Elden Ring exists, for real, and now we know for sure because around two minutes of an old trailer leaked in off-screen, low-resolution chunks. I’ve seen the footage, and it sure looks like a FromSoft game. Dragons, swords, dodge rolls—it’s Dark Souls 4, but you can ride a horse, and that’s all we ever really wanted.
The footage is genuinely terrible. Not the game itself, just the quality. It looks like someone filmed it with the Motorola Razr I used in high school. It’s not a leaked trailer as much as a collection of colors playing charades. If you haven’t seen it, stop. Just wait for the real deal—this is likely an internal work-in-progress from months ago. But if you’re one of the dedicated, self-proclaimed hollows thirsty for any molecule of information about Elden Ring, you’ve watched it 100 times already, and you’re probably feeling one of two ways: Elated or empty.
I expected extreme reactions. FromSoftware has some of the most dedicated fans in games. Their cryptic folklore and dangerous worlds invite close inspection and interpretation. They’re built to be frustrating, but also built to invisibly push the player to persist and overcome. Those moments of triumph are some of the best feelings videogames can give us. So it’s no surprise that the FromSoftware base reached Half-Life 3 levels of desperation in two years rather than a decade.
The initial wave of reactions to hit the Elden Ring subreddit were invariably positive. Finally, a glimpse at The Thing! We got the expected onslaught of ‘OOOOoooOOOoooH’ posts and Humanity Restored memes, and some excitement over some scary bosses, some huge scenes, horse combat, and what looks like a stealth system.
It’s not all memes and OooOOoooHs though. Plenty of disappointment and concern are working through the internet, largely buried by enthusiasts. I get it, being excited feels nice, but let’s not forget how sure so many were about Cyberpunk 2077 before it came out, even after pre-release reviews like my own said it was in rough shape. Granted, CD Projekt marketed the hell out of Cyberpunk while From is taking a much more restrained approach. This footage was not intended for public consumption, nor is it necessarily representative of the final game. There’s no context for what we’re seeing at all.
But I don’t blame anyone for thinking Elden Ring is playing it too safe, at least visually. A common refrain has been that a new fantasy world created with the aid of George R. R. Martin shouldn’t look this familiar, not only in terms of its relation to Dark Souls, but to fantasy tropes at large. Dragons, skeletons, pointy wizard hats? Been there, done that. I wonder if the horse can dodge roll.
The history of /r/EldenRing
If you want to catch up, here’s some homework: a meticulously detailed history of the Elden Ring subreddit, marking every major and minor cultural shift, including subcategories of popular meme formats.
Now we wait for a real trailer, rumored to arrive sometime in March (though Xbox has already said it won’t be from them). And then we wait for the game to come out. Elden Ringers have gone through some major changes overnight, from wondering whether Elden Ring exists to seeing an actual timeline emerge from the abyss. That’s where I sense most of the bummer vibes coming from: the disappointment might be less about Elden Ring itself than what it created.
Elden Ring’s extended stint in purgatory was probably better for its hopeful players than a trickle of evidence would’ve been. Driven into desperation by a passion for FromSoftware games, and then more desperate by the prolonged silence, Elden Ring fans aren’t really fans of Elden Ring.
They’re fans of the idea of Elden Ring: the promise of grim existential themes integrated with challenging play, and the catharsis from overcoming those obstacles despite the hopelessness cutting through it all. They actually just want to feel capable and to know that it’s going to be OK despite all the vacant castles (climate change) and huge monsters (also climate change) hinting otherwise.
Without this collective desperation, Reddit user Stray_Demon wouldn’t have drawn over 230 original pieces of his own imagined Elden Ring art, promising to create a new one for every day that a gameplay trailer isn’t shown. Technically, the rule still applies, and though Stray_Demon’s pace has slowed, his enthusiasm hasn’t. Just look at his first work compared to the latest. That’s genuine artistic development he wouldn’t have without the vacuum of information since June 9, 2019.
Without From’s superfans clawing at the sky we wouldn’t have a pile of memes to the moon. Here’s a favorite of mine, posted hours before the trailer leak.
Some Ringers were so juiced on the idea of Elden Ring they decided to just make their own game. I wish I loved anything so much that it encouraged me to take up a whole new trade and practice. More game developers need to just go silent for years at a time. We’ll have whole movements of indie game designers and artists sprouting up on demand.
Now that footage has leaked, though, the snake’s eating its tail, and Ringers are already nostalgic for the loss of future nostalgia. A ring indeed.
That leaked footage has everyone a bit confused right now. Overwhelmed, even. The internet invites us to sit around social media campfires that never die, which exist to comfort weary travellers with news and folklore about everything from stock markets to videogames. Those eternal campfires ensure that over time, the culture will outgrow the thing itself. It didn’t take Elden Ring long to outgrow a single trailer. Before the leak, Elden Ring was art, humor, and hope tinged with longing. Suddenly God (a cool dragon) appears in 240p and all those fantasies we saw in the flames over the last two years take on a familiar form.
It’s no surprise that some people are grappling with a sense of loss and disappointment. Elden Ring is a videogame now, a thing we grade on a scale, a thing we can finish. I’m happy to know it’s tangible. I love From Software’s games. But I’ll miss the ongoing hysteria, and I’ll miss the time when I truly couldn’t even imagine it. Sure loved trying to, though.