The Tarnished Diaries: Golden Threads

*Spoilers for boss & equipment names*

You will never be the first person to complete a FromSoftware game. Most of us are somewhere in the queue behind the streamers and content creators, the reviewers who clawed through as far as they could before deadline, the PvP players whose enjoyment comes from acquiring and exploiting the best gear before it’s patched, and simply anyone time-rich enough to barrel through the game unblinkingly before sliding back into society.

The signs of this are everywhere in Elden Ring, every new area hums with the messages and bloodstains of those who came first. But more than any of this, it’s the fashions that give the game away: Elden Ring continues the longstanding soulsborne tradition of showing the player ghosts of other people playing through the same environments, ostensibly as a reminder that you are not alone in your quest, but with the side effect of showing you just how cool everyone else’s gear is. Gear envy is real, and #fashionsouls is as strong as ever in Elden Ring; there’s a player holding a sword made of other swords! They’re wearing a hat that looks like a boss you’ve only seen in a trailer! You’re outside the first dungeon! The game came out three days ago!

In a game where comprehending the narrative can require a tapestry of wiki and YouTube visits, having a simple, self-defined objective like ‘I want the Burger King armour’ can be a powerful motivator. Crucially, long-term FromSoftware character designers Masanori Waragai and Hiroshi Nakamura both worked on Elden Ring, having previously given us icons like Eileen the Crow and Seigmeyer of Catarina, and some of the outfits in the game have already been received as classics.

A player’s attachment to their Elden Ring gear can be as multifaceted as the steps they took to acquire it; you spend a long time looking at your metal arse, it may as well look its best. Beyond the immediate aesthetic impact of your gear (which is made up of separate torso, arm, leg, and head pieces), many items have statistical or gameplay affecting boosts, and some even have their own associated narratives, having belonged to key characters or factions in the game before being ah, acquired by the player. So what makes for a capital F Fit in Elden Ring? The rules are as opaque and shifting as those of real fashion: maybe it’s easier to politely suggest what doesn’t work.

Boss Sets, which can be purchased from the Finger Reader Crone at the Roundtable Hold, look weird on player characters – like a child wearing their parents hand-me-down suit to a family wedding, it is immediately quite apparent that Maliketh’s set, which looked fantastic as the Black Blade spun through the ruins of Farum Azula towards you, was not designed with the pale output of your ten minutes in the character creation menus in mind.

‘Doing a Havel’ i.e. driving all your rune levels into Strength and Endurance, and using your accumulated power to medium-roll in the heaviest, thiccest armour you can find wielding an Ultra Greatsword, while perfectly functional is unfortunately boring, equivalent to loudly and obnoxiously ordering the most expensive item on the menu at dinner.

Lastly, despite having some fantastic armour sets, anything associated with The Golden Order is Tory sorry.

What works better is a combination that means something to you personally: that NPC armour you followed a whole questline in the hope of obtaining, or the shield you acquired early on without the suitable stats to wield so here you are two handing it, pushing bosses off bridges, growing your own legend. There are considerations of aesthetics versus utility to bear in mind too. All players reach a point their finest Met Gala creation is simply not providing the correct balance for the encounter they’re stuck on, and ultimately must turn the tide by running into battle as a mis-matched INT boosted technicolour trick-or-treat goblin, only to appear as such in the game’s (real time) cutscenes when their enemy finally lays slain, beautifully undercutting the dramatic tension of the scene. Savour it, screenshot the moment, you are cringe but you are free.

Given that respeccing player characters is simpler than ever in Elden Ring, it’s possible to bond with a number of outfits and weapons for their style and function over the course of a single playthrough. Ultimately what you’re wearing as you step through the game’s final wall of fog tells a story about what became important to you over dozens of hours as you journeyed the Lands Between. Unless it’s the Leyndell Knight Set, in which case slashing public services is probably your priority.

Words: Luke Jackson

Previous entries of The Tarnished Diaries can be read here.

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