

I chose "beauty", because so much of the discussion of the medium gets lost in those constituent parts, and in defining aspects in which those constituent parts intersect with preference. I wanted a more positive word, one which predisposes toward seeing things for what they do, not what they aren't. The point here, my point, is to render an image of the whole so that you can decide too, whether it earns the place I think it does. Perhaps too, along with that, it will mean understanding other works a bit differently - I am a philosophical guy, after all, I gotta try to bend and contort some concepts now and then to stay on top of it, keep my knives sharp. And for those of you who already hold this game in high regard, perhaps with this you can bring that feeling of awe and wonder to its maximum, because hey that's a pretty cool experience to have, yeah? Take what you can get.

III: Why Elden Ring?

So after saying all of this about what a game is, what art can be, what beauty is and how it applies to a game, how does all of this come together in Elden Ring? What about Elden Ring merits such a detailed and strong set of statements?

There are multiple factors I think are worthy of consideration.

First, that the game exists as the end of an iterative process. Unlike some other forms of media, in video games we bear witness often to "rough drafts" and "second attempts" directly, the parts of the creation of art which usually go unseen. It is partly because of this aspect we see franchises change and become different; their rough draft merited a response, and so the next iteration is made to accommodate that response. It matters, crucially so, how this happens, and Fromsoft created conditions which meant they could take a singular vision to the point of becoming a masterpiece.

Elden Ring did not begin when Fromsoft decided to make it. It began when Hidetaka Miyazaki lucked himself into a project that was on its last legs, and just made the thing he wanted to play. That project, whatever it was called then, got infused with a vision, a distinct desire, and so took on an aspect inherent to any great work: Vision. It became the object of a single person's mind, the clay they molded rather than that which comes together as the result of a mix of various incentives and pressures. It became "Demons Souls". Those incentives and pressures always exist, but what makes Elden Ring distinct and what elevates it to the level of becoming a "masterpiece", is the existence of that singular vision within that mix. What that means of the man, I am not here to say, but I will share briefly this one time - damn, dude, wow.

Second, along with this vision, there was a structure which allowed this iterative process to happen relatively undisturbed. Fromsoft is not like every other company. They have kept their people, their teams, and allowed them the time and space to take their ideas further. This quality is important to the iterative process - it means teams can do what an individual does on their own. They can fail and try again, putting into the next iteration the knowledge and experience of the first. Video games are often not the product of a single individual, and even when a singular vision exists, the near infinite variation inherent to having teams of people means, if you don't keep teams together, the games will change, the works will take on new characteristics. There's a whole world of reasons why these conditions don't come about in the first place, which Fromsoft successfully avoided.

Fromsoft created the conditions for a singular vision to take root and for teams of people to continuously attempt to cultivate and realize it. They had done it before, with Armored Core and Kings Field, so not only did the conditions happen, the company had experience with it, understood the process. So when Miyazaki made his play and was allowed to express his singular vision, there was a structure in waiting, a group ready to carry it as far as it could go. That was the history. From Demons Souls, came Dark Souls, which became three games. From these came Bloodborne, and Sekiro, iterations in new directions which allowed for more attempts at understanding and changing every aspect to better align with the singular vision as well as integrate aspects of others' visions. At the same time, they grew, added on, took on more talent and allowed their talent to be transferred, for more to understand and work together.

Third, they succeeded. Each game sold better than the last, which meant the next iteration could be more, could grow in complexity and detail, until eventually we get to Elden Ring, where it all culminated.

Taken together, these conditions mean a kind of situation that cannot be easily emulated. Try as they might, there is no "soulslike" which benefits from these conditions, from the history in the way Elden Ring did. Part of what defines the masterpiece is that it is unique; this is how that happened, part of why Elden Ring does that. One can hope others in the world see and understand, follow a similar path, but there will never be another "Fromsoft of the 2010's" plugging away at their idea of an action roleplaying game. There will never be another Elden Ring, which is part of what makes it the masterpiece.

IV: What even *is* Elden Ring?

Now that we've got our analytical tools in our belt, and understand how we got here, let's look at the thing and understand it.

There's of course a shallow way of answering the question. Elden Ring is a fantasy action roleplaying game. That's the genre it fits into. But I'm intending to say quite a lot more, so we need to offer up a better description than that, something which communicates the idea that there is more in this than what the genre description implies. It won't be something you can slap on the back of a box, and we're not trying to persuade for sales, so we need a description that tries to get at what makes this game unique and important.

Elden Ring, as a complete package, the game + DLC, is a project that took almost 20 years to happen. It is an artisanal video game, a professional video game, a video game in its fullest and most complete sense. It is the product of a history, of a time and place, of people and a company. These are true of every game superficially, but hopefully what I've done has been to lay out why this one is different.

Ok, sure, but what is it? I've said a lot about things being what folks intended, about why matching intent with production matters, but I haven't yet laid out what Elden Ring is trying to do.

We have the benefit of knowing. Miyazaki has been open and upfront about what it was he was trying to make, so we can take that material and use it to evaluate. Elden Ring is supposed to be akin to his own experiences, of engaging with Western fantasy as a younger Japanese person who did not completely understand the language of the books he was engaging with. We are meant to press a lot of buttons, and come out of that feeling like we were that person, exploring a strange place and overcoming the hurdles inherent to obtaining that understanding.

So let's see how we get to this experience from pressing a lot of buttons:

We are given a wide variety of tools, a set of mechanics which allow us to shape our character into whatever works best for us. We are given a gigantic, detailed world in which we can find those tools and a whole lot else, things we never expected, so that we can also have experiences within the experience - learning and using tools, achieving an unexpected result, having to run and go hide so we can step away and take care of something Out There in the Real World. We can come across Weird Shit and figure out what it is, usually by way of having to engage it in combat. We are given challenges and obstacles, so we can have the experience of overcoming, of discovery and achievement. Importantly, we aren't being asked to pay for any of those experiences, so we can just keep going, thing to thing, all along the way without interruption or psychological prodding.

We are given a world in which complex characters express themselves and work toward their own ends, a sense of a place which is governed by its own laws and contains its own stories. A sense of scale and grandeur, so that within our exploration we can experience The Sublime, as one does when they travel to a fantastical place. This is exposed to us in pieces, things we must gather and assemble, as we do in our real world with real things. In doing so we come to find a world guided by the very human feelings and motivations of those complex characters, and have the opportunity to fully understand, the why of it, if we want to. We see multiple stories unfold, progress and conclude, of things like "when friends become enemies", "when abandonment consumes someone", "when someone stands up for themselves". We get to see how others experience the world alongside us, driving home that much more that sense we are exploring a different, fantastical place.

These things are rendered for us in multiple forms: As visual elements, as animations, as music, descriptive text, and so on. We are given guides for what events mean and how they inform who we encounter, how characters' feelings mix among the others, through the interplay of these various elements, with the gameplay serving as the glue which holds it all together. That gameplay is consistent and predictable, allowing for us to have the experience of practicing and improving. And then, the game delivers challenge after challenge after challenge, so that you have the final and ultimate experience, of facing what seems impossible and doing it anyway. Like reading a book in a language you aren't sure about, it seems flat out unworkable, until you get to it and before you know it, you're done. And now we're back to beauty - it is what it was meant to be.

In so many other words, we are transported to this other place, where things are different, and by simply engaging with it, we can become part of it. We can know it, feel for it, understand it, as we do the world in which we actually live. What makes Elden Ring the masterpiece, is that it achieves this for so very many people, all together. The extent of its beauty is such that millions of people played it, that thousands compiled its lore, that dozens got so damn good they can no-hit every boss in the game. It spawned legends, like Let Me Solo Her. It created careers, in the case of endeavors like Bonfireside Chat and VaatiVidya. With its DLC, it provided the tools to prolong the experience well past its end, created even for people well familiar with it a second shot at that first time experience, which several million more people got to do recently.

When we consider this alongside all else, the history and development, it is a work of beauty, as laid out prior. It is exactly what it means to be, and did that so well it created new things in its wake. Just like Lord of the Rings, Three Kingdoms, The Illiad, and so on, did. It delivered both an experience unto itself and a cultural moment that I think means it stands just as tall as those other works. That it is a video game, just means that looks different. It is of its medium, just as those works were.


We will see countless imitations, derivatives and evolutions, and there will inevitably come another such work with such a wide impact and depth to itself. But for now, at the moment, I think we can look at Elden Ring and appreciate it for being one of those great things, standing alone. It will be a game which we'll see again much later in time - there's a whole generation of people who are currently experiencing the beginnings of what will one day be "I wanted to make something as great as Elden Ring". It won't just be soulslikes, action RPGs, or even just fantasy works as a broad category. People who experience something like this go in all kinds of directions with it, and I for one am beyond excited to see what comes from that. It will deliver for years to come, which is the final part of what makes it the masterpiece.

One final note, just a thing I'd like to bring attention to, is that all along the way, Fromsoft games have been delivering on a level I have not seen much with video games at large. They're like the opposite of the industry in this respect - instead of being a skinner box/gambling machine, these deliver a "good enough" experience of overcoming adversity that they've been the catalyst for positive transformations in people. I love those stories, there's zero shame in it by my measure. Along with everything I've written, the fact that happens with consistency is something really very special that deserves cultivating, in my opinion, and further emphasizes just how much has been given to us. There is so much that can be done with that if folks can bring things together in the right ways, deliver on the right kinds of experiences.

I hope that was enjoyable. I appreciate you reading it. As I wrote at the top, the piece is focused but the discussion doesn't need to be so constrained. I'm primarily interested in craft and experiences, what folks think about the points or if they have something similar to say about something else. Criticism is welcome, as always. If you have the co-op mod you've just met a prospective party member, too. I'm pretty good at it. Happy Sunday!


  1. [2]
    After beating the DLC last week I was similarly struck by my journey through this game. Player involvement is the unique (defining) feature of games as art. With that comes a potent ability to...

    After beating the DLC last week I was similarly struck by my journey through this game.

    Player involvement is the unique (defining) feature of games as art. With that comes a potent ability to draw out emotions that aren't as easily accessible in other mediums. What From/Miyazaki are delivering on is a clear vision of how challenge begets accomplishment. How real experiences are earned. Reject the skinner box and easy dopamine.

    I've been reflecting a bit. How am I such a big FromSoftware/Miyazaki fan, buying every game (bought the PC release of Dark SOuls when it came out), but progressing far? And I think it's exactly what you've outlined in the OP comment. I new that there was something authentic and different happening here. A vision of producing an experience beyond an emotional narrative. Something weighty and tangible.

    So this year I decided, I have all these From Software games. Let's disregard other games and make a real effort to play them. Fortunately the DLC was announced and that gave me a reason to focus on Elden Ring. These games do exactly what I want a game to do, provide breadcrumbs to learn more but don't vomit exposition. Don't hold my hand too much, let me find my legs. The consideration given to lore, characters, story lines is intentional and cohesive. At first glance it seem threadbare, but that's how the world is.

    It reminds me of something that happened in a Philosophy course in college. We were discussing ethics/morals and Pearl Harbor was used as an example. A Russian student raised her hand and asked "who is Pearl Harbor?" The class was shocked, but it makes sense. No one lore dumps US history when you cross the border. Similar as Tarnished we don't know what the shattering is but it's baseline knowledge so that how NPCs treat it. One thing I see Miyazaki say a lot when asked about difficulty and darkness in his games is that "this is how the world is." That commitment to realistic treatment of lore and characters draws certain types of players in and engenders immersion.

    Another point on story. Someone is always achieving godhood in video games. Video games like to start us out as a nobody who quickly powers up somehow. But even at base it feels like we're within an order of magnitude in strength to these people. The world of Dark Souls/Elden Ring doesn't make that mistake. The world and NPCs readily remind you that you aren't at their level. By having characters like Marika never really appear on screen they are beyond reach. Only near the later stages when we've downed demi-gods do we start getting some type of respect and do these characters start feeling approachable. And it isn't just because of stats, it is because we've honed our own fighting style and techniques.

    So I went through this journey. 70 hours in the base game before DLC launch. Then hammered in 30 hours to the DLC. I loved exploring the DLC, fighting the bosses, having another leg of power progression. It was pretty smooth sailing, my ego continued to climb as I breezed through most bosses and overcame a couple difficult challenges.

    Then I entered the final legacy dungeon and was curb stomped by the first enemy I encountered. I laughed out loud, they had brilliantly built me up just to undercut me with a reality check. You are approaching a god and you need to take this seriously. I progressed through that dungeon and got to the final boss. Holy moley.

    It took ~150-160 attempts over 4 days (probably more I wasn't tracking my first 10-20). I was forced to experiment with every tool in the game, I had effectively maxed out my progression. It was clear, the game had affirmed that I had the baseline skills and tools available by building me up. It was on me to meet the challenge. I'm not ashamed to admit I was frustrated, pissed off, and was having a difficult time thinking about anything else on the 3rd and 4th day. I know what the discourse is around this fight and it was tempting to say "oh particle effects/overtuned/unfair." But other had beat it. Playtesters, devs, likely Miyazaki, had beaten it with the same tools available to me.

    On the fourth day I got home from work after obsessing over it. I was prepared to put in another 100 attempts. I had read poise damage calculations on my weapons, estimations of his poise and had my execution planned out.

    • Phase in, forward circle, charge R2, circle, circle, R2, L1, riposte, react until another opening. Then Charge R2, L1 will get me Phase 2. Phase 2 open with an R2 and get another riposte. Survive and fit the combo in when I can to get more staggers.

    I spent 30 minutes running around restocking my consumables, tweaking my build, phased in without any buffs (just a warm up some of these buffs are harder to craft). Walked in and executed my plan, he was dead within 2 minutes on the first pull of the day.

    I was buzzing for the next 24 hours. I compete in powerlifting and this feeling is why. It's the sort of relief and elation that only comes with the payoff earned through concerted effort and work. I don't think this encounter was "too hard" I think it is exactly as hard as it needs to be for the accomplishment to be meaningful. This for me is the beauty in Elden Ring. From/Miyazaki has been searching for the line between challenging and fun, and challenging and frustration. Then they pushed a step past that line knowing that overcoming this challenge would give the game weight unlike many others. After all, you want a god to be easier? The fact that people will give up is necessary for the experience.

    And so I've been inspired. I think my gaming for the foreseeable future will primarily be From Software games. Within my library I have so many challenges to find an overcome. I want to understand Miyazaki's work and learn what I can from it. In that vein I've started reading Berserk, a Manga he's cited as inspirational. I can see why... ambition and vision are core themes. These games are full of people with ambition and their own visions. Will you be their pawn or do you have your own vision?

    6 votes
    1. Thomas-C
      Link Parent
      I especially like how you drew the line between your competitive endeavors and what the game is doing. It's also really cool to read about taking on the catalogue like that - I did a similar thing...

      I especially like how you drew the line between your competitive endeavors and what the game is doing. It's also really cool to read about taking on the catalogue like that - I did a similar thing after Elden Ring released. I played it, loved it, and then went back to Demons Souls and just went until I got back to Elden Ring. I had followed them as they released, struggled my way through, maybe played again once or twice, but this time was different. I was really looking at them, trying to understand the whole of what each game was, what they were doing, how they were made, and so on. And just as you said, the authenticity of it shone through brilliantly, it's like something shifted in a big way and a bunch of games I already liked and thought highly of became something really different and special.

      What's doubly impressive was when I did the same thing with Armored Core. I followed Armored Core VI because I've always been way into "mech" anything, and I had those games on my PSP a long time ago. As different as they appear from Souls, they're fundamentally doing the same thing. You build your character, change tactics and gear to meet challenges, and slowly become something uniquely powerful. It's just that instead of building a person, you're building a vehicle and learning how to drive it, and instead of stories of gods and creatures, it's stories of humanity shining within technological darkness. As you figure out, which parts do what, what feels good and what gets things done, you figure out the build that works for you and become an ace with it. Elden Ring feels like a kind of marriage of what Souls began and what Armored Core was already doing - here's this huge set of tools, see which ones really work for you and get to work. Armored Core is very different to play, it feels different and you have more parameters open to you with respect to building your vehicle/character, but fundamentally it's so similar that I just could not stop playing.

      This bit is a spoiler so I'll hide it in case folks haven't seen it The end of ER's DLC was one of my favorite experiences, because it felt like everything really coming together. Not just the combat, but the narrative and characters too. Miquella's eternal youth meant a pure intent, the drive to try to make a world better than the one Marika made. At the same time, that youth meant he failed to understand how compelling obedience didn't lead to that desire. In following him, we saw characters being the best versions of themselves. They were compelled to follow by way of having their core qualities heightened, and that manipulation extended to us, too. We became the best we could be, to get to Miquella, and finish what we were there to do - rid the world of what came before, good or bad, because that is what is necessary to bring forth something new. It was such an amazing conclusion to the DLC, especially the final scene driving home that pure intent. I can't think of anything in gaming that really compares to a story like that told the way it was.

      It's going to be pretty tough to play much else for a long while, I think. As much as I enjoyed other titles, as big of a role as some of them have played for me, as you said it's Fromsoft who's doing the stuff I really wanted to see. The medium is unique, it has its own strengths, and Fromsoft is using those strengths to their fullest to deliver expressions. Going back to the very beginning, it's honestly been a kind of uplifting experience watching them grow and develop, like getting to see a Best Case Scenario actually come to fruition and play out to the end. And on top of that, from what I've seen/read lately Miyazaki understands where they're at - Elden Ring was huge, there won't be one like that again, so it's time to use this structure to let other folks direct their own experiences, allow for more people to direct more projects. As dreary and cynical as the gaming industry can be, there it is, a ray of hope. The real deal living among us, so to speak.

      4 votes
  2. [5]
    Well I didn’t intend to write an essay but I think I did lol. As I’ve partially documented on here, I played through DS1, 2, and 3 after the DLC release date announcement, and then had to go back...

    Well I didn’t intend to write an essay but I think I did lol. As I’ve partially documented on here, I played through DS1, 2, and 3 after the DLC release date announcement, and then had to go back through ER again too because I forgot about the NG+ I started last year, and I agree with everything you said. I think “overcoming adversity” is probably a theme of most video games from Pac Man on, but you are spot on in your assessment of it being at the core of From games. I was just telling someone who asked if Elden Ring was like Skyrim that Elder Scrolls could be the source material for Dark Souls and Elden Ring, basically: once there was a king, once there was a savior—and in Bethesda games you start out small and weak but quickly realize you’re the Dragonborn, the Hero of Kvatch, or whatever, and you do become that savior—but in From games that was long ago, there is no savior and there is no salvation, and it is definitely not you, because Lesson #1: you don’t matter.

    Everything in the world you arrive in is already broken and dead and you are just a small dead part of it that has the gall to think you could be any different, or do any better. Most everyone around you has given up and gone hollow—losing their soul, their will to keep fighting, literally and metaphorically. Almost every character you meet is on a collision course with some incomprehensible outside force (meta: the developers) that has set in motion their inevitable demise, usually because of something you did, if not by your very hand. There is not really any hope immediately visible: you can’t lift a sword effectively against other undead tryhards who repeatedly just eviscerate you, and every death means another trudge, running the gauntlet yet again. Elden Ring absolutely perfects this—Undead Burg is dirty, dilapidated, inhospitable, so you see it coming and things get worse from there, but Leyndell after the graveyard is immediately cinematically gorgeous, colorful, inviting, and there’s a helpful golden knight who will make you feel better after that man in the mask was so nasty to you, right? Lesson #2: you don’t matter. Gird your loins or something and get back out there, or put your foolish ambitions to rest. Or run away, that’s a good trick.

    The Tarnished is just one of many washed up in the Lands Between who have tried to become Elden Lord (meta: all the other ER players), like the Ashen One and the Chosen Undead are one of many—nothing special, not notable, not likely to succeed. Many NPCs and every real-life player are on the same quest as you, and if you give up they may not win but you certainly lose, understandable though your ceding victory may be. So why? Geez, why bother? When you finally make it into the room with Godrick or Ornstein & Smough or the godforsaken Pontiff, or Rennala, there’s no pattern visible, no prior knowledge to apply—it can absolutely appear hopeless. As it should, because you’re no Thieves Guildmaster or Wasteland Survivor of legend, you’re a piece of shit lol. This is an eight foot tall woman with a ten foot sword in a hidden room at the base of a giant hidden tree, wtf are you even doing here? And so you ask for help and there’s a man in his underwear with a pot on his head who just blasts her—Lesson #3 (meta): not only do you not matter as a character in the game, you don’t matter in relation to real people in the real world‘a level of ability in the game, either, because they can eviscerate the literal deities you cannot.

    But there’s nothing stopping you from doing it too. That guy was the same piece of shit as you, not so long ago—and no one in Caelid sings his praises when he gets there, they try to murder him there just like you so don’t feel too bad. I fully embrace that Elden Ring is an auteur video game, a pinnacle of the medium, a shining achievement. It is so big and it makes you feel so very small, and you don’t really ever get any bigger, just stronger and smarter and 187 levels better, and it really feels like you deserve it when you finally beat that five-story dragon, even if you had to drink a potion and cast seven spells and reinforce your weapon and call in your best ghost assassin friend to help out. It’s a real sense of pride and accomplishment, in the best way.

    I love the indirect storytelling, so that you the player can understand somewhat how Miyazaki felt reading what he could understand about European fantasy and historical figures like Arthur and Merlin, looking at the pictures in a library book in wonder and piecing the rest together. I love that there’s always a knight who’s in super rotund armor and who is in ridiculously far over his head. I love that the base gameplay loop, present in the majority of games for 45 years or more, of dying and trying again and dying again is given an in-universe lore explanation that is expounded upon throughout the series. I love that the Grace in front of Godfrey points at you, the player, because it is his destiny to defeat you just like it is your destiny to defeat him—and who will win? There’s no plot armor for you in Elden Ring, because you can just give up and it all still keeps happening: I would say it’s even expected, statistically, that you will do just that (meta: they make them hard on purpose). I love that the games being hard are part of the story and structure of the games, because it always feels like they’re hard for a reason, which is not always true in other games, or other media, or real life. You see Radahn and he machine guns you then literally turns into a meteor and mass-extinction-events you—can’t parry that. But you know there’s gotta be a way, even when there’s no hope, and I think that may be the secret, at least for me: you have to make your own hope. Practice, experiment, just bang your head into a wall repeatedly, because what is bravery without a dash of recklessness? But don’t give up skeleton. Everyone feels crestfallen, sometimes, but will you let it linger? Will you let it define you? Even if you can’t actually change anything about the state of things, the ruined world you are doomed to inhabit—even if you don’t matter, isn’t it worth it just to change you?

    Also c’mon, Blaidd?! “What a sick way to fight” Just friggin awesome lol

    4 votes
    1. [4]
      Link Parent
      Imo, a really interesting piece of the history is that TES and Souls have a loose connection. In a dialectic sort of way, TES led to Souls by way of that project Miyazaki lucked himself into -...

      Imo, a really interesting piece of the history is that TES and Souls have a loose connection. In a dialectic sort of way, TES led to Souls by way of that project Miyazaki lucked himself into - that was originally meant to be an Oblivion competitor. Instead of J-TES we got something completely new, that itself evolved and became its own gigantic success. It's why I'm left really excited - who knows, years later, what someone comes up with because they played that lineage?

      A lot of what you wrote gets at just how new and different it was, too. One aspect of it all I think had a pretty negative effect was the marketing - folks understood the games were hard, but the marketing made it out like that's all it was. As though the game was made by some sort of S-tier vengeful nerd trying to needle you to death for no other reason than to make you feel bad. Even at the time, as a small group started piecing everything together, it was clear that characterization just could not hold. If the game was just "made to be hard", then why was there so much more to it? There had to be more going on, because there's just no reason to pepper the world with lore and character moments if the sole purpose is a kind of masochism.

      I remember when I first played a souls game, the PC release of DS1, and had a moment where it suddenly made some more sense. I had played a lot of Monster Hunter prior, so I had a sort of analogous experience of figuring out, "oh ok, it's not broken, it just doesn't work this way", and realized the same was true for Souls. Meet it where it's at, and suddenly it all fits into place. Practice, try things over again, like levels in a video game, and you'd get further. In particular I remember going up against Manus, and feeling totally overwhelmed. He moved so fast, so much shit was going on, that I felt like id found something that actually was just too difficult. I remembered though - not broken, just different - and tried completely changing my approach. Instead of heavier armor and a good shield, I went lighter so I could move faster, and then the timing of everything just made intuitive sense. I said to myself, "fuck it, we ball", went through the door and won. I got to have a successful "fuck it, we ball" moment and that is just incredible lol.

      That moment to me encapsulates what's so good about it. There are always different approaches, you can always try something and see how it works out - that is what the game is made for. Finding and using tools, practicing with those tools, mastering those tools, a sort of deeply human thing to be doing. If something seems ridiculous, you are never without options. You can change tactics, you can change your equipment, you can change both. The "eureka" moment won't usually be that you win, it's that you'll spot that tiny moment where doing different means something, and carry that forward. The game is "made to be hard" not because the dev has a vendetta, it's because in order for that experience to happen, shit has to be hard. It has to ride close to the edge of folks' frustration because that is where the learning occurs, where the experiences happen. Casual play is possible, but like your progress and equipment, it has to be earned.

      It's closer to sports than what video games were back then - sports are fantastic when you're good at them. They're usually pretty terrible when you're not. That's just how it is. Video games in the 2010's felt like playing teeball or something - sure, it's fun, you can be good at it, but it's not really made to be played at a higher level. It's made so anyone can be reasonably good and just get the game going. Souls flipping that and going in a more traditional "sports" direction really opened a lot of eyes to the value of a game you needed to practice.

      Practice, keep going, talk to your "teammates" (other players) and you'll get to where it's a fun thing to do. Any build can win, any weapon can kill the boss. The question isn't necessarily "what's the best", it's "what fits me". With Elden Ring, you're given such an enormous variety of things to use, that you can just sit down with your stash and practice till you find something that just feels great. Even if it does less damage, you can play so well in it that you make up that gap with skill.

      On YouTube I used to watch two folks, LobosJr and Ongbal, who show that quality off really well. Both are extremely good players, in that they can go into an encounter with practically anything and figure out a win. Some things are vastly more efficient - a sword is always going to be better than a soup ladle. But, as lobos did, if you enchant the shit out of that soup ladle you can kill everything in ds2 just the same. As long as you can stay alive, you can win, it's just a matter of time and practice.

      Going back to the old marketing for a second - if there is a speck of shittiness to point at, imo it's at the fact folks were given a mischaracterization that undermined the games' core philosophy. "Get good" went from a kind of teammate ass-slap to a genuine insult, because that marketing reinforced the masochism of it. But the reality has always been, just as it is in life, practice. Just practice! Practice and you will become good. Other folks did, you can too. It can be a really encouraging thing, and the experience of it is about as good as any beginner sport. If I had a kid who liked games, I'd be giving them these, because yeah while they're probably gonna go through a controller or two along the way, the potential is there for a long term kind of dynamic, of my kid having a hard time, me encouraging them, us working together, and in the end my kid feels like an accomplished hero, a skilled person. That experience is valuable no matter where it comes from, and that I'm even talking like that about a game speaks to just how fantastically the needle got threaded, so to speak.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        Link Parent
        Yeah I've definitely made the sports comparison when trying to describe the uniqueness of their approach—and like sports, different things are challenging for different people, based on your build...

        Yeah I've definitely made the sports comparison when trying to describe the uniqueness of their approach—and like sports, different things are challenging for different people, based on your build or your experience or who knows what. I beat Manus first try, then was shocked to find out how many people have struggled with that one, vs. like Lothric + Big Lothric, man that one seemed almost impossible. Adaptability & experimentation are 100% key.

        And you're right about the marketing; it felt very similar to 90s Sega ads in the US being targeted to backwards hat-wearing 11 year olds with sunglasses on, or 80s Megaman cover art in the US vs Japan—if they had concentrated on a different target audience I think there would be a very different perception of DS, and I think they corrected course with ER and it has paid off bigtime.

        Man would people listen to 45 minutes of this every week, because a From podcast would go pretty hard imo

        1 vote
        1. Thomas-C
          Link Parent
          They've gone in some different directions over time, because their approach limited a bit the content they could make, but Bonfireside Chat was one such podcast I really enjoyed listening to. Two...

          They've gone in some different directions over time, because their approach limited a bit the content they could make, but Bonfireside Chat was one such podcast I really enjoyed listening to. Two guys playing through each of the games, location by location, just seeing what there is to see, piecing everything together, and coming together at the end to talk about what it all meant/what it was. They did all of the games, from Demons Souls up through Elden Ring, and as the communities grew they would bring on guests from all over - youtube channels, modders, pvp players, etc. Their show is still going, and the success of it meant they could branch out and do a bunch of other kinds of gaming content. Really good material to listen to while you're working, they go into just enough detail to feel like you're experiencing the game with them without having to do anything. Their other content is solid too, I still check what they've got from time to time.

          Personally, some of the most fun I've had has come from the co-op mod for Elden Ring. I played with a friend for a bit, and then some with some folks I met online, and had a fantastic time. With my friend, we both were familiar so we would just go in with big weapons and smash stuff up. With the others, they were pretty new so I would hang back and be a wizard about it - dispense some wisdom now and then and fire off spells from the back to break aggro/get folks out of a tough spot. In all of the games, I stuck to a pattern of clearing content alone, then opening up multiplayer and helping folks through it. I've never gotten much into the competitive aspects of pvp, but a showdown now and then is great. Mostly though, it's the helping folks I really liked, because it's in that I got to see others have their moments of pulling off something unexpected, learning a new thing, etc.

          1 vote
        2. CptBluebear
          Link Parent
          I did so too on a Zweihander build. A second run wasn't so successful because I wasn't as well equipped to deal with Manus' speed and strength. It really opened my eyes to the difficulty of Manus....

          I beat Manus first try

          I did so too on a Zweihander build. A second run wasn't so successful because I wasn't as well equipped to deal with Manus' speed and strength. It really opened my eyes to the difficulty of Manus.

          There's also the playstyle argument where some bosses just aren't that difficult for you whereas they're monsters to someone else. Lothric and Lorian were pushovers in my experience but I stupidly struggled on Kalameet or even took waaaayyy too many tries for Crystal Sage.

          It's always interesting to see the comment sections about certain bosses on wiki's or youtube videos. It's always divisive. What's easy to one is super difficult for another. Sometimes all it takes is equipment, other times it requires someone to rethink their playstyle.

          1 vote