Elden Ring is soon upon us, so it’s a great time to look back on how far its developer FromSoftware has come over the years. The studio once revolutionized the action RPG genre, but can it do it once again with Elden Ring?
How Dark Souls Popularized the Soul Collecting Formula
As an offshoot of Demon’s Souls back in 2011, Dark Souls popularized the soul-collecting formula we know today. The game sees you fighting through a sequence of enemies and bosses, and collecting their souls. If you die, you start over from a checkpoint, monsters respawn, and – the real balls-kicker – you have to retrieve your corpse if you don’t want to lose the souls you’ve collected. Many games have replicated and built upon this formula: Hollow Knight incorporates it into its Metroidvania exploration, while Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order mixed it with Uncharted-type parkour adventuring.
And of course, FromSoftware’s latest games have iterated the formula themselves with Bloodborne’s fast-paced, dodge focused nightmare world, Sekiro’s smooth parrying system, and now finally with Elden Ring.
The Dark Souls formula is a special one. The game doesn’t offer you any direct form of difficulty options. It’s free to tackle however you’d like, and you use souls to arm yourself with the right amount of power you need to overcome an area. The game director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, wants it to feel like a journey about how you overcome your obstacles, giving you the freedom to choose your build and weapons. You can even become so over-levelled that it becomes a cakewalk… eventually.
How Elden Ring Is Different From Others
So what makes Dark Souls so special, you may ask? It trusts its players to work it out, and rarely explicitly tells you anything. You simply avoid the darkness, push for those bonfires, and of course, die a lot along the way. It doesn’t even really tell you much about its goal or story. You simply piece lore and plot together through the sparse dialogue with the NPCs as you uncover what this darkness-ridden world has to offer.
Elden Ring is the evolution of that formula. Now, you’re in a more open environment with threats and secrets around every corner. The game seems to be a blend of Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, and Dark Souls. It’s brighter, has dungeons, and is loaded with NPCs and quests, or you can head straight for the main boss of an area.
It offers six distinct biomes to explore, but now on horseback and with mechanics such as jumping (yes, we’re finally getting casual jumping in a Souls game), stealth, and skill trees. This may be the norm for other games, but it opens up the game with so much replayability as the level design now lets you approach dungeons in either a direct hack-and-slash manner or by stealthily picking off enemies one by one – gone are the days when we had to resort to firing single arrows from a far.
What we really need to talk about is how George R. R. Martin has written the lore based off of Norse mythology, which means we can expect lots of deceit and betrayal. The protagonist, as a Tarnished, may be the first of many to come. The Tarnished are supposedly exiled warriors.
Considering the game’s Norse roots and Dark Souls’ legacy, I think the term is used as an exemplification of the Valkyries. Similarly to Valkyries who act as angels of death to guide souls to either Valhalla or Fólkvangr, we as a Tarnished have the goal of killing demigods and sending them back to The Eternal – the title given to Elden Ring’s sovereign Queen Marika. The Elden Ring itself is part of the giant Erdtree and is comprised of Great Runes, which are the souls-counterpart in this game.
So we go through the game in an attempt to restore the Elden Ring to power, though it isn’t actually a ring but supposedly a source of the Erdtree’s power that keeps the Golden Order in check (yep, we’ll have to play more to understand it, but stick around these parts and we’ll have answers for you!).
It’s our job to stop the six demigods from waging war, essentially balancing life and death like a Norse Valkyrie.
Oh, and we finally have a map that we get to complete bit by bit. Based on Miyazaki’s words it seems the game is going to be full of surprises (not that Dark Souls wasn’t jam packed with enough deadly traps, but it seems there will a lot to do within the open world itself). This adds a whole new level of immersion and suspense in traversing the world. The real-time day-night cycle may mean certain events and fights occur at specific locations and times, adding to the lore of the world – one example being the Black Knight, who roams the area of Limgrave atop his black steed at night.
Instead of having weapons with their specific leveling systems and skills, Elden Ring has introduced Ashes of War. These are unique items you can attach to your weapons to change their style and damage. This means we can now play as unique builds with totally diverse magic attributes. If you always wanted to play as a knight who primarily uses magic, then FromSoftware has you covered.
Though, not dissimilar to Hollow Knight’s charm system, you can link a weapon with just one Ash of War. It feels like a livelier world compared to the sad, spooky atmosphere in FromSoftware’s previous games. Elden Ring may not be the revolution we desire, but it’s an evolution of something we already love. And best of all, you’ll soon get to judge for yourself if the Lands Between live up to the hype.
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