Elden Ring’s The Lands Between is certainly From Software’s most beautiful setting, perhaps one of the most aesthetically pleasing locales in video game history, but it’s not just the stunning visual of the glittering Erdtree rising miles into the sky that sets it apart from other games. The Lands Between has in abundance what other “Soulsborne” settings are sorely lacking: Hope.
Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne all suffer an oppressive sense of hopelessness. Boletaria, Lordran, Drangleic, Lothric, Yharnam… I wouldn’t exactly call any of these prime holiday destinations. You visit at the nadir of civilisation, when all hope has withered into nothing, the sole consolation to the people who still have their sanity being the knowledge that soon everything might just go away forever.
Perhaps Sekiro’s Ashina is the only other least depressing location, but the grounded world of Sengoku-era Japan sets it apart from the more dark-fantasy apocalypticism of the rest of From Software’s modern catalogue.
Standing in stark contrast to said catalogue, The Lands Between is vibrant and full of life. While humanity itself may be suffering a more traditional From Software fate, labouring under the yoke of power hungry gods and cursed with immortality until they lose their minds, the flora and fauna is thriving. Sheep and Deer graze in Limgrave, the lush Mistwood forest home to boars, beetles and bears, oh my (fucking god)
Liurnia’s watery terrain hosts its own unique crustaceans, flourishing with an endless supply of witless tarnished to pinch to their hearts content, and the Altus Plateau is basically where animals with decent credit go to graze eternal.
I mean, it’s not all sunshine and golden light. Obviously, Caelid is suffering from something of an environmental catastrophe (putting it mildly. We’re talking like 1000 simultaneous Exxon Valdez oil spills here) and the Mountaintops of the Giants are something of a testament to the gods penchant for indiscriminate genocide… But hey, life found a way to survive in the Consecrated Snowfield, at least!
My point is, this isn’t a world condemned to ruin. What sets The Lands Between apart from its contemporaries is the sense that shit can be fixed, and not in the “slap a band-aid on it” sense of kindling the flame. It’s not too late, but the tension of the lands predicament is that it’s on a knife-edge. Stuff could get better (gods fuck off, cycle of natural life and death resumes) or a whole lot worse (rot eats the land, crazy flame god burns the world down) It all depends what kind of Tarnished manages to fight their way to Elden Lordship.
Personally, I trust my blue four-armed wife to sort everything out.