If there is a gamer in your life, you might not have seen them for a while. They’re not returning your texts. They’re showing up to meetings red-eyed and exhausted. There is a reason.
They’re playing Elden Ring.
If they say otherwise, that they don’t enjoy the series, that it’s too difficult and obscure, they’re lying. They’re definitely playing Elden Ring.
The game’s fabled studio, FromSoftware, partnered with fantasy opus-maker George R.R. Martin to write the story, which helps explain why it’s gone through the roof. This game has been so astonishingly epic, such a triumphant success, such an evolution from their previous games, it begs the question: Where does FromSoftware go from here?
Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson recently revealed that he received a gift from FromSoftware with a note.
FromSoftware wants Brandon Sanderson to write their next game.
As far as fantasy authors go, Brandon Sanderson is the obvious choice to help FromSoftware build their next game. Books in his Stormlight Archive series are the type that turn casual readers into fantasy fans. He creates big, epic worlds, and took on one of the most difficult tasks in fantasy writing, to finish The Wheel of Time. And he might have done it better than the original author. Brandon Sanderson is a great writer.
Brandon Sanderson is not the person to write the next FromSoftware game.
I had a hard time in high school, which is my way of saying I’ve read quite a lot of fantasy novels, enough to know a wide swath of fantasy authors and their respective styles. Brandon Sanderson is fantasy for a broad audience (which is a good thing). His story arcs draw from traditional hero journeys and are eminently readable. But these are story arcs that the world of Dark Souls has never adhered to.
The stories of Souls games are opaque and elusive, told through item descriptions and world-building. It’s a kind of storytelling that fits few living writers.
Except for one.
In an ideal world, my choice for the next writer of a FromSoftware game would be Gene Wolfe. There is no fantasy author who has ever lived with a better understanding of what it means to layer storytelling through easily missed details and suggestion. But Gene Wolfe passed away two years ago this week, leaving the world of fiction a lesser place.
The only living author I believe can tackle a project as daunting as a Souls game, who fits the aesthetic like a glove, is Steven Erikson.
Erikson authored a series called Malazan Book of the Fallen. These books are so dense that I often had to read the Malazan Reread of the Fallen just to fill in the gaps in my understanding. The stories are filled with characters, all on their own journeys, who occasionally bump into one another on their way toward their objectives. The books grapple with man’s lust for power. You read these books and constantly feel that you’re missing something, that there are details that are there to be sussed out, should you decide to read even closer. Even the seemingly evil characters are complex. People have their souls bound to inanimate objects. The world is bleak, and there are few happy endings.
Every detail that I have listed above could apply to the Souls series. There is a not a Souls fan alive who hasn’t trawled through YouTube explainers and lore videos trying to piece together the world they just experienced. Gods battle each other for control and use humans as puppets. Nothing is ever as it seems in the world of Dark Souls. Everyone is just trying survive.
But it’s not just a stylistic fit. Elden Ring is such a comprehensive game that it seems almost impossible to imagine where the series could go next. It feels as if it has wrung every drop of inspiration out of a more than decade-old franchise.
Having a writer like Steven Erikson offers a pathway forward.
In 2019, the game Disco Elysium was released. It’s a role-playing game where you play as a cop in an imaginary world and are allowed to shape your own destiny. The depth of the story is astonishing. The amount of choices in dialogue, in pathways, is almost overwhelming. The game’s designer, Robert Kurvitz, developed the game after creating a tabletop world and then writing a novel set in that world. It shows. The depth of understanding of this imaginary place, the texture, is incomparable.
This is the same texture that Steven Erikson brings to his writing. He too draws his inspiration from an RPG, tabletop world of his own making. Malazan feels like a real place, so steeped in history that you could do a master’s program on its world-building alone.
If Steven Erikson were to build a new world for FromSoftware, it would have a depth that might force the series to branch out into a more narrative-driven world. Rather than tweak a nearly perfect combat system or level design, the games could move towards a deeper focus on the story and its consequences, with a narrative just as opaque and obscure, but more expansive, more nuanced.
Brandon Sanderson is the obvious choice, of course. His popularity is only rivaled by the writer of Elden Ring. It would sell games.
But then there’s Steven Erikson.