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Saturday, July 20, 2024
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    HomeTechnology‘Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree’ once again shatters expectations

    ‘Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree’ once again shatters expectations

    There’s an electric anticipation in the gaming world as Friday looms.

    In the past month, the Weeknd said he’s picking “Elden Ring” back up to prepare for the new chapter. He was speaking to Kai Cenat, the most subscribed Twitch streamer in the world today whose recent 200-hour marathon of “Elden Ring” helped light this fire. Travis Scott is also preparing his character.

    Everyone is suiting up for the gaming event of the summer, “Shadow of the Erdtree,” the concluding chapter of “Elden Ring,” which releases Friday on PlayStation 5, Xbox and PC. And like the 2022 release that’s sold 25 million copies, it is, once again, bigger than you’d expect.

    “Elden Ring” told the story of The Lands Between, a world torn apart by the warring demigod children of its god Marika. One child, Miquella the Kind, who was cursed with eternal youth, was absent from the original game, but he left traces and clues everywhere. “Erdtree” is basically a mystery story: What is the true nature of the world to which Miquella has escaped, and just what is he doing here?

    The answers are terrifying, enchanting and incredibly difficult to find. Game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who wrote the story with “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin, said in interviews that this new chapter’s world, the Land of Shadow, is about the size of Limgrave, the beginning region of the original game. He is a liar. “Shadow of the Erdtree” feels like 75 percent the size of “Elden Ring,” a game that’s already bigger than most games. Developer FromSoftware basically made a sequel.

    The smaller size of the world means a more focused world design than the original game, with regions looping in and out of each other like the classic dungeon design philosophy of “Dark Souls,” extended across continents. It’s the biggest improvement from the original game, which was so big it often felt exhausting. In this new world, I thought I was making good sense of its geography, the most important landmarks and where I needed to go. I was so wrong. The world kept unfolding itself like origami, revealing new regions that aren’t visible in the landscape. Each new area often stunned me frozen as I took in the sights. Some of these areas are nightmarish, while others inspire awe.

    The dungeons, like the original game, are the highlight. In particular, the castle first visible on the horizon called Shadow Keep is among the best, most complex dungeons ever conceived by FromSoftware. It feels like an evolution of the best Zelda temples, with multiple exits and locations that interlock as a thoroughfare to other regions. It’s a work of architectural genius.

    Make no mistake, this is still more “Elden Ring.” If that gargantuan experience exhausted you or turned you away, here is something about as big, just as exhausting, and even more challenging. I entered this world with a Level 713 character, the maximum level of power attained over two years and hundreds of hours. The first enemy I fought was a man wearing nothing but underwear. I hit him with my most powerful attack, and he barely flinched. He punched me twice (hand-to-hand arts are just one of eight new weapon types), and I died. “Shadow of the Erdtree” contains its own unique leveling system, forcing players to discover fragments that apply a flat percentage buff to your damage and damage negation. Finding these fragments will become a core part of your journey, as it’s seemingly impossible to survive without them.

    The mood of the original game was a post-apocalyptic world with wizards and dragons. Miyazaki’s adventures are often downers. But the Land of Shadow’s ominous name belies its true nature as a world flourishing and teeming with life. After years of drab landscapes filled with dead trees and rotting corpses, these beautiful yet hard-to-find regions feel restorative, like finally taking a hot bath after a decade of hiking through mud and mountains.

    So is the mystery story any good? It’s compelling, but only if you’re able to find it. Miyazaki deliberately tells his stories through gameplay and a patchwork of information fed to the audience in fragmented thoughts and ideas. It’s inspired by his early years of trying to read fantasy books like The Lord of the Rings with a limited grasp of English — which only made the stories seem more fascinating and mysterious to him — and he’s been trying to re-create that imaginative exercise through video games.

    Hints of the truth behind Kindly Miquella’s actions and motivations are strewn all over the original game, but in “Erdtree,” it’s the central focus. It’s told through the lens of seven loyal devotees of Miquella, each with their own specialty and history. I found them all over the Land of Shadow, but there were so many parallel stories, and “Erdtree” is a much more challenging narrative to piece together than “Elden Ring.” Martin provided the history and lore of the games, and it provided a solid structure to follow in “Elden Ring.” Here, so much of the story is locked away by hidden passages, vague puzzles and cryptic clues.

    Somehow, despite this disjointed nature, I was still astounded at what I discovered. But I mention the word exhausting often, because “Elden Ring” demands much of its audience, whether it’s through the skill required, the mental acuity to push through hard challenges, or the literary sensibility to understand a nonlinear narrative logic. Some of the most important areas of the game key to understanding the story are hidden in obscure passageways and require a keen eye and good spatial awareness. I had to ask fellow reviewers at gaming news site IGN and YouTube creator FightinCowboy to find these locations. Maybe it’s good that games as big and complex as “Elden Ring” are rare. If Miyazaki’s games are special moments in time, and they indeed are, it’s good we’re not trapped in it like the undying ghouls of the Land of Shadow.

    “Shadow of the Erdtree” provides ghastly and unexpected answers to the 2022 game’s greatest mysteries. It is a grand conclusion to what many believe is the grandest video game of the 2020s. Many parts of it exceed the quality of the base game. It’s still more “Elden Ring,” shattering expectations.

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