Elden Ring was the culmination of FromSoftware’s 28-year vision. One that arguably got its start with King’s Field in 1994, finding its feet properly back in 2009 with the release of Demon’s Souls on the PS3. Hidetaka Miyazaki sought to create a RPG that stood out from an industry of blockbusters that had grown predictable. He wanted us to experience something uniquely unforgiving, to provide the player with a reason to stake their claim on a world through equal amounts of combat and exploration.
He continued to hone his craft throughout the generation and into the next as FromSoftware produced an extensive list of classics. Dark Souls, Sekiro, Bloodborne, and now Elden Ring – all tremendous titles in their own right that operate on similar tenets, but also seek to be something entirely new. The melodic combat and open-ended approach to world design remains, but how we approach each game and the ways in which they seek to engross us couldn’t be more different. To paint them all with the same brush is foolish.
All the games I mentioned above occupy immovable positions in our medium’s culture, but all of them have been building up to the accomplishment of Elden Ring. It is a combination of almost everything that made its predecessors so special. Its world is unbelievably sprawling in its scope, but the immaculate attention to detail and focus on intimate exploration remains, with a single region being enough to hold up an entire game by itself. You can spend hours galloping across sprawling fields only to stumble upon an abandoned town holding myriad secrets that the community will likely spend years piecing together. It’s extraordinary, a[nd hard to believe it exists at all, let alone with such flawless execution.
Combat is equally extraordinary. Dark Souls focused on a slow, rhythmic combination of physical attacks, magic spells, and careful defence, while Bloodborne and Sekiro aimed for a much faster pace with a greater emphasis on aggression and player reaction. Like so many genres, the foundation remains the same, but how exactly that is approached boasts a level of variety that I’m unsure any other developer in the triple-A space right now is capable of matching.
Elden Ring was a combination of all these things. A way for FromSoftware to take everything it learned and assemble it into something new. Expectations were so high that living up to the hype felt impossible, but somehow it did, having now sold over 16 million copies across all platforms. This a number that only a few have attained, notably massive blockbusters from platform holders with the brand recognition to reach large mainstream audiences. It broke through the noise and took over the world, and to see it find success and to discuss my playthrough with friends and colleagues has been so much fun.
But where exactly do we go from here? FromSoftware has burst the open world bubble, and is now seated alongside The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Forbidden West as a marque property that aims to offer a seemingly endless amount of content across a sprawling landscape. Can we go back to something simpler and more confined after Elden Ring, or is the only option to push forward and aim for something bigger and better? Bandai Namco will no doubt want to capitalise on its success just as it did with Dark Souls, moving forward with DLC and perhaps even a sequel if Miyazaki is on board with direction – though FromSoftware pushed on ahead without him for Dark Souls 2, so history may repeat itself. But is that really the right move?
I love FromSoftware games not because of the challenge. If anything, I’m one of those filthy casuals who will summon help against tough bosses or walk away from impossible feats in order to grind experience and come back more powerful. This has always been part of the experience, and is undoubtedly something that will remain untouched in whatever the developer does next. Elden Ring 2 – or whatever it ends up being called – is a game I will adore. Saying that I wouldn’t eat up such a thing would be a lie, much like how I’ll definitely pick up The Last of Us Remake because I’m an obedient little gamer and want to revisit one of my favourite games with a new coat of paint. It’s for the trophies I promise.
FromSoftware has proven to be an industry powerhouse, and whatever comes next will likely be bigger, better, more expensive, and more ambitious in its execution. Yet I’ve always found appeal in the curation seen in the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Every enemy placement or environmental detail is depicted with distinct purpose, like if it was pulled away from the bigger picture you could spend forever analysing its existence and exactly how and why it came to be. Content creators have made careers out of exploring this universe, and Elden Ring is more of the same albeit with a few open world trimmings thrown in for good measure. It all works, but I will miss the intimate moments if we veer further into grandiosity.
A sequel or expansion of Elden Ring feels inevitable given its sales, and capitalism will likely influence the studio’s creative output far more than artistic intent. I’ve come to accept that in the games industry though, it’s how the cookie crumbles and all we can do is watch it fall apart and pick up whatever scraps are offered to us. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a delicious cookie, but if FromSoftware were to dedicate itself entirely to this franchise instead of having the freedom to experiment and push forward its own ideas I will definitely be broken up about it. Armored Core is coming back, but imagine a more futuristic take on the Souls formula that takes a nuanced look at our own societal issues amidst a relatable dystopia.
The Lands Between likely has a lot more to give, but having the confidence to leave its iconic worlds behind time and time again is precisely what has allowed FromSoftware to become so beloved. I remember all of these games because there always came a time for me to walk away from it all, and to know I risk returning to Elden Ring fills me with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. The excitement is there, but part of me is conflicted.
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