I’m nearing 60 hours with Elden Ring and, frankly, I still have no idea what’s going on story-wise. Like previous Souls games, the lore FromSoftware crafted with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is a mess of proper nouns and vague insinuations. One thing I do know, however, is that a boss known as General Radhan is arguably the best character in the game. He may even be the greatest Souls character of all time.
OK, whoa, calm down. I know that’s a big statement! But please don’t rush me all at once to advocate for overwhelming fan favourites like Dark Souls pseudo-mascot Solaire of Astora or even Patches, the universe-spanning jerk featured in several previous FromSoftware games. While they and many other Souls characters are great, General Radahn stands head and shoulders above the rest, literally and figuratively, thanks to the way Elden Ring mixes silly, touching, and awe-inspiring lore snippets from his past with a unique boss battle that ends up drastically changing the game’s world.
By the time you meet Radahn in Elden Ring, he’s a pale facsimile of the brilliant, demi-god general who once commanded wartime forces following the shattering of the titular phenomenon. Radahn was previously brought low in battle by his half-sister Malenia the Severed and was infected with the Scarlet Rot, a sickness that turns its victims into mindless ghouls with only one, all-encompassing desire: to consume everything they see. As such, Radahn now wanders corpse-strewn battlefields on the back of a much-too-small horse (whose name is apparently Leonard), waiting for the day someone strong enough can end his misery.
Radahn’s official title in Elden Ring is “Starscourge,” and for good reason. At some point in his past, a sorceress named Sellen tells you, the massive warrior “challenged the swirling constellations” themselves. It’s still unclear to me how exactly Radahn fought stars, but his victory over these celestial bodies was total enough to leave them frozen in the sky. “He is the force that repulses the stars,” Sellen adds. “If General Radahn were to die, the stars would resume their movement.” Simply put, the dude is strong as fuck.
Apart from his gigantic size, Radahn’s raw power also comes from his wielding of gravity itself, a school of magic that the player themselves can also utilise with the proper stats and knowledge. Not only do these skills make Radahn a fearsome warrior, but it’s also how he’s able to ride his skin-and-bones horse without, you know, crushing the poor animal beneath his incredible weight. In fact, Leonard was the main impetus for Radahn to develop his gravitational powers in the first place, as noted by this item description:
Radahn is positioned throughout the early hours of Elden Ring as quite a challenge. Many of the friendly faces you meet in the Lands Between, including a wonderful “pot goblin” known as Iron Fist Alexander and my boyfriend Blaidd the Half-Wolf, talk about heading to Radahn’s former fortress, Castle Redmane, to participate in some sort of festival. Once you reach the castle yourself, it becomes clear that the festivities are merely a pretense for putting Radahn out of his misery, hosted by the loyal servants he left behind. Some of the world’s most capable fighters have gathered to test their mettle against Radahn and, if everyone’s lucky, finally give him the warrior’s death he deserves.
While Radahn can be defeated normally, I consider the encounter to be the latest in a long line of gimmicky FromSoftware boss battles that go much smoother when you make use of their unique mechanics rather than confront the threat as you would any other fight. Think back, for example, to Dark Souls III’s face-off with Yhorm the Giant. Sure, you can whittle away at his massive health bar with your puny weaponry all you want, but the developers intended for you to utilise a special sword found in the arena to whack his looming cranium with wind magic instead. It makes what can be an incredibly challenging fight into a cakewalk and feels more thematically appropriate to boot.
Radahn’s fight in Elden Ring is also all about using the resources available to you. Remember how I said several warriors were gathered at Redmane Castle for the festival? Well, that means you can summon not one, not two, but six NPCs to help you take down Radahn. I wouldn’t say they make the fight as easy as shredding Yhorm to pieces with Storm Ruler, but having Radahn’s massive attacks focused on someone else while you do hit-and-run-style strafing attacks on your own horse is much better than having him on your arse the whole time. And, even better, when your allies die — and believe me, they’ll die a lot — you can just re-summon them repeatedly. It rules.
Oh yeah, you can summon Patches into the Radahn fight too, but don’t expect him to stick around.
In any case, the fireworks truly happen when Radahn is defeated. Just as Sellen said, his death makes it so that the stars can move again. They must have been really itching to stretch their legs, though, because they begin streaking through the heavens en masse, filling the sky with radiant light as they return to their regular cycles. Soon, a comet careens towards the ground and crashes somewhere over the horizon, opening a massive chasm in Mistwood, an early-game region. This remains a permanent geological feature throughout the rest of your playtime and allows you entrance to a new area known as Nokron, the Eternal City. And while it’s true that defeating Souls bosses often alters the world around you, I can’t remember anything of this scale happening in previous games.
Elden Ring’s General Radahn is everything I look for in a Souls boss. His backstory is equal parts weird and heartbreaking, the narrative obscures just enough of his past to make him a compelling mystery, and he provides a unique experience in a game full of moment-to-moment surprises, the challenge of which can be scaled depending on your own choices. “Big dude in bigger armour who lost his mind” is a common Souls trope, sure, but I love the way the devs explained his gravity-based moveset via a touching connection to his horse. It’s incredible that, 13 years after Demon’s Souls first released, FromSoftware can still create characters that have this much of an impact.
I’m sure lots of you disagree out there — this is the internet, after all — so feel free to tell me who you think is the best Elden Ring character (or even your favourite Souls character in general) down in the comments. If it’s Radahn, we’re officially best friends.