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SYFY WIRE House of the Dragon

'Elden Ring': How George R.R. Martin helped shape the fantasy world of one of 2022's biggest games

Where can you spot that Game of Thrones influence? Probably the dragons… for starters.

By Benjamin Bullard
Elden Ring Screenshot 12 En 15jun21

One thing’s for sure: Dragons abound in Elden Ring, the long-awaited, just-released new gaming epic from the same minds behind the iconic Souls series. These dragons are a cut above your standard fantasy fare, too: they have names, they make for incredible boss fights, and there’s even a whole religious strain — the Church of Dragon Communion, crucial to making use of hard-won dragon hearts — devoted to the fire-spewing fiends.

We don’t know for certain whether Game of Thrones mastermind George R.R. Martin had anything to do populating Elden Ring’s vast world with dragons, but their GoT version is definitely getting set for a heavy charge at the small screen. House of the Dragon, sure to live up to its name from what we know so far, is heading to HBO later this year.

FromSoftware’s newest Souls-inspired game didn’t exactly need any extra hype, but Martin’s creative involvement in shaping the game’s setting and lore has been a big part of the buzz since Elden Ring was first announced in 2019. From creative sensei Hidetaka Miyazaki — the mind behind iconic From titles all the way from Demon's Souls to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to Bloodborne — met with Martin early in Elden Ring’s development, and the unlikely pair instantly got off to an auspicious creative start.

“There was a little bit of a generation gap between us, so I felt a bit apprehensive about going to these talks, but after a lot of these conversations, it was just like speaking with an old friend,” Miyazaki recently explained in a far-ranging interview with Edge magazine. “And it just felt so fresh to have those conversations with someone who was so passionate about the same things, and to show that pure joy and sense of curiosity for these fantasy worlds.”

Like most of the games in The Legend of Zelda series, From games are all about players intuiting the story not by reading through reams of text on-screen, but by uncovering thousands of lore-enriching clues as they adventure through the world. Martin's contribution stayed true to that game-making ethos, said Miyazaki, with the focus more on fleshing out the ancient mythology of the Lands Between (the game’s setting) rather than scripting out its plot.

“…Mr Martin respected the fact that we didn't want him to write the game's story or the in-game text. Because we felt like that would actually limit his creative output, and if it was limited to something that was already a game or already a concept in this way, then it would limit the inspirations we could possibly get from him,” Miyazaki explained. “So we established very early that he would be writing that foundation, that historical element to the game, something that took place long before the events of the game itself. And this way he was able to much more freely flex those creative muscles and provide something that wasn't restricted.”

Those early talks led to a “back-and-forth” of ideas, he added, with Martin sending across notes “that depicted the setting or set the scene for the game and for the world, detailing the flow of history and the figures who appeared throughout it.” And although Elden Ring does have a story — one told largely through a player’s unique experience throughout a single, sprawling playthrough — Martin’s contribution was all about setting a certain mood and creating a distinct lived-in history for its world.

Martin's ideas also served as a sort of in-house inspiration for Miyazaki and the From development team. “A lot of the motifs that came from this and drove my creative thinking behind these elements in the game were connections between people, including parent-and-child relationships,” Miyazaki explained. “A lot of the issues that Mr. Martin dealt with in his writing provided these motifs for the game itself, so that is something I am very grateful for.”

Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s first open-world game, and there’s a epic amount of content to explore — so much so that we feel we’d barely scratched the surface in the 30+ hours we spent with it before its Feb. 25 release. That open-world design may mean playing through from scratch over and over again to see everything, but there’s still a basic premie that Martin helped establish: make your way as an unknown exile (the Tarnished) toward five great bosses, collect the Great Runes they protect, and discover the role they play in transforming the mysterious titular ring — as well as your true identity as the hero of the Lands Between.

Though it’s only been in players’ hands for a couple of days, the critical consensus surrounding Elden Ring is almost off the charts, placing it in that rare, once-in-a-generation company of games that nearly everyone agrees is a masterpiece. At Metacritic, it currently sits at an insanely high 97 aggregate score (drawn from 49 reviews) — tied with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a handful of other classics for the third-highest aggregate review score of all time (For anyone who’s curious, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time still occupies the lonely top spot with an all-but-perfect metascore of 99.)

From and Martin may one day talk in greater depth about the specific elements he came up with for Elden Ring’s dark fantasy setting (we’re banking heavily on dragons, for one.) But until we get more fun insights directly from the creators themselves, it’s a safe bet we’ll be occupied for months to come discovering new treasures and tons of those little “aha!” moments that typify FromSoftware’s gift for deep lore. It’s definitely more than enough to keep the buzz going for Martin fans, with House of the Dragon set to bring the Game of Thrones prequel series to HBO later this year.

Elden Ring is available now for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.