Check Out The Elden Ring’s Ever-Growing Map
Elden Ring’s most polarizing feature is its willingness to not reveal information. While it’s less mysterious than earlier FromSoftware games like Dark Souls, the game constantly hands you items, quests, and mechanics with not much explanation. But after 130 hours and counting in the Lands Between. And there’s no better example than Elden Ring’s map, which has transcended a simple open-world convention to become one of my very beloved pieces of the game.
If you’re still in the early areas of Elden Ring, you might want to skip this post because I’m going to talk about a mechanic that relies on the mystery. But if you’ve played a bit of the game, you might know what I’m talking about. Elden Ring’s map offers a constant give-and-take of showing players new spaces to explore, then pulling back a curtain to more places that they didn’t even realize could exist. It withholds information only to reveal it in a way that’s delightful, satisfying, and entirely in keeping with the world’s vast scope. It’s not just an interface element — it’s a meta-game in its own right.
Elden Ring’s opening map (arguably the first meaningfully included in a FromSoftware title) features the basic elements you can find in many games. There’s a square with exposed terrain around where the player starts, icons marking fast-travel points and special locations like tombs, and fog in the places you haven’t yet explored. By default, it includes very little detail, but you can find map fragments that overlay it with stylized depictions of forests, buildings, and caverns that you might want to explore.
Most importantly, the map looks large by many games’ standards, but not that large. It’s basically a continent with some blank space around the sides, inviting you to fill in discrete gaps by running around and hunting down those fragments. It helps that Elden Ring’s opening area is a conventional-looking fantasy playground, so it’s easy to feel like you’ve got a handle on what’s happening, especially with so many things you clearly don’t know as a guidepost.
Then, in a very early area, you can encounter an item that teleports you to a new location. After outrunning some enemies that are likely much stronger than your low-level character, you open your map and try to get your bearings. Suddenly you realize you’ve ended up in a place that wasn’t even in the fogged-out edges of your guide. The map has gotten bigger.
Elden Ring is like a puzzle where you keep finding new corner pieces. Exploration stretches the boundaries of the map until it fills your screen and then forces you to start scrolling. Collecting fragments fills in strips of land that expose gaps with whole new stretches of fogged-out areas, some of which aren’t accessible until long after you first see them. There’s a second map literally underneath the main map. I once spent a good half-hour failing to find a structure clearly indicated at my location, forgot about it for many dozen more hours, then emerged from a boss dungeon to find that the building was on a higher, previously unseen level.
These constant disclosures help pace an experience that might otherwise feel overwhelming while highlighting its absurd, daunting hugeness. The world isn’t just larger than you may think — it’s designed to appear in always growing chunks where nearly every new region is bigger than the last until you can zoom out and see your starting area completely dwarfed by the new mega continent you’ve discovered.
There’s a reasonable criticism of Elden Ring’s map key and enigmatic interface in general, and FromSoftware has added some new elements since releases, like markings for merchants and other characters. It’s a joyful exercise in the power of unknown unknowns — although, at this point, seeing it get any larger might just discourage me.