• notebookcomputer
  • 10/03/2023

Elden Ring message griefers are breaking my spirit

The first time an Elden Ring player tried to bamboozle me with a message left on the ground, I laughed. I had walked up to one of first ledges you ever encounter in the game and counted seven messages in the vicinity insisting that it was a good idea to jump off and kill myself. Good one, guys.

At the time I took these messages as a harmless joke to celebrate the return of the series' unique asynchronous messaging system. Now 60 hours in, I'm realizing leaving misleading troll messages isn't just a hobby for some Elden Ring players, but a way of life.

It was cute at first, but it's driving me up the wall that every door, chest, ladder, or ledge of note that I've encountered in Elden Ring has been graffitied with unhelpful messages. Last night I carefully shimmied across a perilous stone face for several minutes to reach an item left by a corpse. It wasn't until I'd finally inched to the end of the walkway that I pieced together what I'd actually been staring at in the distance: a message (which glows the same color as item pickups) perfectly obscured to look as small as a real item. It read "precious item ahead." Oh goddammit.

These disinformation artists may have comedic intentions (and maybe others just want to score some quick upvotes to farm health regen), but their work has become so ubiquitous that they're drowning out legitimate advice and warnings, effectively ruining one of my favorite parts of FromSoftware games.

Trust no one

I think all of these message pranks would be easier to swallow if they weren't so often disruptive. Thanks to messages, I've developed a distrust of ladders. Players have made a habit of placing messages right at the base of ladders with cheeky announcements like "ladder ahead" hoping that you'll accidentally press Y to open the message instead of climbing. Unfortunately, it works.

Elden Ring message griefers are breaking my spirit

It's clear that FromSoftware planned for this scenario. The game tries to give in-world actions like ladders priority over messages or bloodstains on the ground, but if you start pressing Y just a few inches from where the ladder is, you'll open the message instead. The worst part is that once the message is open, you have to press Y again to close it before you can then press Y a third time to climb the ladder.

My only consolation is that I'm not alone in my ladder woes. On Elden Ring's subreddit, players are commiserating about message blockades. A few players have had particular trouble with messages blocking ladders in the depths of Elden Ring's mineshafts, where ladders are often your only escape from an arena of enemies. User BahnYahd learned this the hard way and left some strong words for the one responsible: "You owe me 120k runes."

idno_who_the_pos_was_that_left_a_sign_at_the from r/Eldenring

Then there are hidden wall messages. Holy crap, these have gotten so old. No matter what cave or catacomb I'm combing through, the slightest dead end will be riddled with "Hidden path ahead" followed by three other people warning me there's a "Liar ahead" or "No wall here." It was funny exactly once, and now it's just a bunch of visual noise that has rendered any legitimate attempt to point out an illusory wall completely void (on the few occasions I have actually found them, I didn't even see messages nearby).

Popular Souls YouTuber Iron Pineapple recently compared (perhaps in jest) those who write "liar ahead" messages to "people who would remind the teacher that there was homework due." Nobody likes a tattletale, it's true, but at least they're trying to give players who are tired of being lied to a heads up.

Not even yourself

Elden Ring isn't my first Souls rodeo, so I'm curious why this is the first time troll messages have gotten on my nerves. Anecdotally, it feels like the number of uninformative messages has skyrocketed this time around, which could be explained by the fact that Elden Ring is on track to be the most popular Souls game ever.

I suspect it has more to do with Elden Ring's open world. Past Souls games had their share of liars, but there's just so much to lie about now. The streets of Bloodborne's Yarham are linear corridors that only realistically go to one place, but pick any direction in Elden Ring and you'll run into three mysterious towns and a dozen tombs with unique gimmicks. The only saving grace of bad messages are bloodstains. They don't help much against ladder blockers or fake items, but they are reliable red flags to suss out when players are being led to their death. In fact, I wish I could tell Elden Ring to load more bloodstains and fewer messages. Watching death replays can often give you better advice than a message can.

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It's time for FromSoftware to update its messaging, or at least make it more customizable. The Reddit-like upvote system in place now to judge which messages should appear in more players' sessions is flawed: the only reason unhelpful messages are so common is that people keep upvoting them. Nestled right next to a genuine tip about an enemy around the corner with 30 upvotes will be another hidden path meme that somehow gets to share the same real estate with just 3 upvotes. An option to filter out all messages except the most-upvoted ones might help, but I'll settle for the ability to hide messages that are in my way. Death Stranding, another game with signs left by other players, lets you do this, and it often comes in handy when players keep spamming the same "keep on keeping on" signs to score easy likes.

As it exists now, reading messages in Elden Ring is a lot like scrolling down the game's actual subreddit. Jokes and memes have risen to the top while helpful tips or novel insights are buried somewhere in the middle. Still, I can appreciate that a lot of players are enjoying the constant pranks. My colleagues at Polygon and Rock Paper Shotgun seem to be embracing the buffoonery better than I have, though their perspectives remind me of how I felt 30 hours ago in my playthrough, when a "lever" message placed in front of a lever still got a chuckle out of me. As Ed Thorn put it for RPS, "Many of the messages are helpful in their own way, even if they're lies, because they provide some mild laughter in the face of misery."

Complaining about a virtual message-in-a-bottle admittedly makes me the fun killer here, though I believe we'd all have more fun if messages actually meant something. Instead, I've started to tune them out or actively ignore them.