Elden Ring is one big-ass game, and fans are still finding creative ways to navigate their Tarnishes through the treacherous Lands Between. Some have made controllers out of literal bananas while others have modded Fisher-Price toys to body the many bosses roaming FromSoftware’s latest Souls-like. Another player caught my eye: A musician named Anna Ellsworth, who recently slayed Margit the Fell Omen by plucking the strings of her harp. It’s nuts, so let me explain.
An Anne Adams Award recipient from the American Harp Society Foundation, Anna Ellsworth is a harpist and vocalist who’s been playing the instrument for 15 years. With a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Harp Performance—I ain’t even know that was a thing—Ellsworth has played on prominent stages like Carnegie Hall, Germany’s Elbphilharmonie, and the New World Center, where she performed Reinecke’s Harp Concerto in 2016. So, with over a decade of musical prowess under her belt, and having finished Elden Ring once already, Ellsworth wanted a challenge. To achieve that, she hooked her harp up to a PC and restarted her playthrough. And on June 14, Ellsworth uploaded a YouTube video of her defeating Margit. You gotta see it to believe it, trust me.
I’m absolutely shooketh watching this short-but-sweet video. Elden Ring is hard stuff. The bosses don’t mess around and will quickly bury you if you’re not careful. I mean, I’m constantly getting murked by the Magma Wyrm—and I’m using a damn controller! Doing this with a harp, where the keys are bound to the notes, is wild. There were a few moments where Ellsworth almost died, but through plucking strings and panic rolling, she managed to kill Margit—with a rune level 1 Tarnished, at that. She also beat the Tree Sentinel some weeks back, which is a difficult field baddie that will effortlessly put your body in a casket.
Ellsworth told Kotaku over email that playing Elden Ring with a harp stemmed from the other “weird controllers” players have used to beat FromSoft games, including speedrunner and YouTuber LobosJr’s Dark Souls 1 playthrough with an electric guitar. Inspired by his run, Ellsworth wanted to try something similar with her harp, testing the setup against notorious Dark Souls jerks Ornstein and Smough, before setting out to slay the Lands Between’s goons.
“In terms of hardware and software, I pretty much followed a video by technology Youtuber ThioJoeTech,” Ellsworth said. “I’m a professional harpist and often need to amplify my instrument at gigs, so my harp already has a Dusty Strings pickup installed that allows it to be plugged into things, much like an acoustic-electric guitar. So, I plug my harp into an audio interface and then plug the audio interface into the computer. Then, I pull up two programs, MiGiC (which I access through a digital audio workstation...I used to use Bitwig but now I use FL Studio) and Bome MIDI Translator. MiGiC takes the notes I pluck, turns them into MIDI, and sends it to Bome MIDI Translator which translates the MIDI into keystrokes. The computer then recognizes this as if I were playing the game with keyboard and mouse.”
While the setup may seem complicated for non-musicians, it gets even more bananas when talking about keybindings. Ellsworth broke down just how she was playing Elden Ring with her harp, explaining what notes do what and how she made it work despite some commands doubling up.
“Each string basically does one action, although sometimes I had to bind multiple commands to a string for it to work correctly,” Ellsworth said. “For example, the low C, D, E, and F strings make my character keep moving forward, left, right, and backward, respectively. They cancel each other out, so if I’m moving backward and I want to move forward instead, I’ll pluck low C which not only is the equivalent to holding down W, but also is bound to the instruction to release the A, S, and D keys, if any of them are being held down.
“I also use low G to cancel all movement. For the camera, I use middle C, D, E, and F to move it up, left, right, and down, respectively. Unlike the movement controls, for the camera I’ve instructed the program to interpret each pluck as holding down a key for only 250 milliseconds, meaning my camera moves in increments. Besides these, the other main controls are for menu (low-low G), cancel (low-low A), heal (A below middle C), lock on (B below middle C), attack (middle G), roll (middle A), jump (middle B), action (high C), and summoning Torrent (high D and then E).”
Ellsworth said she’s “definitely planning” on beating Elden Ring with her harp. Though she occasionally swaps between the stringed instrument and a controller for more troublesome areas, she’s confident that with enough practice a full harp playthrough is possible, even if her progress is pretty slow.
“Yeah, I’d love to at least finish all the story bosses with the harp,” Ellsworth tells Kotaku. “It would be great if I could travel through the world with it as well, but if it gets too frustrating, I might resort to a controller at some points (and as a disclaimer, I often use the controller in menu screens). I know that sounds crazy because of course it’s likely that I’ll get frustrated just by playing anything this way, but for whatever reason, my mind differentiates falling off the same ledge 10 times in a row vs. dying to the same boss 10 times in a row.”
However, such frustrations seem to be growing fewer. “I am getting better at navigating the controls, and Sen’s Fortress doesn’t exist in the Lands Between, so maybe it will be a full harp playthrough,” Ellsworth said. “There’s something about FromSoftware games that just keeps me coming back. I think it’s the satisfying feeling of learning a boss moveset before finally beating them.”
But why? Why even think about doing this? “Playing with my harp adds a whole new challenge for obvious reasons and it forces me to earn each victory since I die a lot more easily,” Ellsworth explained. “Plus, to be honest, the majority of my gaming experience has been with FromSoft so in a way, it seemed like playing their titles with a harp would be easier than any other games.”