Elden Ring: Why the Defiled Seems Immortal
In FromSoftware RPGs like Dark Souls, player characters can't die because they're undead. Is the same for the Tarnished characters in Elden Ring?
In the Dark Souls trilogy, player-created characters were clearly undead, but FromSoftware's latest action RPG, Elden Ring, doesn't make it clear in the game's narrative why the Tarnished cannot die permanently. To unravel this mystery, players really have to dig deep into the lore of the Elden Ring through exploration, NPC dialogue, and item descriptions to understand the nature of death in the Lands Between, and how the Gift of Golden Grace allows the Tarnished to bypass it.
In video games where players can save and reload, developers sometimes give their PCs the narrative ability to rewind time (Fire Emblem: Three Houses/Three Hopes, Undertale, and A major plot element in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time). FromSoftware's Modern Souls RPG takes a different approach, ditching the save and load functionality of most video games in favor of player character immortality or at least incapable of A constructed fantasy setting of death.
Differences Between Immortality In Elden Ring And Other Souls Games
In the Berserk-inspired Dark Souls series and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the main characters are explicitly cursed with a pain that saves them from death - the Darksign's brand and the Dragon's Heritage's blood, respectively. in Demon's Souls and Bloodborne, where player characters apparently cannot die permanently, as their souls are bound to a mystical sanctuary/central area - pre-dark fantasy RPG's Nexus and later gothic-horror RPG's Hunter's Dream .
In contrast, FromSoftware's latest entry simply describes its Tarnished protagonist as "dead and alive" in the opening cutscene, before transporting the player into the world of Elden Ring's Lands Between. Understanding why certain Tarnished are immortal, and of course whether that's a blessing, requires a lot of lore hunting and pursuing an interesting questline about the nature of death in the Elden Ring setting.
Elden Ring's Queen Marika Sealed Away Destined Death
The metaphysical concept of death, symbolized in the game by black and red flames that deal constant damage to an enemy's health, is at the heart of almost every major event in The Ring of Elden. When the Order of the Golden Knights was formed, the Eternal Queen Malika took the Death Rune from her Elden Ring and forged it into a fearsome sword for her Shadowbound Marykase.
A secret plot stole the shard of the Death Rune from Maliketh's Black Blade in the Elden Ring and forged the shard into the twisted Black Blade to kill Godwin permanently, the first Demi god. As the Elden Ring draws to a close, the Tarnished defeats Maliketh the Blackblade in his chambers, unleashing doomed death upon the world once again in the process. This sequence of events raises two questions - what is the concept of Destined Death, and what happened to the world when Queen Marika sealed it away?
Based on some obscure item descriptions and NPC dialogue, Destined Death in the Elden Ring appears to be no less than the possibility of life dying in a permanent, irrevocable manner. The Godslayer cult of the Elden Ring, the Black Knife Assassins, and Maliketh himself wield the black flames of Destiny Death, capable of bringing death to immortal beings such as gods, demigods, or the Erdtree itself. By sealing the Death Rune (one of the shards of the Elden Ring, now known as the Great Rune), Queen Malika altered the metaphysics of her reality, granting her subjects the ability to cheat death with the golden grace of the erd tree.
Elden Ring's New Cycle Of Life & Death Under The Golden Order
Roderika is a traumatized Tarnished NPC player first encountered in the Stormhill area of Limgrave, eventually becoming a soul tuner after taking refuge in Roundtable Hold and befriending the blacksmith Hewg imprisoned there. Roderika is able to upgrade the Spirit Ashes Elden Ring that players carry to enhance the ghosts they can summon to aid in battle. The Glovewort upgrade material that Roderika needs can be found in the Erdtree Burial Catacombs in the Elden Ring, where ghosts haunt and the roots of the giant Erdtree slowly devour the corpses buried within.
After advancing Rodrika's questline, which is rather short compared to other side quests in the game, the humble tuner speaks of how she now "sees how and why the essence of immortality under the Golden Order acts as "Spiritual Presence", provides players with vital clues as to why ghosts, graves, and tombs exist in a world where the gift of grace turns the tarnished back on their horrific deaths.
In Elden Ring's story-laden gameplay, Grace's golden light is stripped from the Tarnished and returned to them upon their first death, undoing any and all consequences of a violent death, recreating at the nearest station where the player was killed Corpse Lost Grace checkpoint or Marika pile. It's worth noting that the killable Tainted NPCs in Elden Ring often talk about how they lost the ability to see guiding lights Grace, and with it the ability to resurrect them spiritually and physically.
That said, the dimming of the Elden Ring does seem to be able to age and grow older, as suggested by elderly NPCs the player may encounter. All of these details together paint a picture of a two-part cycle of life and rebirth, created by Queen Marika, the goddess of the Ring of Eldon, to create a kingdom and nation as eternal as she is. She bestows golden grace on those who swear allegiance, raising those who died of violence or disease before their time.
When a person of grace dies of old age, their bodies or cremated ashes seem to be buried in special catacombs and absorbed by the many roots of the Erdtree, where they are preserved as eternal memorials, or reincarnated as New, young life forms. If these immortal twin gifts do apply to all who serve the Order of the Gold and the Ring of Eldon, it should come as no surprise that so many have flocked to Queen Marika's cause in days gone by.
In a recent interview, George R.R. Martin revealed that the world of Elden Ring was shaped by events that took place thousands of years before the game - FromSoftware hired him to design the backstory. If key events like the Night of the Black Knife and the Shattered Civil War did happen long before Elden Ring's official start, that would explain why the humanoid enemies in the game look so withered and sound so insane; Lived for centuries in the same state, unable to return to the Erdtree or reincarnate.
More: Are Erdtree or Haligtree Elden Rings Real Parasites?