FromSoftware loves its recurring motifs. Every game has a mysterious corrupting force, be it abyssal darkness or blood or Elden Ring's arm-accumulation problem, and some retinue of a formerly proud civilization that the player picks their way through as the pathetic undying entity of the week. And while the Elden Ring gameplay trailer was scant on explicit details about the history of its world, we can gather quite a bit of information simply from the appearance of FromSoftware's recurring imagery and themes.
So let's take a look at all the callbacks, references, and little details you might've missed and dig into what they might mean, whether we're looking at a fundamental piece of worldbuilding or a fun nod to From's past and inspirations. Honestly, I just needed an excuse to watch the trailer 100 more times for work. Join me.
First, some light lore:
With the skeleton of a premise shared by Bandai Namco, we can build some ideas around what we're actually looking at in the trailer. The Elden Ring has been shattered into a handful of Great Runes, and with the ring destroyed, the Erdtree is at risk of destruction. More simply: reality is breaking. Queen Marika the Eternal's demigod kids run off to claim the runes, which imbue them with great powers. So they get greedy and kick off a war, which causes so much chaos that even the Greater Will (God, probably) peaces out.
Your goal is to find the pieces, reunite them, and become an Elden Lord—likely Marika's right hand man. Except the world is ending and god abandoned you. No pressure.
Hollowed, Undead, Ashen—and now Tarnished
Let's kick off with an obvious one. I'm curious to know the metaphysical distinctions between FromSoftware's excuse for the player characters dying, coming back to life, and presumably helping and hindering one another across parallel timelines (multiplayer), but it appears we're back with a naming scheme exactly like every other Souls game. What word for tired and sad will FromSoftware come up with next?
Smough in a Lord Vessel hat
Around 2:19 we see a character that looks, well, like Smough in a Lord Vessel hat. One of the Four Knights of Gwyn, Smough was the kingdom's executioner and a known cannibal. Right now this just reads as a visual homage, almost like a joke for longtime Souls players. Giving one of the scariest clowns in the series a hat shaped like one of Souls' most sacred and powerful items is a goofy contrast.
We're nearly nude here
Either our character strips down in the middle of the game for a fun time with this giant, or this is part of the opening sequence of Elden Ring. It reads like the kind of thing you'd see immediately after customizing your character, pulled back into life by some grand deity. Worth noting, too, that the giant's hand here is tarnished, as indicated by the bright gold interior mottled with dull skin. Maybe this big hand is attached to the character that gives the player their Tarnished nickname.
Lord Gwyn and a dragon had a pyro baby
At 1:50 we see a dragon toss a red lightning spear. It almost feels like From messing with longtime players, crossing the streams of classic Souls symbolism. A dragon throwing what reads like Gwyn's sunlight spear is funny on it's own, since he killed most of the dragons before Dark Souls 1. Its red coloring makes it read like chaos magic, too, which scrambles the messaging even more. This is From sending a direct message to anyone hoping Elden Ring is a secret Dark Souls sequel, breaking the rules of the old world so flagrantly like this. Nah, Elden Ring is its own thing.
The big tree? Berserk, baby
The Souls games commonly and openly reference long-running dark fantasy manga series Berserk, so it's not surprising to see some big major parallels already. Elden Ring's Erdtree is a clear visual homage to Berserk's World Spiral Tree, which itself is a spin on Nordic mythology's Yggdrasil. The World Spiral and Yggdrasil are both binding forces that hold the fabric of reality, or varying dimensions together. The Erdtree likely plays a similar role, and with the Elden Ring destroyed, the Erdtree is in danger. Maybe we'll see it fade and droop as the game progresses.
Hands up if you love hands! FromSoftware loves appendages, notably in Sekiro where the Wolf loses his arm to Genichiro early on and replaces it with a mechanical one. In the original Dark Souls, Artorias the Abysswalker's arm hangs limp at his side. In both instances, arms are used as symbols of will and efficacy (there's nuance I'm glossing over, I know). So in Elden Ring, the excess of arms could symbolize a comic overreach, so to speak, an abuse of power in the name of grabby greed.
I wonder if the arms are a game-spanning motif, or relegated to the area where we fight the trailer's primary antagonist, who I'm calling The Arm King and is likely one of Marika's corrupt demigod children. We see a room with arms strung from the ceiling at 1:02, which suggests this guy harvests them from strong folks in his corner of the kingdom.
The tall red-haired knight at 1:56 is missing an arm, so maybe she's already clashed with the Arm King and lost. It's possible she's another demigod kid of Queen Markia, competing for the Great Runes. I can't wait to read all the lore buried in text descriptions of my medieval jeans to figure out how it all fits together.
One of the Arm King's legs is still visible
The Arm King's ripped off so many arms he's built an entirely new body around himself. His original leg hangs limp and lifeless between his rotting arm-legs. A classic FromSoft detail.
He adds a dragon head too
The trailer might've shown us Elden Ring's first multiphase fight. Some shots depict the Arm King fighting the player sans flamethrower. But in the final shot it looks like he's attached a dragon head to one of his arm-arms. Our first look at the guy shows one of his many hands caressing what looks like a dragon wing, so I wouldn't be surprised. I wonder if we first fight the dragon, then Arm King, then the Arm King with a dragon head lefty. Yowsa.
There's a building on the back of the massive bell creature
I want to go there. Looks like the top of a cathedral just grew tired of being the top of a cathedral and went in search of a new life. I can respect it.
Beasts! (And more Berserk)
We've got at least two corrupting forces going on here, or at least two possible outcomes of the same force—it's still unclear. But just like Bloodborne, folks are also turning into savage, sharp toothed beasts, some with a tangle of horns sprouting from their caved in head. While the limb accumulation appears reserved for greedy leaders, the beasts in the trailer are all knights. This likely symbolizes a loss of humanity in the servitude of the cruel demigods of Elden Ring, who are all presumably doing whatever it takes to accumulate power in order to reassemble the rings for themselves.
Berserk's visual influence is 100% in all of the Soulsborne games, but this werewolf in Elden Ring is just Guts. pic.twitter.com/em6mrIrhNXJune 10, 2021
The wolf knight is a clear visual homage to Guts, the main character of Berserk in the later stages of the long-running manga series. But our wolfman in Guts cosplay looks more like a renegade, or cast off, and significantly less frenzied than the beast that appears at 1:54. Maybe this is an NPC we'll meet and tilt one way or the other, towards humanity or #WolfLife.
The horse can double jump
The horse can double jump. Elden Ring has a drop of early '00s platformer in its DNA. This is a videogame, after all.
This is probably Elden Ring's Maiden in Black / Firekeeper
The Souls games typically feature a soft spoken sorceress as a central character, someone who you talk to to cash in souls and level up. The hooded narrator probably serves a similar purpose. Also: Reddit user Cerberusmanghas noticed she likely shares a voice actor with Yorshka from Dark Souls 3.
Look at this incredible floor
Souls Statuary YouTube is going to feast on Elden Ring. This floor is packed with detail. It carries up through the walls, too. I'm going to spend hours looking at this stuff.
This guy's eye looks like the Dark Sign
The brand that marks the undead in Dark Souls is easy to read here. It's more directly comparable to the eclipse in Dark Souls 3, which echoes the same design and signifies the fading of the fire, aka, the apocalypse.
If you look closely, you'll notice dark circles surrounding the pupil. These might signify the runes that formed when the Elden Ring was shattered, with the pupil itself standing in both for the Elden Ring and the void left after its destruction and the departure of the Greater Will.
Major Queen of the Vilebloods vibes in this image
This clearly echoes Annalise, but also Maiden Astraea and Garl Vinland. Many of the Souls games recall that latter combination of a character with some special religious or political status being accompanied by a fearsome protector.
Looks like Burger King's mascot went into retirement and took up the cloth in Elden Ring.