As 2022 comes to a close, it's natural that we all take a look back at the year behind us and think about the games we've played. This year, for me, was mostly taken up by some amazing narrative indies like The Case of the Golden Idol and Strange Horticulture. But really, a large part of my heart belongs to Elden Ring, and in particular Elden Ring's environment.
My brain is still baffled by the scale and beauty of Elden Ring's world. I would gasp a little when I found something new, overlooked a ridge to rolling fields speckled with trees and man-eating beasts. I would slow to a walk with trepidation as the ground below me transformed from grass and mud, to hard, dry dirt and poisonous brimstone. I would peer over the edge of bridges to certain doom, wondering if the sacrifice was worth a look at what could be all the way down there. Elden Ring's environment and world is, for me, simply the best thing about any game in 2022, and it still feels so precious that I got to explore that world.
I hadn't been interested in FromSoftware's games until I managed to drag myself through Dark Souls on stream. It took me a while to understand the appeal of the games but once I did, once I understood how to love the horrible bosses and tricky world, I adored it. Going into Elden Ring, I hoped it would hurt me and love me like Dark Souls, but unlike Dark Souls the world's beauty gives you reprieve from the terrible things you may encounter with sprawling hills of blissful ignorance. As long as you don't run into a bear or anything of course.
I explored Elden Ring with a continued wonder, always searching and seeking out the unusual and unknown. In previews, before the game was fully released, I got the opportunity to flounce around the Lands Between (opens in new tab) without any knowledge of what the game held. I galloped furiously across the opening areas. Seeing monsters, beasts, giants, and NPCs, noting where everything was for guides, opinion pieces, and to relay that information as best as I could to the PC Gamer team. There was no time for lounging around, I had to consume as much of this world as possible in the short six hours I had.
I rose as hard as I could, finally arriving north at Caria Manor. Elden Ring is so open, I was somewhat intrigued by this building which evoked more of Dark Souls than most of the other places I had explored (Stormveil wasn't initially available) even as it flung magical projectiles at me.
Its gothic, still interior was so peaceful as I gazed through the doorway. The mist, and the gentle green grass was so inviting, compared to the horror I saw at Castle Morne. I stepped inside, seeing some movement, some shimmer of alive being in the distance curious as to what it could be. The spine curling shudder I then experienced when I encountered the Fingercreepers in Caria Manor was unlike anything even Dark Souls made me feel. The juxtaposition between this beautiful hushed courtyard and the monstrosities inside was striking.
In exploring these rooms, you had to do everything to notice where these fingers could be hiding, as they mimicked the statuesque nature of their surroundings, waiting to wrap their claws around you. If you saw these things out in the fields of Elden Ring initially, they wouldn't have been so scary. It's because you're willingly walking into their home, their environment, that they're this horrific to encounter. And these finger monsters were the thing I most ferociously recalled to the PC Gamer team, desperate for someone else to see what horrors Elden Ring held.
Lots of Elden Ring makes you feel like you're invading some hidden place, something where creatures have lived, existed, corrupted a cove that you're not welcome in. You're the invader, you're the one who is disrupting the way the world works. Even as you gaze at the beauty of the Siofra River you know you're disrupting something old, treading on the graves of civilizations past. You clamber over the sunken ruins of Liurnia, knowing once this was a bustling town of inhabitants long gone. You study a map which shows the rotting core of Caelid like a festering wound. And from almost anywhere, you can look up and be reminded it is all under the glorious glowing heart of the Lands Between, the Erdtree.
Simply put, the scale of Elden Ring's environment was my most special piece of gaming from 2022. It told stories, implied terror and travesty, invited you in with welcoming arms before showing you the most horrifying shit you've ever seen. It concealed secrets, invited exploration, and looked stunning the whole time. I wish I could explore the Lands Between fresh, but I'll just add Elden Ring to the pile of games I think are special and will never be quite replicated.