I'm out of flasks. Here I am, on my tenth run at this same boss, and I've gone and run out of bloody healing flasks with a third of their health bar still remaining. I take a few blows and am ready to write off another run when something magical happens. My own health is replenished with a flash, and the two most joyous words in any Souls game flash up. Message Appraised.
Not only that, but it keeps happening, a fresh flash of health every time I take a few blows, until I finally smack the bastard down. I've won—and I have a tortoise half the world away to thank for it.
Sorry. I have a dog to thank for it. Minor spoilers ahead.
[ Elden ring spoilers ]Aggressively leaving messages next to turtles that say "Dog!" literally carried my flaskless arse through a boss last night. pic.twitter.com/pBbpdwxqfwFebruary 27, 2022
Since Demon's Souls, From Software games have let you scrawl cryptic messages—guides, jokes, warnings and secret hints formed of a list of predefined words and phrases. Over time, and across generations of releases, a kind of vocabulary has evolved from these messages, one that Elden Ring carries on with gusto.
Every inch of The Lands Between is coated in graffiti teasing that this wall, in particular, is a secret wall (hint: they almost never are). Every statue, sleeping NPC or vaguely arse-shaped lump in a cliffside will be annotated with "try finger, but hole", something that becomes all the more absurd considering Elden Ring's disturbingly fingers-centric plot.
But Elden Ring has also brought a new meme to the table. See, unlike the dreary, forsaken worlds of Lordric, Lothran, Yharnam et al, The Lands Between are teeming with life—not just monsters and vicious beasts, but harmless animals just living their lives. And collectively, the Elden Ring community has declared that no matter their shape or size, every last one is a dog.
That crab tucked behind a rock? Dog. Those eagles perched on a cliffside? Dog. That pack of dogs gnawing your leg off? Don't be daft, those aren't good boys—that honour is reserved for tortoises, who by nature of being stationary creatures in Elden Ring, must never be left without a message informing passers by that this is, in fact, a dog.
Not one to miss out on the fun, I began dropping my own signs next to good boys. Not once did I reckon that aggressively assigning dogs in the world would turn out to be a viable strategy for making it through FromSoft's murder gauntlets.
Tarnished's best friend
See, here's the most important part of this entire affair. When you stumble across a message, you can choose to vote it up or down. Beyond controlling how likely it is to appear in the world, an upvote will also give the writer a full burst of health wherever they happen to be. Souls games have always done this as an extra little incentive to get you helping others out, one of the ways the game offers reprieve against its brutal fights.
And readers, people really like dogs.
In logging into the game to take the above screenshot (at 11am UK time on a Monday, hardly peak hours), I received four appraisals in the space of a minute. Whether I'm pushing myself through a painful corpse run or bashing my head against a boss, I'm constantly getting bursts of health from writing "Dog", or "Dog!", or "Praise the Dog!".
Naturally, the highest-ratest messages out there are legitimately useful or fiendishly misleading, racking up thousands for leading lost players into the few actual hidden walls in the game or granting vital strategies against the toughest bosses. My dog messages, by comparison only have around 30-40 appraisals apiece—hardly what we in the business would call going viral.
But every time one flashes up I'm not just treated to a second wind, I'm reminded of just who, exactly, is playing these games. Souls players have a reputation for being a bit miserable, the kind of deathly serious hardcore gamer obsessed with "gitting gud". But Souls games aren't just for them—they're also for people who get a kick out of seeing each other confidently declare that every creature under the Erdtree is a dog, actually.
And why wouldn't they? They're good dogs, one and all.
Elden Ring guide: Conquer the Lands Between
Elden Ring bosses: How to beat them
Elden Ring dungeons: How to defeat them
Elden Ring paintings: Solutions and locations
Elden Ring map fragments: Reveal the world
Elden Ring co-op: How to squad up online