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Part of the reason people love video game Elden Ring is because it's so hard to play


Two months after its release, the video game Elden Ring is still the talk of the gaming world, and a lot of the talk is about how incredibly hard it is.


ANTHONY HOWELL: (As Margit, The Fell Omen) Put these foolish ambitions to rest.

CHANG: Like, pretty much every review of Elden Ring opens with how difficult it is and notes that its story is nearly impenetrable. But to many gamers, all of that is just a feature - not a bug.

And to talk about all this, we're going to bring in NPR's James Mastromarino. Hey, James.


CHANG: OK, so you play a lot of games for NPR because you edit and contribute to our video game coverage. In your opinion, how hard is Elden Ring?

MASTROMARINO: So let me put it this way - that clip we heard up top, that's Margit, The Fell Omen. He's the first major boss - just the first you're likely to encounter - and he's there to put you in your place. My colleague, Keller Gordon, wrote about beating him on npr.org. He counted. It took him 43 times. And when he finally got him, he jumped off the couch, screamed and texted his roommate about it.

CHANG: (Laughter).

MASTROMARINO: His heart was pounding, and that's an unparalleled feeling in all of gaming.

CHANG: OK, so is that the key to this game's popularity - like, the extreme perseverance it takes to make it through?

MASTROMARINO: Yeah. You really earn it, right?

CHANG: (Laughter).

MASTROMARINO: It's very rewarding, but the game also surrounds all of this difficulty in this beautiful, open world you can explore at your leisure. So if you're stuck somewhere - if Margit's giving you trouble - you can just go somewhere else and come back later. And everyone who's experienced this world won't shut up about it.

CHANG: (Laughter).

MASTROMARINO: It's this epic fantasy landscape. There's a giant tree that dominates the skyline. There's a volcano filled with serpent people. And there's even goofy stuff. Like, there's this giant talking pot - yes, a ceramic pot with arms and legs...

CHANG: (Laughter).

MASTROMARINO: ...Who you repeatedly come across, and he needs your help.

CHANG: OK, so can I just kind of insert some order here because I'm hearing talking pots, you're beating monsters, there's certain people coming out of volcanoes - what is the plot of this game? Like, what the heck is even going on (laughter)?

MASTROMARINO: That's a really good question. And the game doesn't give you many answers. Even from the opening cinematic, all it really does is just shout these names.


JIMMY LIVINGSTONE: (As Narrator) Fia, the Deathbed Companion; the loathsome Dung Eater...

MASTROMARINO: And these are folks you probably won't meet for hours and hours, if you find them at all. It's all related to this obscure mythology partially written by George R.R. Martin, the "Game Of Thrones" author. And since Elden Ring doesn't spell anything out for you, that mystery makes it perfect for the internet. So if you go to YouTube, TikTok or Twitter, you'll find endless discussion that's trying to unravel this mystery, which is itself part of the challenge.

CHANG: Was there a ton of anticipation about this game? Like, were people expecting this whole formula to be, like, a total hit?

MASTROMARINO: Yes, actually. It's from the same developer that made the incredibly influential Dark Souls series of games, and it sold 12 million copies just weeks after release. Now, for context, those are really strong numbers and actually very similar to how Animal Crossing: New Horizons did when it came out in 2020. Now, you might think those are very different games - Animal Crossing, about cute animal people that you befriend.

CHANG: (Laughter) Yeah.

MASTROMARINO: But, you know, what drives both of these games is the sense of community. You can play this game cooperatively with strangers or friends. I reconnected with folks I haven't talked to for years because of this game.


MASTROMARINO: And for me, that's what makes it special. Each person is going to find their own completely unique path through the game, but we're all stumbling forward together.

CHANG: Oh, I love that.


CHANG: That is NPR's James Mastromarino. He edits video game coverage for NPR. Thank you, James.

MASTROMARINO: Thank you, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ELDEN RING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

James Perkins Mastromarino
James Perkins Mastromarino is Here & Now's Washington, D.C.-based producer. He works with NPR's newsroom on a daily whirlwind of topics that range from Congress to TV dramas to outer space. Mastromarino also edits NPR's Join the Game and reports on gaming for daily shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition.