The reaction to the trailer for Elden Ring, which capped off last night’s Summer Game Fest, was inevitable. All through the show, the side-mounted chat swamp festered with a single, copy-pasted block of lore from FromSoftware’s upcoming extravaganza, and Geoff Keighley took on the air of a besieged Denethor, desperately trying to ignore the chant of “Grond, Grond, Grond,” from beyond the walls.
So long as Elden Ring looked even remotely like Dark Souls, those folks were going to be ecstatic. And needless to say, it looked exactly like Dark Souls. But if you think I’m easing into some jaded, aloof dismissal, think again. I would have been just as excited as all the lore-roarers were, but for one tiny difference. I wish it had been revealed that Elden Ring was going to be a management game.
You see, I love FromSoftware’s art design. Who doesn’t? Every creature looks somehow both monstrously powerful and agonisingly feeble, with proportions nudged just far enough from the norms to make them look deeply upsetting. Haggard giants blunder around worlds that seem stuck forever at 3pm on the nastiest day of February, with their desire to die outweighed only barely by their desire to kill. It’s a powerfully distinctive, wyrd-gothic aesthetic I enjoy so much, that I watch hours-long boss fight compilations on YouTube in the manner of a day out at the zoo.
“I love FromSoftware’s art design. Every creature looks both monstrously powerful and agonisingly feeble.”
I don’t actually play the games, however. I’ve tried, but I’m just not really into the formula – I find it stressful and repetitive, and I don’t get the buzz off that which some people quite reasonably do. I will quite often dip into genres I’m ambivalent to, if the worlds involved excite me enough. But with the partial exception of Sekiro, FromSoftware’s lore leaves me completely cold.
It all feels forgettably generic and needlessly intricate at the same time, and I’m afraid that the headlining of George RR Martin’s involvement does little to make me think that will change in Elden Ring. Don’t get me wrong: the bloke is a phenomenal short-range plotter, with an eye for putting characters in situations which force hands to turn pages. But the external agency involved in action-adventure storytelling really doesn’t play to that strength. And while I think GRRM’s a good world-builder, I can’t help but feel he had a pretty light touch here.
This is all subjective, of course, I’m just saying that beyond their art style, the Souls games aren’t for me. And so I got to thinking about how all that gloriously horrible creature design could be delivered in a way that pressed my particular buttons, and the idea hit me. I already think of watching Souls game footage as a trip to the zoo. So what about – get ready for it – FromSoftware’s Tragic Monster Zoo.
I’m almost bold enough to just end the post there, since that’s such a powerful idea. But if you need me to sell it to you further, so be it.
Just imagine a serene, buttoned-down game like Planet Zoo, only the sky is the colour of a dying man’s piss, and you’re trying to work out what to feed that fucking awful spider boss off of Bloodborne. Or building a ruined castle big enough to keep some ghastly, manky dragon contained. Or putting a fake carriage into an enclosure as an enrichment activity, to keep those two big-chested lads off of the Elden Ring trailer occupied.
Maybe all the monsters are spilling out of a portal, a la Half-Life. Perhaps some maniac is making them in a lab. Maybe it’s a haunted PS4. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. The point is, you’ve got a warehouse full of colossal, melancholy skeletons and rotting apes to house, and a world full of diehard Souls fans who’ll pay vast amounts to see them. Imagine the tension! The inevitable escapes! It would make Jurassic Park look like a bloody petting zoo.
And of course, it’s never going to happen. But a man can dream.
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