Highly Underused, and Yet the Game’s Best Innovation
Let’s talk about the Stake of Marika.
Elden Ring introduces this neat mechanic early on in the game. It’s a checkpoint—not a full blown Site of Grace, but an option to respawn a bit closer to a difficult enemy or boss fight.
Well, that’s because it absolutely is! And it’s wonderful!
Dark Souls has a history of long, annoying boss runs. Even seasoned professionals waste a big chunk of time getting to a boss from the nearest bonfire. As for non-professionals, like me… Well, we’ll be making that run of shame a lot.
So when Elden Ring introduced the Stake of Marika, I was excited! I was so ready to have this mechanic keep me in the mood to fight.
And yet, FromSoftware uses it so rarely in places where it actually matters.
Let’s talk about it.
What Makes the Stake of Marika a Good Mechanic?
The Stake of Marika is good for two reasons. One, it keeps players in the thick of combat. Dark Souls and Elden Ring’s runs from a bonfire/site to a boss can be one of the worst parts of the experience. After getting roasted alive by a dragon, the last thing you want to do is dodge the dragon’s little lemmings for six minutes. The Stake puts the player right back in front of the boss so they can attack again.
The other good reason is time investment. Say a player can only play Elden Ring for an hour. They get to a boss and get destroyed. Now, they have to run from the Bonfire to the boss. If the boss run is two minutes, and each boss attempt is another two minutes, then the player is spending half of their playtime running back to the boss for attempts. Instead of learning the boss, they’re learning the hallways.
Are There Drawbacks to the Stake of Marika?
Theoretically, the only time when the Stake of Marika is detrimental is when players need time to “simmer down.” Some of the bosses in Dark Souls and Elden Ring are… annoying, to put it bluntly. After getting torn to shreds by Ornstein and Smough, it’s not exactly a bad idea to force players to run and think about what they can do differently.
This isn’t better than giving them access to another attempt faster, mind you. But for some players, the oppressive nature of the game can create an overwhelming emotional toll. So, an instant checkpoint can deprive them of the ability to breathe.
This arguably doesn’t matter, however, as the Stake of Marika is completely optional. The player can choose to go back to the Site of Grace if they want to. So, if a player knows they need a moment to collect themselves, they can simply send themselves back to the Site. No worries.
In short, the Stake is never a bad mechanic… unless your goal is to farm playtime.
How Is the Stake of Marika Underused?
The designers of Elden Ring are smart. Very smart. They know when to place the Stake next to a boss, and they know when to instead just have the boss run be a short trek. That’s why there are almost never Stakes near a boss door in Catacomb dungeons, but there often are ones in Hero’s Graves. The distance is short enough that the stake doesn’t matter.
And then there’s the secret stuff.
This game loves long runs to secret rewards. For instance, the Erdtree’s Favor +2 item takes three minutes to run to. There are several enemies on the way. And then, at the end, there are multiple boss-level enemies that patrol the area, some of which are sneaking and can easily one-shot a level 160 player that messes up their attack patterns.
There is no Stake of Marika here.
There is a secret boss. This boss requires knowledge of a ledge drop, several minutes of climbing, and a cutscene with multiple loading screens. He does massive damage and teleports. He will almost certainly take more than one try to beat.
There is no Stake of Marika here.
There is a Hero’s Grave with four levels of instant death-trap contraptions. The player dies instantly if they get hit by this quick machine. The player is expected to quickly dodge off of ledges onto precarious surfaces, guaranteeing a death. The dungeon, if navigated flawlessly, takes five minutes to complete.
There is no Stake of Marika until the boss. When the dungeon is no longer dangerous at all.
The Stake of Marika Is a Missed Opportunity
The Stake has a simple design goal: Set it outside of specific templated areas (like Evergaols) to ensure the player can attempt boss fights easily. These stakes are very rarely outside of anything other than a boss door.
And that’s… really disappointing.
Elden Ring added a mechanic that says, “You’ve done it. You’ve made it this far, so here you go. Here’s a break.” It added a concession that says, “We will not waste your time with this mechanic anymore. You are clearly above it.”
And many times, this is good. But it is clear that the FromSoftware team hasn’t experimented enough with the formula to know when they should or shouldn’t use it. There are so many bosses and enemies that I would like so much more… if there were only a well-placed Stake of Marika to make my attempts more worthwhile. The number of bosses I simply used Tiche on because the boss run was too long is… more than I’d like to admit.
For Elden Ring 2, I just want the Stake to be used more liberally. Reward players who explore your world. Let players stay in the action during your fantastic and difficult boss fights.
And, for goodness sake, let it be more visible for the next implementation.