“My name is Malenia, Blade of Miquella, and I have never known defeat.” In all of Elden Ring, this may be the voice line I heard the most.
Spoken by one of the most difficult bosses in FromSoftware’s latest, it’s an arrogant boast by a prideful warrior. Malenia, however, is far from the only prideful demigod. The Lands Between are full of beings who assume they alone can seize power and guide what remains of the world — an attitude that has directly caused much of the suffering players encounter. This isn’t a new theme for FromSoftware, as they have woven it into their games since Demon’s Souls in 2009. In a Soulsborne game, pride and arrogance are the most unforgivable sins — something players must learn themselves if they ever hope to win.
Elden Ring makes this clear through its lore and world-building, from the demigods the player faces to the characters they meet who serve as allies, if only temporarily. While Elden Ring’s lore is complex just like its predecessors, every god is driven by their own pride. Notably, one of the game’s final story bosses is perhaps the only enemy that treats the player’s character as something of an equal. It’s a sign that you, the player, has finally earned their high status.
As much as these prideful characters want to lead, their arrogance becomes their undoing. Seluvis’ quest involves turning various characters into puppets — the only value he sees in people — only for him to end up foiled when he fails to recognize his own limits. Meanwhile, Sir Gideon Ofnir The All-Knowing begins as one of the main sources of information and encouragement for the player. But all of that knowledge eventually leads him astray, as he assumes he alone knows the will of the titular Elden Ring and what is best for the Lands Between. Some characters cannot even see their own arrogance, like the demigod Morgott decrying his relatives as “willful traitors” as he calls himself the last king and refuses to believe he could be wrong about the world’s future.
All of this would be effective storytelling on its own, as both the limited narrative and the worlds players traverse show direct consequences of unchecked pride. Every fallen fortress and abandoned city is a warning; a sign that downfall is just around the corner. This philosophy extends to the gameplay FromSoftware has designed as well. Some of the initial marketing for the series clumsily focused on the games’ difficulty as a main selling point (for example, the PC release of Dark Souls was infamously titled the “Prepare To Die Edition”), but the actual level of challenge is secondary to the real mechanical point of these games. From the very beginning, FromSoftware has asked players to set aside their assumptions and be willing to humbly learn what Soulsborne games are trying to teach.
A new player might arrogantly assume they can hack-and-slash their way through the beginning of Elden Ring, like most other action games. They “know” what to do. The first section of the game will be a cakewalk, they assume, since enemies are simply fodder to get those first trickles of experience points, and they won’t throw any unexpected traps this early. But that knowledge is swiftly thrown out the window — the beginning enemies are strong enough to decimate players and they have no qualms about hiding past doorways or down dead-ends to ambush the unaware. If players continue to throw themselves at enemies like in other games, they’ll continuously suffer. But if they set aside their pride and begin to engage slowly and carefully, as FromSoftware has intended, progress is made.
From the Forest of Fallen Giants in Dark Souls 2 to Central Yharnam in Bloodborne, every FromSoftware game opening reinforces this lesson for newcomers. I had to learn it myself, as I bounced off of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls the first time I played. My frustration grew as I realized I couldn’t strike down enemies with flailing attacks, preventing me from slowing down and properly engaging with the mechanics.
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Since the beginning of the Soulsborne franchise, FromSoftware has woven these lessons into the fabric of their titles. In Demon’s Souls, final boss and main villain King Allant is driven by a desire to extend his rule of the land of Boletaria past his natural reign. This leads him to make a deal with the devil (or The Old One, in this case) to unleash the Soul Arts and the Deep Fog that has resulted in the worlds being overrun by demons. Similarly, The Healing Church, the main institution in Bloodborne, not only controls the supply of blood used in rituals and healing arts in the city of Yharnam, but also hides the truth that these rituals create monsters to retain control over the city. In Dark Souls 3, Sulyvahn is arrogant enough to falsely claim the title of Pontiff of a whole religion, only to bring Lordran even closer to a final death before being stopped. For as well as Elden Ring embodies these lessons, it’s built on years of FromSoftware refining them.
Still, Elden Ring challenges the knowledge players have collected from previous FromSoftware games. It tests players’ willingness to adapt to an open world — previous FromSoftware games are largely linear — by parking the powerful boss Tree Sentinel directly outside of the tutorial level. Players can be slaughtered repeatedly, or they can learn to simply walk around him. While rolling to dodge has always been a central core of FromSoftware games, Elden Ring’s bosses have many more attacks with notable delays between the windup and the hit, testing if players can change on the fly. It mirrors the shift FromSoftware also expected from players in Bloodborne, which focuses on a more aggressive style of play built around attack-driven health recovery.
Pride often results in people thinking that they can do everything on their own, but FromSoftware has included a core summoning mechanic in the hopes players overcome this mentality. A recurring argument amongst Soulsborne players is how much a particular victory “counts” if a summon is used during a fight — an argument that has grown louder with the inclusion of more NPC summons in Elden Ring alongside the multiplayer summons that have been in the series from the start. It’s here where this theme of setting aside pride shines brightest. Cooperation and friendship are the antithesis of pride, and FromSoftware recognizes this by including the ability to directly call for aid.
From Demon’s Souls to Elden Ring, each new player is repeatedly shown that one can either sit in their arrogance and fail, or set aside their pride to grow and achieve great things. The challenge isn’t the point of a Soulsborne game — it’s recognizing the lesson.