Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is peak FromSoftware, with everything players complained about in the base game dialed up to 11 in the funniest way possible

In an age of “community building” and direct communication between developers and players, I’ve always found it refreshing that FromSoftware is different. FromSoft sits at an imperious remove from its player base, and instead of communicating, disciplines us. While studios like Larian and Arrowhead have shown what you can accomplish by lending your players an attentive ear and friendly word, FromSoft remains proof positive that the opposite can be just as worthwhile.

In Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, FromSoft has achieved new heights of trolling its players, subverting our expectations, just generally zagging when we expect them to zig⁠—and it had me letting out hearty belly laughs the entire way through. It’s hard to praise a game for its malicious little surprises without spoiling at least a few, so consider this your Spoiler Warning for an area and weapon in the first two open world zones⁠.

Swamp ass

The first point where I knew I was really in for something special on this front came in the Belurat Tower Settlement legacy dungeon. I found a suspicious locked gate at the bottom of a well: Mystery! Enticement! What could be on the other side, I wondered. After finding the Well Depths Key on a circuitous, hidden little side path, I returned about an hour later for my reward.

It was a goddamn poison swamp. I all but shook my fist at the heavens while yelling Hidetaka Miyazaki’s name. A surprise poison swamp squirreled away on a completely optional side path is a promise, a statement of intent: it has become a bit of a memetic legend that FromSoft president Miyazaki loves these oft-maligned areas, only putting more of them in each game as players complain about their frustrating movement challenges and stressful damage over time management, and here was my first of many in the DLC.

But the mini-swamp only contained even greater treasures. I made my way in the opposite direction of the critical path to be met with a familiar roar followed by the eruption of an Ulcerated Tree Spirit. Even if you don’t remember this guy’s name, you remember fighting his brothers: giant, pustule-ridden draconic things that swoop around with an agility you wouldn’t expect from their massive size, the camera clipping into their bulk and struggling to keep up with their movement.

One would have been an interesting, if flawed encounter, but there were 12 scattered throughout Elden Ring’s base game⁠—nine Ulcerated, and three more Scarlet Rot-inflicting Putrid Tree Spirits. There gets to be a sense of “this fucking guy again” fighting them, and their erratic move set makes the repeated fights a chore. Everyone hated them⁠—I love these games and even I hated them.

And yet: 12 Ulcerated Tree Spirits in the base game may have been a design failure, but even more showing up in the DLC all these years later? That is a carefully-considered joke at all of our expense, a proverbial, “The Ulcerated Tree Spirits will continue until morale improves.” 

The familiar dance of dodging through its ridiculous, screen-filling attacks as my poison meter climbed ever higher felt magical in this new context of FromSoftware saying “screw you!” to my games media guy pretensions of knowing what good design is. As one final, cheeky jab, this DLC Ulcerated Tree Guy even drops a poison resistance Talisman after you get done fighting him in the green muck. That would have been helpful a minute or two ago, man.

Taste my blade

These sorts of goofs aren’t always unpleasant, either, so long as you don’t mind joining in on the fun at someone else’s expense. The Rivers of Blood katana was a long time pain point for Elden PvPers. On the one hand, it’s rad as hell, a cursed samurai sword with a spammable skill you can effectively use instead of basic attacks. Everyone else on the receiving end of these would-be demon swordsmen, however, took issue with being instantly caught in the blade’s high-damage, poise-breaking attacks. Though long since nerfed, the ghost of Rivers of Blood still haunts the scene.

So what does FromSoft add to the DLC but Big Rivers of Blood? Rakshasa’s Great Katana, an example of the titular new weapon category of jumbo-sized Japanese blades, looks like if you opened Rivers of Blood in Microsoft Paint and dragged it out by the corner to make it bigger. RoB’s young yet towering sister seems set to be another headache in PvP, with a high-damage, spammable, difficult-to-interrupt ash of war that just warms the cockles of my dead heart.

Raksha’s Great Katana is an invitation to get in on the joke with FromSoft, bringing this celebration of a once-controversial weapon to bear against NPC and player alike with the only people not chuckling being those fuddy duddies who review-bombed the game for being too hard. Every OP PvP combo, juked and thwarted co-op gank squad, and fallacious hidden door or “You don’t have the right” message is the player base’s own way of participating in this jesterly atmosphere and matching FromSoftware’s prankster energy.

Because these are some of the funniest games ever made, and while FromSoftware doesn’t have a Discord or community managers to interface directly with its players, its developers always seem to be listening. And planning.

Source: PC Gamer

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