I ran into my first Elden Ring trap. It was designed to look like a treasure chest, nestled safely in a low-level area of FromSoftware’s latest action RPG, but it took me on a whirlwind journey through some of the nastier parts of the game’s crumbling world.
I was several hours into my Elden Ring playthrough, exploring the lands around a lake named for the dragon Agheel in the game’s Limgrave region. I knew from early previews that a boss battle against the massive wyrm would kick off if I ventured too far into the lake’s shallow waters, so instead of utilizing my noble steed Torrent’s galloping gait, I snuck around on foot. I eventually spotted the Dragon-Burnt Ruins, in which a group of torch-wielding wretches chanted Agheel’s name, and slowly crept closer.
Defeating these enemies was a piece of cake, even after I failed to notice their huge dog companions until it was too late. I approached the fight as I have so many in these early hours with Elden Ring: Get as close as I can without arousing suspicion, summon a few spectral wolves to do my bidding, and whittle away at my foes from long range with my spear and fire incantations whenever an opening presents itself. It’s not glamorous, but it gets the job done and, more importantly, keeps me as safe as possible.
After killing Agheel’s super fans, I started scouring the dilapidated structures for loot, all the while keeping an eye on the horizon in case the dragon answered the calls of its adoring public. I wasn’t finding anything worthwhile until I saw it. A treasure chest, the small gap between its lid and body gleaming with light. It was almost calling to me, begging me to open it. I obliged. This was a rare opportunity for me so early into Elden Ring, and I wasn’t about to let overabundant caution keep me away from my prize.
Looking back, I probably should have been a little more careful.
As most Souls fans will know by now, FromSoftware is fond of placing traps in treasure chests. Sometimes, the treasure chests are alive. They’re called mimics and they’re giant assholes if they catch you off guard. But this wasn’t a mimic. A mimic I could handle without breaking a sweat, and there would still be some sort of treasure to look forward to after defeating it. No, this was something else entirely. Upon opening the chest, I found myself engulfed in a thick, purple fog, a warning message indicating that I was being teleported against my will.
All my wolf buddies could do was watch as I was magically spirited away.
One surprisingly long loading screen later, I found myself in a small shack. A pop-up region notification indicated I was somewhere called Sellia Crystal Tunnel. I saw a craggy humanoid wielding a staff walk by the building’s doorway and immediately dropped into a crouch to conceal my presence. Stepping out into my cavernous surroundings, I noticed similar men using magic tools to chip away at veins of bright-colored ore in the ground and walls. Standing atop the roof of the shack I had just left was a peculiar, bug-like creature with several arms, watching the workers much like a foreman or overseer.
Foolishly, I thought I might be able to speak with this centipede person and attempted to jump onto the platform it occupied. I missed. It saw me and immediately fired off a round of deadly barbs that decimated my health bar so completely that a second volley from off-screen was enough to end me in the blink of an eye. “Well, that’s the end of that,” I thought to myself, assuming this death would function like my many others in Elden Ring and send me back to my last checkpoint. My heart sank when I awoke in the very same place, the familiar sounds of the miners ringing through the cavern.
The embargo Kotaku agreed to in exchange for an early Elden Ring code means I can’t show you any of my harrowing journey through Sellia Crystal Tunnel. Not that it would be all that interesting, though it is a beautiful area if you can ignore all the bugs trying to kill you. Sadly, I didn’t have much time to enjoy my surroundings. Over the course of dozens of attempts, I ran through the cave system in search of an exit, the game informing me with each visit to the map that I wouldn’t be able to fast travel to safety until I found a way out. And while I was able to loot some pretty good treasure along the way, the whole experience frustrated me to no end. Not in a bad way, of course, just in the way FromSoftware games so often do.
All the while, I was reminded of Bloodborne, specifically the point where its world is beset by creatures known as Snatchers. These tall, hooded figures appear after defeating the Blood-Starved Beast, and if they kill you, they imprison you in an area that, much like Sellia Crystal Tunnel, is way beyond your abilities at that point in the story. Both scenarios are really just ways for their respective games to be huge jerks. But I have to admit, it’s pretty fun getting a sneak peek at high-level dungeons and picking up some items earlier than would be normally possible. Plus, I can now teleport to Sellia Crystal Tunnel and its surrounding regions whenever I want, giving me quick access to all their valuable treasures when I’m finally able to handle the dangers they present.
Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s seventh Souls-like since officially establishing the pseudo-genre with 2009’s Demon’s Souls. By now, those of us who have played every game the company’s sadistic developers have put out in that time are starting to get used to their shenanigans. This treasure chest, as simple as it sounds on paper, is a necessary evolution for the usual Souls-style bullshit. Poison swamps? Sure, yeah, whatever. Collapsing bridges? I’m over it. Mimics? Booorrring. But this teleporting treasure chest has an air of old-school rogue-like to it. Classic role-playing games used to pull these kinds of stunts all the time, and it’s cool to see a studio so obviously influenced by the hardcore, player-crushing experiences of early PC gaming go back to the well for something both familiar and fresh.