A rickety, wooden bridge in many games is just that: a way to get across a gap to the next objective. But in Souls games, FromSoftware often utilizes these atmospheric flourishes for more devious ends. That’s why, when Elden Ring presented me with such an obstacle a few short moments into my new adventure, I couldn’t help but hesitate.
Elden Ring opened with my character waking up in a building known as the Chapel of Anticipation. Upon leaving said chapel, I found myself traversing a jagged jut of rock that I assume sits somewhere above the game’s map. I say “assume” because the landscape is so obscured by a thick layer of fog that it’s hard to make out what lies below. Wherever I was, it was very high up, so high that a single slip would mean almost immediate, screaming death as I plummeted out of sight.
A short jog later, I came to the bridge, a sad little thing made of old, creaking wood swaying gently in the sort of strong breeze you’d expect at this altitude. Ropes connected it to stakes driven deep into the stone, but something about the structure felt suspect. Dangerous, even. But because the area surrounding the Chapel of Anticipation was peaceful for the most part, I was forced to ask myself: Did the bridge actually give off bad vibes or was I merely anticipating one of FromSoftware’s devilish tricks?
While Souls games are beloved for their tough-but-rewarding combat, that doesn’t mean they don’t also contain some real bullshit set pieces meant only to kill unsuspecting players. The earliest of these moments I can remember experiencing myself is a collapsing parapet in King’s Field: The Ancient City, which drops you far enough to wipe you out if your health is below max, but it’s a trick that FromSoftware employs in just about Souls-like it puts out.
The most famous of these traps is probably the swooping dragon in the original Dark Souls, which briefly lands on a castle wall and can clip you with its massive talons if you’re rushing ahead. It’s one of the earliest instances of the game teaching you that foolhardiness can be deadly. What immediately came to mind when I first saw the Elden Ring bridge, however, is a similar-looking overpass in Dark Souls II. If you spend too long on that bridge, a dragon destroys the pathway and sends you hurtling towards the ground.
My mind raced with possibilities. I knew from previous previews that dragons existed in the world of Elden Ring, but would FromSoftware really do something so cruel just a few minutes after giving you control of your character? Something that would spawn too-long tweet threads about game difficulty? Something that could (gulp) result in Discourse? I peered over the edge of the cliff. I examined the horizon for any sign that a flying monster of some sort was readying itself to rip my head off.
Finally, I took my first few, tentative steps onto the planks suspended above the great emptiness below me. Nothing. A few more steps. Still nothing. Nearing the middle of the bridge, I took off in a sprint towards the other side. I arrived safely, albeit a little embarrassed by my hesitation. That said, as a longtime fan of FromSoftware’s work, this learned trepidation is part of the fun. It feels like a conversation between player and developer, one steeped in decades of history and experience. “If I just learn FromSoftware’s tendencies,” I tell myself, “they won’t get me next time.”
And that’s when I realized: FromSoftware already got me. No, a dragon didn’t kill me and the bridge didn’t collapse, but the fact that I’m instilled with this kind of fear and sweating something so simple as crossing a bridge means Elden Ring’s developers have already won. My years of playing King’s Field, Shadow Tower, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro have turned me into a Pavlovian dog salivating at the idea of dying in a terrible trap, and what’s worse, I can’t help but love FromSoftware all the more for it. Those jerks.