I Beat Elden Ring, the Best Video Game of 2022

Someday, I’m going to die. Hopefully it’ll be decades from now, but there’s a distinct possibility that it could be next month, next week, or even before I publish this review. I’ve accepted this and am trying to live my best life so that I have no regrets whenever it ends. I’m glad I played Elden Ring before I died, because I definitely would have regretted missing what’s going to go down in history as one of the bravest and most influential AAA video games ever made.

Admittedly, that was a pretty macabre and melodramatic way to open a video game review. That being said, Elden Ring is a hilariously grim and charmingly melodramatic experience that merits this level of bombast. From the characters and lore crafted by George R. R. Martin and brought to life by Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware, to the expansion of this gameplay style and format that FromSoftware has polished to the mirror sheen, to all of the little touches that filled my playthrough with capricious awe and joy; Elden Ring is a great video game. It might be one of the best and I don’t regret a single second of my 94 hour playthrough. If you don’t read a single word further, please know that I desperately hope you play this game and that I’m certain you won’t regret it.

All of These Weirdos Need Therapy

As you probably guessed already, I spend what I hope is a normal amount of time thinking about my own mortality. The major characters in Elden Ring spend what’s probably too much time thinking about it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that just about every one of these goofy guys and gals is defined by their personal fixation on death and loss. So, while the ‘plot’ of Elden Ring is as mysterious and minimalist as previous SoulsBorne titles, the characters and world have never felt richer.

The world of the game, the Lands Between, was controlled for a nondescript amount of time by the Greater Will, a cosmic entity worshiped as a god and perhaps given form in the giant, gold, and maybe parasitic Erdtree. The Greater Will chose Marika to be this world’s fantasy Jesus and endowed her with the Elden Ring, the physical manifestation of the Golden Order created by Greater Will to govern the reality of the Lands Between. Her first act as this world’s new god was to pluck the Ring of Death out of the Elden Ring and have her half brother – who’s a beastman for some reason – guard it, so that they alone can control who dies and who lives forever in either a physical body or as a spirit residing within the Erdtree.

Those were a lot of proper nouns, but the short of it is that this game’s version of Jesus is defined by her desire to control death, and pretty much everyone else in the Lands Between inherits their own hang-ups about death as a result.

Take, for instance, Fia, another Tarnished who ventured into the Lands Between at the opportunity to become an Elden Lord and mold this place to her will. Having had a relationship with the first demigod to die, Godwyn, she wants to create a world where life persists after death and is accepted as a natural state of being. Like literally, she wants people to live on as zombies, skeletons, and whatever Lovecraftian nonsense is going on with her boyfriend’s body after his soul was murdered. She’s become so familiar with death that she can no longer process the emotions tied to loss and now views it as its anthesis; a distinct state of life.

Or perhaps the boss, Renala, who’s traumatized by her husband’s decision to leave her and is now hyper-focused on rebirth and reincarnation. After her defeat, she becomes the means through which a player can adjust their stat distribution and change their character build. Between her in-game function and lines of dialog, it’s heavily implied that Renala wishes to undergo a perfect rebirth so that she can shed the perceived flaws that she thinks inspired her husband’s departure. She wants to grow through death.

There are plenty of other examples of characters defined by their relationship with death in Elden Ring too. Radahn’s followers view it as a mercy now that their beloved general has fallen to madness, Rykard became the God Devouring Serpent and turns the death of those he consumes into power, and Malenia is both visually and narratively the angel of death. Admittedly, the world and characters of Elden Ring would feel more full and varied if more of its characters had more unique motives and hang ups. Still, all of these characters processing a fundamental part of the human condition goes a long way in making them feel like complicated people instead of just challenges to overcome.

That’s also why Ranni, who’s ending I selected, is such an inspirational and emotionally resonate character for me. In a world where nearly everyone is struggling to accept death or warp it to their preference, she embraces her own mortality; sacrificing her body and later her soul because doing so might bring about the change this world desperately needs. There are thousands of great stories about people who struggle to accept death and I’m not sure if Elden Ring handles these themes better than most of those works, but it went a long way in fleshing out these characters and reminding me how far I’ve come as someone who used to struggle with death and everything else out of my control.

Speaking of death, I had a great time dying in Elden Ring.

Reveling in Life and Death

There are going to be countless breakdowns and think pieces on the mechanics, design, interface, and construction of Elden Ring as the game grows older. People who know more than me about these specific areas of game development will have far more knowledgeable and interesting things to say about them than I ever will. I can say with authority, though, that I loved the act of playing Elden Ring; I got more fun out of discovering, learning, and mastering the many overlapping systems in Elden Ring than any other AAA game in recent memory.

I had this much fun with Elden Ring because it let me approach it the way I wanted to and let me fail again and again as I navigated through its ever uphill format.

FromSoft games have quietly succeeded in bringing a tabletop RPG level of character customization to video games for a while now. Elden Ring pushes this to the next level, with so many different weapons, skills, summons, and opportunities for interaction that I found that I had unintendedly created a character with a distinct personality and interiority. In fact, I might write-up the adventures of Lucas, Sovereign of the Moon and post them here someday! I’ve kept up with RPG discourse for about as long as I’ve had a serious interest in video games, and I cannot remember the last time a game in this genre had so much discussion about varying character builds and how they led to fundamentally different experiences in-game. All that being said, the character creator doesn’t have many options for folks who want to play as a character with a darker skin tone and that phenomenally sucks. Do better FromSoftware.

Now for the obligatory discussion of difficulty that comes with every SoulsBorne style release. Yes, Elden Ring is a challenging game that lacks even basic accessibility options for the differently abled. Steep learning and difficulty curves will also frustrate many and cause them to bounce off the game. Both of these were conscious decisions made by the FromSoftware team and I can’t fault anyone for their critique of this game and company based on these decisions.

I’m fortunate in that I was able to get past these hurdles, though, and was able to experience one of the most rewarding games I’ve played this decade. While the highs that come from defeating a particularly irksome boss are lofty, I found myself having the most fun while exploring the many set pieces scattered throughout Elden Ring’s world. There’s nothing quite like venturing through a dungeon like Miquella’s Haligtree, dying dozens of times to increasingly weird enemies, and realizing you’ve found a host of secrets and know the place like the back of your hand after a few hours. Also, every kill, no, EVERY HIT you land on an enemy in this game feels like a triumph because you know that, even by the endgame, there’s still a fraction of a chance that they could fuck you up.

And when they do, it’s just one of the many strange and quietly hilarious things that can happen in this title.

Elden Ring Fuck Me Up, PLEASE!

There is so much weird shit in Elden Ring that swings so rapidly between hilarious and unnerving that I would have whiplash if I didn’t immediately go limp and accept the volatility as it hit me. You can’t go fifteen minutes in this game without encountering a message that encourages you to explore anal masturbation. But there are also giant spiders that are just gangrene stricken hands that make me feel physically unwell. They don’t even have to attack to be creepy! Seeing a fingercreeper massage itself as an idle animation or writhing in pain while on fire felt wrong on a visceral level because of the corruption of such a familiar shape.

Speaking of messing with my expectations, the way this game engages with George R. R. Martin’s writing habits is delightful. The second I learned that I needed to meet “the Two Fingers,” I instantly had an idea of what to expect from watching Game of Thrones. I was genuinely slackjawed ten hours later when, instead of being a couple of conniving little guys, the Two Fingers turned out to be…a giant-ass hand comprised of just two fingers.

There are so many examples of this world and the characters in it being eccentric in the most endearing way. General Radahn became a master of gravity magic so that his house sized frame wouldn’t crush his beloved horse Leonard, and he now charges into battle while shuffling forward with his knees bent like an eight-year-old pretending to ride their dog. There is a man named Big Boggart who, while the very reality of the world around him begins to distort, is boiling up a heaping pile of crab and cussing up a storm in the process. It rains wolves in the Lands Between!

This is a game where I can kill an eldritch horror and then, twenty minutes later, learn that I can’t jump across a gap because I saw the phantom of someone else playing this game try and eat shit. This is a game that lets you hug a woman in exchange for a secret status debuff! Elden Ring has an enemy named Wormface and still somehow managers to be one of the most emotionally affecting pieces of media I’ve experienced this year! How does it do this? How does this game have such wide swings in its moment to moment experience while still feeling tonally consistent???

It’s because Elden Ring is a damn good video game that is entirely itself at all times. This game is a refinement of the genre that FromSoftware created to near perfection, and is clearly the product of a group of very skilled individuals collaborating masterfully to execute on a shared vision. This game isn’t just the result of a couple years long development cycle. Elden Ring and it’s tremendous success is the result of over a decade of honing this sub-genre to both its sharpest and expansive form.

If you only play one game this year, it should be Elden Ring. If you only play one SoulsBorne game in your life, it should be Elden Ring. This game is proof of how authenticity and originality can thrive in gaming and I’m so glad I was able to play it before I die.

I Beat Elden Ring, the Best Video Game of 2022

‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

The third season of YouTuber Olan Rogers’ Final Space is, at best, a mixed bag and, at worst, a shadow of its former, offbeat self. What started out as a vibrant science fantasy romp with Gary Goodspeed, a kind of intergalactic Alonso Quixano who’s delightfully loony due to his exile in deep space, is now so generic that its universe ending stakes feel without consequence. However, the plot of the show and Gary’s character arc align with the careers of major YouTubers, where success only stifles creativity and transforms a YouTuber into the kind of mainstream figure they previously rallied against. 

Whether it knows it or not, Final Space is about working as a YouTuber and the show’s decline serves as a grim reminder of how little stability and fulfillment the position holds as a long term profession. In examining the watering down of Gary as a character to a more generic protagonist, and season three’s suggestion that Gary might be a villain; it becomes clear that Final Space captures the rise and inevitable decline of so many YouTube stars.  

Final Space Season 3 In a Nutshell

Before we get too far into what Final Space is about thematically, let’s cover the actual plot beats of the season. This collection of episodes begins with the main cast of characters trapped in the titular Final Space, which is basically space hell with more, or fewer, giant monsters depending on how metal your views of the afterlife are. 

The season then follows our heroes trying repeatedly to escape from Final Space, getting forcibly separated and then reuniting a bunch, and some interpersonal relationships changing a little bit, but not in ways that feel satisfactory or are fully addressed. If it seems like I have a chip on my shoulder while I describe this season, it’s because I do and need to bleed out the venom this show injected into me.  

The only character to have any kind of meaningful arc this season is Ash, who’s voiced by the always terrific Ashly Burch. Apparently her psychic powers come from Invictus, the leader of the aforementioned giant monsters and a primordial evil. While processing how a major part of her identity is tied to a cosmic horror, she loses her adoptive brother, Fox, and begins to mistrust and resent the cast around her. As Gary’s priorities increasingly diverge from her own and as he unintentionally kills Fox, Ash even goes so far as to accuse Gary of actually being evil. This is a hell of an accusation, considering Invitus is literally space Satan, but whatever. Her frustrations with Gary are understandable, and Invictus was doing a ‘devil on her shoulder’ thing for most of the season, so this hard to swallow development is at least understandable from a character perspective. 

After thirteen episodes of Gary struggling, and sometimes failing, to protect those close to him, most of the main cast manag es to escape from Final Space, though Ash joins up with Invictus. She also captured and siphoned off power from the living weapon Mooncake, and Invictus used the energy to open a portal between Final Space and regular space. So, if an undeserved season four happens, it’ll probably focus on Invictus’ army trying to take over the universe. 

This season is a pretty standard space epic, which is exactly what makes it so disappointing. In the first season of Final Space Gary was an unwilling space hermit who was so desperate for friendship and intimacy that he tied up an assassin sent after him, Avocato, and forced him into a poker night. In season three, there just isn’t any of the weird shit that made the show so appealing in season one. There’s no encountering an alien family while wearing their dead mother as a disguise, no Gary insasting that he’s Little Cado’s new dad minutes after Avocato sacrifices himself to save them, and no jubilation in response to the death of the annoying robot KVN.

Gary isn’t a quirky guy trying to find his place in a universe that isn’t sure what to do with him anymore, he’s just the kind of space captain that the show mocked in earlier seasons. Even if it came with a pretty hefty price tag, Gary now has everything he’s ever wanted; a position of respect and power, plenty of meaningful relationships, and a partner who loves him. As mean as it might be to the fictional character Gary, these developments are a bummer and the show loses a lot of it’s charm and originality as it becomes a more standard and traditional story. 

Unless that’s the point. What if the third season of Final Space is about someone sacrificing their originality to achieve their goals and be conventionally successful? What if Final Space is about a growingly common kind of YouTube career arc? 

The YouTuber to Sellout Pipeline

Career YouTubers and the people behind the platform really like to brand YouTube as a space where creatives can express themselves freely. This digital space isn’t bound by the same regulations and ‘in-crowd’ mentality found in television and film production, meaning YouTube is a space where even niche communities can thrive. Now, in reality, YouTube makes LGBTQ+ content less discoverable and played a significant role in the recent growth of the alt-right and conspiracy theory communities, but at least YouTube and YouTubers like to paint it as a place for any content creator and their communities. 

On some level, this branding is true. As the current default video hosting platform, there’s something for everyone on YouTube. Where the lie really starts to breakdown, though, is when YouTubers paint the platform as being superior to traditional media industries. Now, how the problems found on YouTube measure up against every other entertainment medium and industry is a whole ball of wax that we’re not going to get into today. We don’t even need to, though, because most folks aren’t on YouTube as their last and best career move; they’re just doing it until they can move onto a better, more stable gig. 

If you’ve been on YouTube since it really started taking off in the late 2000s, chances are you can think of at least a dozen channels that have functionally shut down because its personalities moved onto greener pastures. You can hardly blame them too, as between the constantly changing algorithms, nearly unchecked harassment, and demanding production cycle; a nine to five gig working in a more established industry seems like a pretty cushie deal. That creates an unusual situation, though, where YouTube, which as a community that celebrates and demands authenticity, is functionally just a temporary gig for its biggest creators until they build up enough clout to move onto their ultimate career. It’s like working as a production assistant until you make enough connections to make the jump to a script writing gig; except there isn’t a convention for PAs and they’re not treated like celebrities. 

The job of being a YouTuber centers on presenting yourself as being as raw, original, and unique as possible; right up until you can afford not to be those things anymore. And then we have Final Space, which originally set itself apart from most other television shows by feeling one of a kind, and is now a generic sci-fi romp that feels like something that’ll just keep getting renewed until the second it’s unprofitable. 

I don’t know if this symbolism is intentional but, considering the rest of season three’s writing, I’m guessing it’s not. There are definitely parallels, though, and, as I witness Gary’s weirdo charm fade until he’s a monotone cliche, I’m filled with the same kind of sadness I felt watching the YouTube channels I grew up with chase algorithms until they’re not longer appealing to me before the creators leave the platform all together. 

Enjoying the Long Death Spiral

I don’t bring this comparison up to commend Final Space season three’s writing; as the season was so bland that I can’t even recommend it to my friends who watched the previous two. I’m bringing it up because this show accidentally reminded me that nothing great can last forever. That’s not even what I’m really upset about, though. Nothing genuine or anything trying to be can last forever. At least not in any kind of way that allows the people behind the project to live comfortably, or maybe even sustainably. 

With the systems we have in place, and how we as a global culture value art and entertainment, current media industries just don’t allow for authenticity unless it has, or can turn into, mass market appeal. Sure, anyone can do small projects that are wholly their own as a hobby, and there’s definitely value there, but only the lucky can make anything close to a significant amount of money off of those kinds of projects. That’s not even getting into the issue of creators burning out as people, the systems they form, and hosting platforms demand a steady stream of similarly high-quality work. 

As of writing this essay, Olan Rogers uploaded his last, non-promotional, video to YouTube ten months ago. If he never returns to the platform and the kind of material that helped him reach his current success, I don’t think anyone can fault him. He made the jump from being a YouTuber to successfully writing and developing his own TV show. He doesn’t need to come back; he’s outgrown YouTube unless there’s something he really wants to do that can only happen on that platform.

That really sucks for the people you enjoyed Olan Rogers’ channel. I think the only thing we can do, though, is enjoy the upward spiral of our favorite small-time creator’s careers, until they manage to ascend to anything beyond the initial stages of their career. YouTube and other hosting platforms aren’t the goal for most of the people trying to make a career out of their creative drive, it’s just one possible first step. No matter how YouTube wants to brand itself, that’s just how it is. 

I wish I had a more positive note to end on, but yeah, being yourself is just a means to an end for a lot of online creators and most will drop that veneer of openness the second they can take the next step forward in their careers. All we can do is enjoy these half-truths while we can and appreciate the stuff we connect with while the people behind it are able and willing to make it. 

I wish I liked the third season of Final Space more; I wish it was something that I could like. But it doesn’t have to be the things that made me like it anymore and the same can be true for the dozen or so YouTubers I loved in high school who aren’t around anymore or are no longer that version of themselves. 

I’ll always have the joy that the first season of Final Space brought me, though, just as I’ll forever treasure the niche channels that I and my high school friends revealed in; even if those channels have now been defunct for longer than I was in high school. Time goes on, things and people change, and we’ve just got to enjoy what’s good while we can. 

Thank you for checking out this essay! If you want to keep up with all of my writing, following me, @LucasDeRuyter, on Twitter. Also, be sure to check out my media focused podcast, Voluntary Viewing

I hope you all enjoyed my ramblings about a declining cartoon, and good luck with whatever you have going on. 

‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc