Elden Ring’s launch success is fueled by loyal FromSoftware fans

I went in Elden Ring a bumbling but serious rookie. I cleaned up Stormveil Castle after much death and despair; so I went on an adventure, and soon I found myself on top of a tower, next to a chest. Someone who had come here before me had helpfully left a message: treasure ahead!

I opened the chest, was sucked through a portal and woke up in a nightmare area of ​​the game, full of misery. It was the moment that something clicked for me; I suddenly felt like I was in on the FromSoftware experience.

Elden Ring is one of the biggest titles of the year, with over 12 million copies sold as of March 2022. The game has proven to be both a commercial and critical success, and while developer FromSoftware ironed out some of the hardest parts of previous titles, it’s still very familiar to long-time fans of the studio. FromSoft has been tinkering with many of the same mechanics and design principles for years, and the scale of Elden Ring‘s success is largely due to the fan base that the Japanese developer has cultivated with previous releases. And it’s this same community that I didn’t just get addicted to Elden Ringbut also sparked my interest in both playing FromSoft’s previous games and delving deep into their knowledge.

The character class

Image: From Software via Polygon

FromSoftware is perhaps best known for the Dark Souls series. Demon Souls, a 2009 release that would be re-released later in 2020 as a PlayStation 5 launch title, was a cult hit. The Dark Souls trilogy was set to be released in the 2010s along with Victorian gothic horror bloodborne in 2015 (hence the term “Soulsborne” many fans use, a way of casually referring to the developer’s catalog). FromSoft also released the Sengoku-era adventure Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in 2019, which started from well-known elements such as The Stubborn, Tricky Patches

Dark Souls also had a broader influence on game design, with “Soulslike” becoming shorthand for identifying a particular game ethos and set of mechanics. There are Souls-esque games that, at first glance, look nothing like FromSoftware’s majestic, horrific settings. But makers of games like Tunic learned smart from FromSoftware and interpreted the developer’s mechanics through their own lens.

I’m the kind of player who loves to dig into lore and discover little secrets about the world and its characters. In the beginning I missed a lot of this Elden Ringuntil I started paying attention to the flavor text on item descriptions. Much of the world is up for debate, scattered over petty riddles and unreliable narrators. It is refreshingly open to discovery and interpretation; there is no in-game codex full of world-building or dialogue trees full of technical information about the world.

Elden Ring - Rennala, Queen of the Full Moon, poses.  She wears an elaborate robe, a tall conical hat and holds a large scepter.  The full moon looms behind her, casting a reflection against a body of water behind Rennala.

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

Many of FromSoft’s games have similar gameplay cores: there are punishingly difficult battles, until the player puzzles out the enemy’s specific attack patterns and movement styles. But it was the characters and the way the world was built that really intrigued me and interested me in the entire FromSoft canon. The enemies are often deeply tragic, whether they be merry, sun-loving warriors who eventually succumb to madness and frenzy, or desperate monster hunters who stumble and fall to unspeakable horrors.

There is a limited amount of information about the game world, given away in cryptic dialogue lines and item descriptions. A FromSoftware game follows an internal consistency in design and logic, even when the developer experiments with bigger aspects.

This consistency and scope has helped build one of the most ardent fan bases in gaming. For years this was almost a plague; there was the persistent stereotype of the “git gud” gamer who would parry any criticism or concern about Soulsborne games with one adage: just be better at video games. This conversation still continues — and we’re likely to see debates about whether FromSoftware games should have easy modes until the universe’s inevitable heat death — but it’s faded over time to a more accessible, welcoming fan experience.

Elden Ring Guide: Respec with Larval Tears

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon

Look at the Elden Ring subreddit, and you’ll find players sharing the repeated trials and tribulations of fighting Starscourge Radahn, or sharing gifs of their terrible, comically inept deaths at the hands of birds or suspicious-looking cliffs. For anyone who argues that using a subpoena or shield isn’t the “real” way to play the game, dozens of others celebrate the wild strategies — like intense incantations, blood draws, or good old cheese — that they survived.

Elden Ring is the first FromSoftware game I’ve ever played, and that’s partly because I was so intrigued by the deep sense of identity that FromSoftware fans had. I had witnessed friends go through the cycle of frustration and anger, slow realization and triumphant revenge over boss fights. I’d seen people share wonderful fan art of FromSoft characters, or share their lore theories on social media. I also got a sense of the communities built around these franchises.

FromSoftware games work together and rely heavily on communication with other players, or: that’s via in-game messages or gather around creators who interpret lore and share their theories† There is a shared vocabulary and understanding among the developer’s fans, and they work together to understand the worlds of FromSoft. And there are also local legends who inspire their own fanworks, such as let me take her soloa player who simply exists to be summoned into a lucky ally’s world to single-handedly defeat the game’s toughest boss – even if they bugged and heals ridiculous amounts of damage

Malenia puts on her helmet in a screenshot of Elden Ring

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

Elden Ring fans have also created countless fascinating projects around the game’s knowledge and setting. Developers have made Elden Ring demake trailers and Game Boy Adjustments† Players joke about the game’s difficulty and assign their own challenges by playing the game on a Fisher Price controller or for a legendary nine-minute speedrun† There’s also an incredible amount of fan art, of course.

Although the scale is surprising, experienced observers could see the game’s popularity coming from afar. Even before Elden Ring came for the public to enjoy, FromSoft fans held a wake after every game conference where Elden Ring was not shown or viewed. They went for a while completely wild and made up their own lore, including bosses like ‘Glaive Master Hodir’. And when an additional trailer was finally released in 2021, provide more insight into Elden Ringthe lorefans immediately gathered around a favorite character: the humble pot boy

Elden Ring had a similar hold on me. After Elden Ring, I was addicted; I never had the idea of ​​’getting good’ but I was definitely looking for games like bloodbornepick up the game and devour it yourself – along with digging into fan-made resources like Redgrave’s short story “The Paleblood Hunt,” a 90 page dissection of bloodborne‘s themes, enemies and characters, or search videos of hostile models to get a complete picture of their designs.

Elden Ring opened the door for many fans who may have been intrigued by the glimpses of this community they caught here and there, but who were intimidated by the ‘get good’ dialogue and the reputation the games have for incredibly tough bosses. But FromSoftware’s fans have been championing the games for years, sharing the best bits on social media and pushing the next releases. It is worth noting that Elden Ring‘s success owes much to those joint efforts, jokes and analysis. I’m already looking forward to future DLC that will add more riddles for fans to ponder, but I imagine I’ll also go through a new game plus do a victory lap around the Lands Between.

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