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We put our humanity on the line analyzing every scrap of Deep Lore in Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree’s trailer

PCG associate editor Tyler Colp and I have devoted an embarrassing amount of our brain power to Elden Ring over the past two years⁠—precious memories of family road trips and childhood friendships eagerly ejected to make room for more deep lore. Well, it’s time for all that brain rot to pay off: join us as we speculate, make connections, and give our best guesses about what’s going on in Shadow of the Erdtree’s first trailer. If you want more than that, well, you’ll have to come over so I can show you my personal cork board and string setup⁠—or we can watch the 40-minute VaatiVidya deep dive that just dropped together.

This Messmer guy has a lot cooking

Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: With Messmer coming out of nowhere to take on the role of expansion mascot and Superhard Megaboss Apparent, there’s a risk of a kind of “Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie” thing here: “Who the hell is this new guy, and why should I care?”

But Messmer might have been hidden in plain sight all along. As pointed out by lauchherz on the Elden Ring subreddit, there are three butterfly items that seem to correspond to Marika and Radagon’s children: the Nascent Butterfly to Miquella, the Aeonian Butterfly to Malenia, and a Smoldering Butterfly that implied the existence of a third sibling.

Many players took this to be Melina, your helper throughout the game, but with the reveal of the fire-themed Messmer, I’m willing to bet that he’s the one, and Shadow of the Erdtree is a sibling drama playing out between the two surviving children of Radagon and Marika. Also, his having one eye lost or shut gives us a connection to both Ranni and Melina.

Tyler Colp, Associate Editor: Those are some compelling theories, especially because I could never quite square the Smoldering Butterfly representing Melina. But that’s another topic. I want to know what Mr. Messmer is even doing in the realm of shadow. His full title is Messmer The Impaler and there’s actually an NPC who talks about an “unwanted child” near the Impaler’s (Impaler!) catacombs. He also looks like he has one eye closed. I’m not sure what any of this means but I do like the idea that maybe he’s the one who impaled Marika and then got punished for it.

We’re clearly dealing with a guy who was cast out by Marika though, maybe at the height of her allegiance to The Golden Order. Some of the enemies in the trailer also look like Omen, the people you find dumped below the capital because none of their noble parents wanted them. So that makes me wonder about his relationship to them and why Miquella is hanging out there. Are they friends? I need to know!

What’s Miquella up to?

Tyler: Honestly, I don’t have any smart theories to offer here other than what’s been hinted at in the trailer. Miquella may want power, but I don’t understand why. Miquella’s Needle suggests he had the power to “ward away the meddling of outer gods,” and we know he wanted to help his sister and anyone discarded by the Golden Order. Other than that, I have no idea why he’d ever want to gain power in a world with nothing to rule or fight unless it’s simply to save what’s left of the world.

Ted: I’m curious about all the more sinister things cooking with Miquella. The cruel tragedy around Malenia, the egalitarian promise of the Haligtree, and the fact that they might have been able to fix the world had their siblings not interfered all paints him in a sympathetic light, but that might not be the full story.

“He wields love to shrive clean the hearts of men⁠—there is nothing more terrifying.” That doesn’t sound too nice! The boy genius superstar of Elden Ring’s lore has worn a lot of hats, including an all- but- confirmed assumed identity as St. Trina, a knight of sleep and dreams. I wonder how much of this story will be us saving him from the pocket dimension hidden in his egg, or trying to stop some plot he’s put in motion there.

What the heck is a “Realm of Shadow”

Tyler: I think this has to be a Painted World from Dark Souls situation⁠—a safe haven for creatures spurned by the rest of the world. Messmer is an unwanted child of Marika and there are Omen there. Sounds heretical to me! But the comparison doesn’t tell us much about what they’re doing there and why. This DLC takes place before the end of the game, presumably, but FromSoft loves to play with dreams and time, so who knows where and when anything is.

My crackpot theory is that this could be how The Lands Between existed before the Greater Will got interested in it. It’s a realm of shadow because it mirrors the world we already know but maybe has been warped over time. I don’t subscribe to “the Erdtree is actually a parasite” theories, but I wonder if this place essentially fell apart as the topside flourished. Or maybe this is just me wanting to visit a dark Leyndell and a third Roundtable Hold.

Ted: One thing that’s gotten my mind overheating is the ghost you find at Castle Sol, after defeating Commander Niall in the base game: “Lord Miquella, forgive me. The sun has not been swallowed. Our prayers were lacking. Your comrade remains soulless… I will never set my eyes upon it now. Your divine Haligtree.” Castle Sol and its apparently failed metaphysical eclipse seem to have been central to Miquella’s plan somehow, and the Realm of Shadow looks to be in some kind of perpetual twilight, like its sun has been eclipsed.

I’ll leave off with a particularly juicy Miyazaki quote about the new zone from his Famitsu interview:

“In fact, the shadow lands are where Marika became a god and where the Erdtree was born. Of course there was a culture there before the Erdtree, and that lion dance comes from this culture.”

What are we trying to accomplish here?

Ted: I have no idea! In his massive interview with Famitsu, Miyazaki stated that the DLC won’t unlock a new ending to the base game⁠—we’ve already taken the Elden Throne and become Elden Lord, so why are we touching the god egg and transporting to the shadow place? On the flip side, Dark Souls 3’s Ringed City offered this impactful, parallel ending to the main game that served as a meta send off to the entire series⁠—maybe we don’t need to muck with the main endings for this to be a great conclusion to Elden Ring’s story.

Tyler: I have no idea either, but maybe we’ll meet an NPC that wants something in the realm of shadow, kind of like Gael in Dark Souls 3. Whoever it is would know that touching the egg is the secret, which is an odd piece of knowledge to have. It is weird that it won’t change any endings, though. I’m extremely curious what prompts us to dip into the shadow lands when it wouldn’t result in hurting the Erdtree in any way.

Ted: I keep catching on the requirement for accessing the DLC: according to Miyazaki, you have to beat both Mohg, Lord of Blood and Starscorge Radahn. Mohg makes sense⁠—he’s the beefy devil boy camped right in front of the creepy egg we’ll use to reach the DLC, but why Radahn, who’s over on the other side of the map and can actually be skipped on your way to Mohg? My guess is that Radahn’s defeat will trigger the appearance of that Gael-style gatekeeper/plot hook NPC

The kindly old portrait man to nasty centipede guy pipeline

Tyler: Everyone seems convinced the old man in the portrait from the trailer is the guy pulling the sword out of his skull. The pendant certainly looks the same. But yeah, what’s up with this guy’s body? What is happening with those bones? Or are they some kind of growth? If we’re dealing with opposites, it could be some form of root-based necromancy from a shadow version of the tree. We really haven’t seen stuff that looks like that before—it doesn’t quite look like deathroot or the new spiky incantation. I will say this though: the framing makes it look like a boss fight cutscene.

Ted: He was maybe my second favorite enemy design behind the freaky grafted omen lion dance guy. I hope he pulls that big splinter out of his eye and fights us with it, and I’m really curious to know more about that sinister hooded lady standing behind him in the portrait⁠—is she responsible for his nasty bisected thorny state? Could this even be Marika or Miquella in the painting?

References to real world history and mythology

Ted: One of the real standout characters from the trailer for me was the animated kaiju burning Wicker Man—famous from the movie, but also an echo of ancient Celtic culture—who seems to be a field boss best fought atop Torrent. That’s a “hell yes” from me, but it’s also an example of one of my favorite things FromSoft does on the art front: pulling from all different cultures and eras to inform its fantasies⁠—it’s the kind of sensibility that delivered us Angkor Wat half-sunk in a lava lake.

Messmer’s whole ensemble and equipment (Berserk reference helmet aside) reminds me most of a mythic Chinese hero, like Guan Yu from Romance of the Three Kingdoms (or Dynasty Warriors, I guess), while the hoplite standing at attention towards the beginning of the trailer is wearing a face plate that reminded PC Gamer contributor Noa Smith of ancient Chinese bronzework. The new weapons also show FromSoft dipping into a deep well of historical oddities: I love the “dueling shield” wielded by the player facing Messmer in the trailer.

Tyler: I caught this post by Reddit user Ramps_ who points out something real unsettling but cool about that lion boss in the trailer. It’s a puppet of some sort, apparently, and it resembles the kind of costume you’d see in a Chinese lion dance. As the post points out, you can see arms holding up the costume as it jumps into the air. It looks like two people controlling it and then at some point they’re able to wield lightning like the dragons. It’s a neat, horrifying twist on something familiar that, as you said, is very FromSoft.

Other callbacks/connections to the main game

Tyler: There are plenty of callbacks to the main game, but my favorite might be the Carian stuff. That man with the big hat looks familiar and, if this really is a place for heretics, what did he do that was worse than the rest of the academy? The guy is sitting alone surrounded by bird cages and looks almost impressed that you’ve shown up. I don’t trust any of these sorcerers but maybe he’ll help us out.

Ted: Zullie the Witch pointed out that the Caria-looking magic man has a suspicious resemblance to the Carian Inverted Statue you have to use in Liurnia’s tower in the main game as well. Another weird one Zullie and others have pointed out: the silken veils hanging from the sky in the Realm of Shadow look an awful lot like the ones in Marika’s bedchamber, before you cross the bridge to fight Morgott in the main game.

How big is this thing?

Ted: I’ve noticed some commenters bemoaning how Miyazaki described Shadow of the Erdtree as being a bit bigger than the base game’s zone of Limgrave⁠—whether that’s some kind of understatement, or belies a new density of design remains to be seen, but I trust that it’s going to be big. This is the same designer who quoted Elden Ring as being 30 hours long in one interview, after all, and as PCG news writer Joshua Wolens pointed out, it’s weirdly thrilling that Shadow of the Erdtree is twice the price of any previous FromSoft DLC. 40 bucks is a promise.

Tyler: I think Limgrave as an example makes sense because anyone who even played the game a little bit would understand what that means. But it’s also one of the most dense areas in the game, which is another thing Miyazaki has mentioned about the new area in recent interviews. I think it may be surprising how dense it is and I’m still crossing my fingers that we may have a new underground area to visit that mirrors the forgotten city below the capital.

Ted: Does “Limgrave” also include the Weeping Peninsula, which is not actually a peninsula but an island? Sound off in the comments!

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