Warning: Spoilers are here, at the bottom.
Have you met Three Fingers?
Far below the sewers of Leyndell Royal Capital, off the beaten path, lies perhaps the most haunting tableau of Elden Ring. After Mohg is dispatched, a vast subterranean catacomb is revealed, and – as you wade through the countless corpses within, all frozen in eternal agony – a horrific, genocidal truth is unearthed. But all this horror is only the prelude to an even greater discovery; further down is Three Fingers and the revelation Nothing in the Elden Ring is quite what it seems.
Up to this point you have struggled with your unique mission to reach a great ancient divine tree; All around you are the aftermath of a great war – scattered factions, faded alliances, fallen heroes – and beneath it all, temporally, a vast tapestry of rich history spanning millennia. But suddenly, with the discovery of this subterranean blasphemy under Leyndell, a vast cosmic conspiracy – an eternal struggle for control of The Lands Between waged by a pantheon of unfathomable beings – becomes clear.
It’s a delicious lens shift made all the more delicious because there’s a decent chance you’ll get through Elden Ring without ever contemplating its outer gods, unaware of the cosmic nightmare peeking provocatively from behind the curtain. The world of The Lands Between is a stunning construct, an utterly believable location convincingly crafted from layers of visible history – there isn’t a statue, church or rock that doesn’t feel like it has a story to tell – but The Discovery of Three does Fingers and his cosmic cohorts is like lifting the veil that tears reality apart to reveal a secret story hidden between the observable truth of everything.
I’ll admit I’m a fan of cosmic horror and its multi-faceted offspring of the existential and insane – not least, the notion of chaos personified pottering about behind the scenes has always felt like a far more compelling theological argument than most. But while literary cosmic horror has long eluded Lovecraft’s rather problematic shadow (this week’s recommended reading: BR Yeager’s Negative Space, Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds, and literally everything by Thomas Ligotti), I think video games are still struggling to represent the genre very well. either get stuck on the mechanics of the whole thing – madness! – or rehashing all-too-familiar aesthetics. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever need to see another sinister tentacle, death cult, or weird fishing village ever again. Even FromSoftware’s Bloodborne – wittily subversive as it is, with its gothic, creature-like feint – borrows heavily from Lovecraft’s rich iconography.
But Elden Ring’s Secret History feels like FromSoftware shakes off those shackles to crack the cosmic horror again, this time on its own terms, and got it beautifully right. The existential revelation of Elden Ring is not front and center, but glitters obscenely on the periphery for the constantly, perhaps dangerously, curious. Clues to the truth of things are, as is usual in a FromSoftware game, hidden among dozens of item descriptions, but evidence of the ongoing struggle of the cosmic pantheon for The Lands Between lies everywhere and requires only a change of perspective to be seen.
The Greater Will is of course conspicuous as the actual victor in the cosmic war, manifested as the ubiquitous Earth Tree towering over all, but challengers rise; There is the insidious creep of the God of Rot whose power has corrupted Malenia and corrupted Caelid to the point of salvation, and there are many rumors of the shapeless mother who may ultimately be responsible for Mohg’s schemes for the timeless Miquella – a dangerous prey for one God in Need of a Ship – after a chance encounter deep beneath Lyndell.
Then there’s the dreaded Raging Flame of Chaos – inseparable from the fates of nomadic merchants Yura and Hyetta – and the Dark Moon, whose blasphemous worshipers have been relegated to life under the artificial stars of the three subterranean Eternal Cities, and who thanks to Ranni and his friends might be ready to get up again. And that’s not even factoring in the lesser gods vying to be remembered: the bloodstar channeled by the bearers of the sacrificial thorns, the one-eyed god of fire, and more.
Ultimately, given the genre From works in here, it seems wonderfully fitting that countless people will fight their way through the Elden Ring, bloodied and bruised, unaware of the cosmic chaos raging around them. And of course, there’s more than enough to admire along the way without obsessing over a mysterious envoy with an unexpected extra digit deep in the sewers of Lyndell. But in a game whose world is shaped by stories, the fact that its ultimate story is almost imperceptibly hidden among all of the other stories speaks so much to the majesty of the Elden Ring.
https://www.eurogamer.net/games-of-2022-elden-ring-had-the-years-best-cosmic-gods Games 2022: Elden Ring had the best cosmic gods of the year