Elden Ring: In-game lyrics are not from George R.R. Martin

Elden Ring: In-game lyrics are not from George R.R. Martin

Elden Ring

After the trailer at Gamescom 2019, there was dead silence around Elden Ring for a long time. But From Software's newest title reappeared at the Summer Game Fest 2021 and since then the information has not been as stingy as before. The release date is known, the creative soul of the developer studio, Hidetaka Miyazaki is giving interviews and the Steam page is already online.

That Game of Thrones legend and procrastination author George R.R. Martin also worked on Elden Ring (buy now € 59.99), has been known for a long time. As he revealed in an interview, he was mainly responsible for the history and lore of the world. The fact that no scrap of text in the game came from him should come as a surprise to some.

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As always a cryptic story

According to IGN, Miyazaki is the one who produces the lyrics in the game, he is "at the forefront of the lyrics". The development should have been well beyond the text production stage, after all, Elden Ring will be released on January 22nd, 2022. But the news about text responsibility fits in with Martin's statement that he has been adapting his work "for years" Elden Ring was done.

Despite Martin's participation in lore and worldbuilding, die-hard From Soft fans can look forward to a familiar cryptic story. Yasuhiro Kitao, the studio man for marketing, advertising and production, said: "In From-Tradition, the story is told in fragments and we have not changed our principle of serving players a world and narratives that they can interpret for themselves . "

Anyone who has played Dark Souls, Bloodborne or Demon's Souls knows what that means: Information about the world can be found in item descriptions, is subtly interspersed in cutscenes or is told by NPCs with a creepy laugh. Anyone who ends Elden Ring with a big question mark on their face will probably find, as always, a detailed story analysis from Souls YouTuber VaatiVidya.

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Source: IGN

Hopefully ‘Elden Ring’ Will Be Every Bit As Challenging As ‘Dark Souls’

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoft

I want Elden Ring to be every bit as challenging and frustrating and inaccessible to the masses as Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne and—well, perhaps just a touch less challenging than Sekiro.

There’s a tendency in our culture to create art that is easy, that is background noise, formulaic and safe. Basically the entire MCU (minus a couple outliers) is like this. Safe and easy, the kind of movie you’d put on in the background. Virtually every game has an easy mode and increasingly more ways to play that are considered “accessible” though often that simply means less difficult. In Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart you can skip all the puzzles with the click of a button.

There are very few games that demand a challenge. And even these titles aren’t exactly difficult compared to many older titles. FromSoftware’s Souls games are that rare exception to the rule. They not only provide players with a real challenge, they demand our attention. You can’t breeze your way through Boletaria or Yharnam or Anor Londo, which is perhaps why we remember the names of these fantastical places. They sit in our minds solid and very nearly real because we fought so hard to cleave our way through each.

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoftware

In Elden Ring we will traverse the Lands Between and the various “legacy dungeons” that we come across and I hope that it’s a brutal, memorable slog. After all, the point of the challenge in FromSoft games is not the challenge itself, but the satisfaction of overcoming those challenges. “Overcoming challenges by learning something in a game is a very rewarding feeling, and that's what I wanted to prioritise in 'Dark Souls' and 'Demon's Souls,’ Elden Ring/Dark Souls mastermind Hidetaka Miyazaki told IGN.

This means that the games aren’t going to be for everyone. I’ve played and beaten every Dark Souls game, Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne but I freely admit that I hit a point in Sekiro where the challenge was not worth the time and effort required to beat yet another near-impossible boss. But I’m okay with that. I’m okay admitting defeat and admiring all the players who were able to get further than me and perhaps if I were ten years younger or had more time and better eyes I’d have been among their ranks.

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoftware

But I would never presume to take away their satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment and pride they feel, by watering down that game. Yes, I did at times wish I could have summoned another player to take down some of those bosses (to hell with the Headless Ape forever and ever he broke me, though largely that was just fatigue setting in after so many tough fights before that one—maybe I’ll go back someday). But I’m happy From didn’t pull any punches. There are countless easy games or games with an Easy Mode out there and so very, very few that stick to their guns and give everyone the same, universal experience. It’s special and it’s unique and it’s rare. From’s games are Joker in a world of MCU yawns.

So I read an article like this one and feel a slight wrinkle of despair. Writes Alyssa Mercante:

“I have played one FromSoftware game: the Dark Souls remaster, and for me, it was akin to psychological torture. I'm a run-and-gun kind of player with about as much patience as a toddler, so the limited traversal options mean I constantly run into an enemy type that repeatedly and unrelentingly kicks my ass, sending me back to a bonfire I lit 30 minutes ago. Boss battles with limited, to no, Estus Flasks had me trapped in what feels like an infinite cycle of death, like Tom Cruise in the Edge of Tomorrow except I never get any better at facing enemies. I absolutely hate losing, and Dark Souls wants you to lose, a lot.”

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoft

Mercante continues:

“The latest Elden Ring updates show how FromSoftware is looking to ameliorate some of their games' more punishing features. The Lands Between is an absolutely massive open-world space that will give players more choices when it comes to traversal. Elden Ring won't force you to choose between one of two equally brutal paths like other FromSoftware games, where one path features a Lovecraftian demon waiting behind a shimmery veil and the other is just a swamp full of septic skeletons.”

First of all, the idea that all paths in Dark Souls are equally brutal is simply not true. When you first arrive at the Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls you do indeed have more than one path to choose from. Essentially, you have three. Two of these paths will lead you into areas that are almost certainly far, far too deadly for a new player (unleveled, untested) to traverse with any hope of survival.

The only proper choice, then, is to go into the Undead Burg where you stand a chance and, hopefully, may learn a thing or two about how the game works. You’ll hone your skill here, test your mettle and improve enough to push forward. One lesson you might learn is when to run. You don’t have to fight the Black Knight yet, and you probably shouldn’t fight the Red Wyvern (unless you think to shoot its tail from beneath the bridge).

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoft

These are not “equally brutal paths” by any means. They are all brutal for a newcomer but not equally so. But yes, the game does want you to lose—to die—and to do so a great deal. It’s part of the Zen of Dark Souls. You have to learn to let go, to lose your Souls, to fight again and again until you learn how to do it well. When you do, it’s much more gratifying than any other type of game, akin to finally mastering Mario Kart at 150cc or topping the leaderboards in Call Of Duty, but somehow even more of a rush because you’re fighting against such terrible odds.

I do think the ways that FromSoftware has traditionally made some of its games more accessible are fine. Giving players the ability to summon allies is “easy mode” basically and there will be plenty of multiplayer in Elden Ring as well as summonable spirits. There will also be stealth a la Sekiro, though when I think of that game I think of all the ways FromSoft actually limited choices and ways to approach its various levels and frequent boss and mini-boss fights. Out of all the studio’s games this was the most limiting, with only one weapon and no multiplayer whatsoever.

Mercante notes the map, the stealth and the various other ways Elden Ring will be more accessible to newcomers, but I’m still not at all convinced that it will be a game that anyone will define as welcoming or easy.

At the beginning of the piece Mercante writes: “FromSoftware games have always felt like they exist on an island surrounded by murky water that represents gaming capabilities I do not have: parrying, patience, and perseverance. They're notoriously brutal and task the player with losing a lot to gain a little, which acts as gigantic barriers to entry for a large swath of the gaming community.”

But Elden Ring, she concludes, will be different.

“As someone who has struggled through Dark Souls, avoided Bloodborne, and scoffed at Sekiro,” Mercante writes, “Elden Ring is offering up an approachable FromSoftware title that's ripe for the playing. With built-in difficulty options, a team of NPCs, a consultable map, and a wealth of choices, Elden Ring will welcome an entirely new set of players. I can't wait to get my ass kicked.”

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoft

My gut feeling on all of this is that no, Elden Ring really won’t welcome an entirely new set of players. It may make some things less punishing (even Dark Souls did that after Demon’s Souls) but it will still be “very difficult” according to game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who adds that “it can be handled.”

More choices, more build options, NPCs and multiplayer and a more open world may indeed make this game somewhat less challenging but I wouldn’t for one second think that if you can’t handle the difficulty of Dark Souls you’ll be happily stomping through Elden Ring.

There have always been plenty of choices in the Souls games to ameliorate the difficulty. Even just grinding does that. If you weren’t able to take advantage of those options before, nothing here suggests you’ll be able to now.

Fast travel is back in Elden Ring and that’s what really worries me, though I’m glad to learn that you cannot fast travel out of a dungeon. One of my biggest complaints about the second and third Souls games was the fast travel, the ease at which you can hop around from bonfire to bonfire, something you had to unlock at great pain in the original Dark Souls.

But it was the lack of fast travel in that game that made it special, that forced the developer to build such a fascinating, brilliant interwoven world. In Dark Souls 3 there were times I laughed out loud when I arrived at a new bonfire, very nearly within shouting distance from the last one. This cheapens the experience for no good reason. And being able to fast travel to any place you’ve been does as well.

In Dark Souls you have to rely on shortcuts to lessen your travel time, but unlocking these—after fighting your way to reach them—is much more satisfying than simply fast-traveling everywhere. The ladder you kick down back to the bonfire beneath the Red Wyvern, or the elevator you unlock that takes you up and down between the Firelink Shrine and the Undead Parish are far more gratifying and clever than any fast travel. Maybe it’ll be important with this big open-world Elden Ring has, but maybe “big open world” is not as cool or as wonderful as the way FromSoftware built the Undead Burg.

Elden Ring

Credit: FromSoft

I still remember the first time I looked up from Darkroot Garden and saw the Red Wyvern’s bridge far up above—not a separate level at all, but just part of this sprawling, labyrinthine place that felt, because of this, so real.

Fast travel, or too many bonfires, or too much of a focus on making these games approachable rather than tough and gritty and tangible will dilute this sense of awe and wonder.

It’s not really about the difficulty, after all. It’s about those moments of triumph and astonishment that only a game like Dark Souls can conjure.

Elden Ring comes out on January 20th, 2022.

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