The story of Elden Ring is expansive and often confusing. There's a lot of history and backstory to uncover as you journey through the Lands Between, and just getting a sense of the local politics and religion is an important aspect of figuring out what the hell you're trying to do. It's also easy to miss what's going on around you, especially because so much of the game is optional. If you're not inspecting every corner, reading every item description, or talking to every character you meet several times and on several occasions, parts of the story might blow right past you.
If you know where to look, though, you can learn a lot about what's going on in Elden Ring, and how you're affecting the game world as you move through it. Sure, you're killing a bunch of demigods--but understanding who they are and why you're killing them illuminates a lot about the game itself. So we're endeavoring to explain the broad strokes of what actually happens in Elden Ring, not just the history that sets up the story. This is the story of you, the Tarnished who would be Elden Lord, cutting a bloody swath through the Lands Between to stand before the Elden Ring.
Of course, this article will contain spoilers. If you're not up on the broad lore and history of the Lands Between, you should read our History and Lore explainer that talks about everything that happens before you wake up in the Church of Ambition. We're also going to avoid going into the quest stories of various characters, as those can make your journey in Elden Ring into a more specific story. And while we'll talk about the ending of the game, we're only going to talk about the main, simple ending, and not any of the ones that require completing NPC quests to unlock. For explainers on those, check out our other Elden Ring story articles.
More Elden Ring story explainers
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 2: Liurnia Of The Lakes
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 3: Caelid
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 4: Mt. Gelmir and Volcano Manor
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 5: Leyndell, Royal Capital
As the opening cinematic makes clear, you're one of the Tarnished--a person who died outside the Lands Between but has somehow been beckoned back by "grace," which seems to be the power of the "outer god" known as the Greater Will. In practical terms, some higher power wants you in the Lands Between to enact its will. In fact, there have been lots of Tarnished called to the Lands Between for this job, and all before you have failed. What exactly you're meant to do, however, isn't clear, and you'll hear a whole lot of different interpretations from other characters along the way.
After being immediately accosted and likely killed by a boss (a Grafted Scion--more on that thing later), as is the way of Soulsborne games, you awaken in the Lands Between proper, seemingly helped along by a strange horse and a shrouded woman. Leaving the tomb, you meet a strange man named Varre, who gives you a quick rundown of your deal: guided by grace, trying to become Elden Lord. But unfortunately, he explains, you're "maidenless," unlike other Tarnished, and that probably means you're doomed to die. Still, he explains, you can at least see the "guidance of grace," a strange golden light that points you toward whatever your next goal is. Grace is a manifestation of the Golden Order, the Greater Will's...will, or the wisdom of the Two Fingers--it's not particularly clear which. As things go on, you'll see why that lack of distinction becomes a bit of a problem for Tarnished trying to make their way in the Lands Between.
Tarnished can see the guidance of grace, giving them some divine wisdom as to where they should be going. Finger Maidens are young women who are similarly touched by the servants of the Greater Will, following their own guidance of grace to assist the Tarnished in their missions. Finger Maidens' closeness to some divine power allows them to channel runes--pieces of the Elden Ring--into power for their Tarnished buds. Effectively, Finger Maidens are the means by which you level up in Elden Ring, so the fact that you don't have one is a serious problem. (Why you don't have a Finger Maiden is a speculative story for another time, but you pass the body of a maiden on your way out of the tomb at the start of the game, and it seems likely she might have been yours and Varre may have potentially played a part in her death.)
Elden Ring is famously open and free--in Limgrave alone, there's a huge amount of stuff you can do that has nothing to do with following the guidance of grace. Eventually, though, you'll once again meet up with the woman you saw briefly in the tomb at the start of the game. Introducing herself as Melina, she offers to serve as your Finger Maiden if you agree to help her reach the Erdtree. She also gives you a whistle that allows you to call Torrent, the goat-horse bud you met briefly before, to help you get around.
Melina's situation is interesting. Like a lot of people in the Lands Between, she's not actually alive--she is, instead, some kind of spirit. She's also searching for her purpose, which she says was given to her by her mother inside the Erdtree, but which she has forgotten. Melina has some mysterious higher role in this world, but even she isn't really sure what it is. Her journey with you is a big part of the story, but it's also easy to miss--you can learn a lot from her about the gods and demigods by looking for opportunities to speak with her at sites of grace.
Not long after she first meets you, Melina will offer you the opportunity to venture to the Roundtable Hold, a special, (usually) neutral location where Tarnished gather and can rest in safety. The Hold is something of a strange location, one to which you cannot physically travel, which gives it an otherworldly quality. Tarnished have seemingly been meeting here for years as they unsuccessfully quest to become Elden Lord. A few warriors are still scattered about, even though most have lost the ability to see the guidance of grace by this point. One Tarnished seems to be the de facto "leader" of the Roundtable Hold: Sir Gideon Ofnir, nicknamed "the All-Knowing."
Gideon has little patience for you when you first arrive, suggesting that so many Tarnished come through the Lands Between, and the Roundtable Hold, that he's given up treating any with respect before they've proven themselves in battle. This implies that most Tarnished never amount to much. But you do get a bit of a rundown about your goals in the Lands Between. The quest of the Tarnished is to try to repair the broken Elden Ring, and thereby become Elden Lord. To do that, they need at least some of the Great Runes held by the remaining demigods in the Lands Between. That means that, to claim those Great Runes, you'll have to face those demigods in battle, since they're not going to part with their power willingly.
Back in Limgrave, your next logical step is to follow the guidance of grace toward the location to which it is directing you, and with this new information, you now have a better handle on where the guidance is sending you: Stormveil Castle. The lord of the castle, Godrick, is one of the Shardbearers you're searching for. Godrick is a demigod who claimed a Great Rune, so the guidance of grace is directing you to invade the castle and take it from him.
The Fell Omen
Before you reach Godrick or even Stormveil proper, though, you run into another major boss, and possibly the first you fight in the game at all: Margit, the Fell Omen. A great champion of the Golden Order, Margit fought in the Shattering in service of Leyndell. The mounted Night's Cavalry bosses you can find around the Lands Between at night once served him.
Margit seems bent on stopping Tarnished in their tracks, before they ever get the chance to gain a Great Rune and make a play for becoming Elden Lord, but he's not in service to Godrick. Instead, he seems to be planted at the gates of Stormveil in service of the Golden Order; that's Queen Marika's religion and government, as well as her rules of reality. Margit means to stop you from trying to fulfill your quest to become Elden Lord because he serves the old regime, broken though it may be.
This is particularly interesting because, as time goes on, you'll learn more about the Omen people. Margit is a huge, towering man with gray skin and horns growing all over his body. Omen are considered "cursed" by the Golden Order, and most Omen children have their horns cut off when they're infants--which usually kills them. There are also fanatics called Omenkillers that hunt Omen across the Lands Between, which might suggest that the Golden Order even sanctions their elimination; if not, some civilians take it upon themselves to eliminate the powerful but supposedly impure Omen people. However, some Omen are allowed to live, held in the sewers and jails beneath Lyendell, and while the Golden Order seems to hate them, they're sometimes used as soldiers because of their great strength. In all cases, though, the Omen are pretty much slaves and prisoners, so it's notable that Margit fights for the Golden Order. That'll come up again later.
Defeating Margit opens the path to Stormveil proper, and with the help of the castle's gatekeeper, Gostoc--one of the commoners who very much hates his lord, Godrick--you can make your way through a secret entrance. Gostoc isn't a perfect ally, though. He expects you to die as you make your way through Stormveil and steals your runes when you do; he'll even lock you in a room with a deadly Banished Knight so he can pillage your stuff. (You can also ask Gostoc to open the heavily fortified main gate--though he will advise you against this, for good reason). Regardless of your path, after fighting your way through the soldiers of Stormveil, you can reach Godrick.
Inside Stormveil, you might come across another Tarnished named Rogier. A spellsword, Rogier will give you some information about Godrick and Stormveil, and later will return to the Roundtable Hold. Talking with him later factors into a strange element of the Lands Between: undead creatures known as Those Who Live in Death. Their story, and Rogier's, as well as that of others in the Roundtable Hold, concerns Godwyn the Golden--the first demigod to ever die. We won't dive too deeply into Rogier's story, but finding and talking with him is useful in opening up some story avenues in Elden Ring that we'll get to later.
The coward Godrick the Grafted
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As you wander Limgrave, you'll see the results of what Godrick has wrought on the place. His men rule the south of the Lands Between, crucifying people along the roadways and setting up checkpoints at key locations. Soldiers stand at these chokepoints, waiting to attack Tarnished as they cross bridges or pass beneath gatehouses, hunting them and preventing them from reaching Stormveil.
It's pretty to easy to infer that Godrick is holed up in Stormveil Castle, hoarding his Great Rune, aligning his troops to make sure no one can come for him. We get some of the backstory that suggests why this is: Godrick kind of sucks. Speak with Kenneth Haight, who claims to be the lord of a stronghold called Fort Haight and "the rightful ruler of Limgrave," and he'll tell you about Godrick's true character: that Godrick sneaked out of Leyndell during the Shattering among the women to avoid the other demigods; that he hid from General Radahn rather than engage the demigod in honorable combat; and that he insulted another demigod, Malenia, and then begged for mercy upon getting walloped by her. So it sure looks like he's hiding in Stormveil, afraid someone else will come to take his Great Rune. When you actually enter the castle, you see more evidence of this, as almost all of Godrick's soldiers are set up in the courtyard, manning artillery and facing toward the main gate in case anyone threatens to enter the castle.
On the way to Stormveil, you learn more about what Godrick is actually doing in the castle. He's hiding, but he's also trying to strengthen himself--he's desperate to be taken seriously and respected by the other demigods. On the road north to Stormveil, you might stop by Stormhill Shack and discover a young woman named Roderika, who tells you that she was with a group who of Tarnished who ventured to Stormveil, only to be "grafted." That's the fate that has befallen a number of warriors who have tried to take on Stormveil, if they can even reach the stronghold in the first place. Godrick's soldiers patrol Limgrave, searching for more Tarnished to capture and carry back to the castle for grafting.
When you eventually meet Godrick, you'll learn what grafting is all about: The lord has literally grafted the limbs of other people onto his body, hoping to take their strength into himself. Godrick is covered in extra arms and legs, and Stormveil is full of dismembered bodies from all the people the lord has maimed, tortured, and murdered in order to make himself more powerful. You'll also run across a few enemies called Grafted Scions in the Lands Between, who seem to be both children and grafting experiments. Recall that the first boss you faced in the Church of Ambition was a Grafted Scion. That suggests that Godrick, expecting Tarnished to come for him, stationed one of his gross experiments right at their entry point to the Lands Between to stop them before they could become a threat.
During the fight, Godrick uses grafting right in front of you, claiming the head of a dead dragon and using it in place of an arm. This is another nod to his ancestors: Godwyn the Golden, Godfrey's son and the first-born demigod child of Marika, famously defeated the dragons who once controlled the Lands Between. Godwyn was actually so beloved and so impressed the dragons that more than one of them befriended him, in fact. Godrick, of course, is chasing the glory of his bloodline and trying desperately to make it his own, but even while forcing a dragon to be part of his actual body, he can't stand up to the measure of his forefathers, and you kill him and take his Great Rune.
Godrick's defeat opens up the way through Stormveil, which leads north to the next section of the Lands Between. The story continues in Liuria of the Lakes, Part 2 of this series.