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George R.R. Martin and From Software may, strangely, be the biggest names in fantasy today. I say “strangely” because their respective styles of fantasy are so different in several ways. Where Martin provides precise detail down to the very fabric of his world, Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator and director of the Souls series as well as Bloodborne and Sekiro, hides detail behind smoke, mirrors, and epochs of lost knowledge and history. That isn’t to say that Miyazaki’s ideas aren’t as fleshed out as Martin’s. Quite the contrary; Miyazaki’s work is as painstakingly expansive as Westeros, but must be extracted with a historian or mythologist’s eye.
Somehow, both these styles—the immediate intrigue of Westeros and Miyazaki’s slowburn tricks and environmental storytelling—are equally addictive. It’s no wonder the hype for Elden Ring, From Software and Martin’s collaborative open world RPG, is tipping the Richter scale.
After a big reveal at E3 2019, information on the game has been scarce despite having been in development for some time up until that point. We’ve collected everything there is to know, from mostly confirmed rumors to interview tidbits. Strap in! Winter, or the Age of Dark, or something far worse is coming.
In an interview with Xbox Wire at 2019’s E3, where Elden Ring was first officially unveiled, director Hidetaka Miyazaki told Sam Wilkinson of Bandai Namco that the game’s development began just after completion of Dark Souls III’s Ringed City DLC. This would mean Elden Ring’s production would have began sometime in late 2016. This places it an interesting point in time for the company, as they had already begun production of 2019’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice by this point.
Miyazaki later explains how this was made possible. From Software operates with a sort of “co-director” structure, in which each of the developer’s individual titles have someone under Miyazaki who are the main one helming the development. Miyazaki then comes in with input on game design, art direction and music for each title. Of course, the game’s main themes come from Miyazaki as well—or, in the case of Elden Ring, they come from Miyazaki through inspiration provided by George R.R. Martin himself.
Interestingly, this would pose Elden Ring as the game with the longest development time for the company since the inception of the Souls series. Dark Souls was in development for 2 years, Bloodborne for 2 and a half, and Sekiro for a little over 3. By now, Elden Ring is approaching 4 years of development.
Upon the finale of Game of Thrones’ final season, Martin posted a farewell letter to his blog. Within the letter, he referenced having “consulted on a videogame out of Japan.” Obviously, he was referring to Elden Ring. This means the concept was floating as far back as May of 2019.
In Miyazaki’s Xbox Wire interview, he states From Software executive business director Eiichi Nakajima reached out to Martin and expected no response. To their surprise, Martin emphatically responded to the idea and Miyazaki and the author were able to meet one-on-one. The partnership didn’t come from any sort of imperative, really. Miyazaki simply states he was a major fan of Martin’s work, particularly his 1982 antebellum vampire novel Fevre Dream, which he mentions he recommends to new employees.
Upon discussing themes, Miyazaki told Martin he was interested in grappling with the wills and ambitions of humans, something they have insofar explored heavily on titles like Bloodborne and Dark Souls III in particular.
Martin then, instead of writing the game’s main scenario, wrote the background mythos. In an interview with IGN, Miyazaki says it was meant as a building block for the director and his writing team to bounce off of—instead of building something from the ground-up, they were tasked with seeing how eons of history were affected by the antiquity written by Martin.
“Storytelling in videogames—at least the way we do it at From Software—comes with a lot of restrictions for the writer. I didn’t think it was a good idea to have Martin write within those restrictions. By having him write about a time the player isn’t directly involved in, he is free to unleash his creativity in the way he likes. Furthermore, as From Software we didn’t want to create a more linear and storydriven experience for Elden Ring. Both issues could be solved by having Martin write about the world’s history instead.”
He goes on to compare it to the way a dungeon master’s handbook, in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade, might set the tone and lore for another hand to come in and add their own inflections and scenario. If Martin provided the exposition, then Miyazaki’s job was to create a plot within that world.
Miyazaki emphasizes the environmental storytelling that will be present in the game, which will help players unravel the mysteries and intrigue set in place by Martin. Exploration will be key to understanding both the main plot and the background.
As usual for From Software, the core gameplay will be a challenging, rewarding action RPG that relies on telegraphed moves and precise inputs. Miyazaki told Xbox Wire that while Sekiro focused much more on the action elements they’re known for, particularly given the game presents a fixed main character, Elden Ring will lean more into the RPG mechanics.
Character customization will be back, with the option to “design and control” the player character. This most likely means there will be assignable stats as in previous titles each time the player levels up. Miyazaki claims the game will have even more options than Dark Souls III, saying the variety of weapons, magic and ways to engage enemies are plentiful.
The world is “open,” which, in contrast to Dark Souls which is known for its claustrophobic but famously interconnected spaces, is expansive and inherently changes the way the game plays. The Souls series, Bloodborne and even Sekiro follow many of the rules of the Metroid style of shortcuts and items that unlock new paths in old areas. Elden Ring instead may be closer to that of Breath of the Wild or maybe Dragon Age: Inquisition; the exact nature of the open fields is still unknown.
Miyazaki notably doesn’t reference any titles in particular when calling the game open world. This is significant, given the vagueness of the convention — Nier: Automata is open, but much smaller of a map than, say, Skyrim which extends for hundreds of in-game miles and will find the player revisiting areas several times. Dragon Age: Inquisiton has over 10 open world areas for the player to explore that are not connected at all — to travel between them, the player has to return to a hub area and embark out. Miyazaki ensures that it will be an open world only From Software can make, which, well, we believe!
To accompany the player’s trek across Elden Ring’s massive areas, the player will be able to ride on horseback much like in Breath of the Wild. While Miyazaki shoots down the possibility of vast towns filled with NPCs (that’s not dreary enough for them), he does note that the NPCs that are present are much more compelling than those found in previous titles, which have always been known for their hazy motivations and foreboding
Everything we have confirmed about the story, for the most part, is contained in the sole announcement trailer we have. We see a small light gradually enlarging, some strange shots of some characters from one-armed knights to a blacksmith pounding away, and foreboding narration that seems to imply the Elden Ring is some binding force in the world that has been destroyed:
I doubt you could even imagine it. That which commanded the stars, giving life its fullest brilliance: the Elden Ring. Oh, Elden Ring. Shattered by someone, or something. Don’t tell me you don’t see it. Look up at the sky! It burns…
Each character seems to be broken or rotting in some way, from cracks to decomposition. As we know, rot and despair and contrasting beauty are some of Miyazaki’s favorite things to explore in any title.
Other than that, we’re left with a sole piece of concept art via Elden Ring’s Twitter page.
Interestingly, the character depicted in the concept art is holding a coiled sword not at all dissimilar from the coiled swords used to kindle the bonfires in the Souls series. Given it’s become a purposeful motif, there’s no way this is just a coincidence.
On the choice to release the concept art, Miyazaki told Xbox Wire they chose to share the image because of the character’s “eccentric aspects,” “the way he portrays the darkness that the world and story possess” and because he exemplifies the game’s core themes of mankind’s will and ambition.
Everything past this point is firmly in the “rumor” category, but there’s some decent support behind each of them.
First, a user named “Omnipotent” on the ResetEra forums who claims to be a From Software insider leaked information on the Elden Ring E3 Trailer before its release. Known for leaking info on From Software (or at least speculating correctly) in the past, Omnipotent went back and forth teasing the community along with a long, cryptic post with details on what the new game would be like.
There’s a lot of sly coding in the language he used, and instead of getting into that ourselves, we’ll just link this analysis someone did of Omnipotent’s post. It’s as good as any!
Liam Robertson, a well known investigative videogame journalist known for sharing exclusive information on big titles in the past, told YouTuber Spawn Wave “You will be dropped in and the game will have a bunch of kingdoms you can go to in any order, there will be a boss and you can take their ability as your own.” This seems to imply a sort of MegaMan-esque style of gameplay in which you can tackle a boss rush in any order you want and obtain powers after each run.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, when asked about games releasing in 2020, said last May “based on what [he’s] heard” Elden Ring would be releasing in the first quarter of the year. Now that we’re entering April, it seems like that’s amounted to nothing, but maybe we can expect big developments soon.
As COVID-19 continues to surge across the world and delay seemingly everything from music festivals to film production, we might expect some postponement of Elden Ring announcements or even development. Either way, the hype is real and the game has an extremely active fan community producing beautiful mock boss art and cleverly despondent memes.
The themes of the Soulsborne series might be a bit heavy for some to reengage with given the current state of the world (both the Souls series and especially Bloodborne are in essence plague stories), but now’s a perfect time to try out that ridiculous build you never had the time to do before. Want to do an INT/STR build in Dark Souls III? Does that sound absolutely insane? Well, it is, and I’ve done it, and it’s soul-sucking. Go try it. We’ve got the time.