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Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree Review

Try finger, but whole

Open-world design is something that’s ubiquitous in the modern gaming landscape; if you need any more proof of that then perhaps consider we have an open-world Sonic game. Plenty of titles have incorporated (or shoehorned) open-world design into their titles with varying levels of success, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a developer who has managed to do it with quite as much style as FromSoftware. Admittedly copying liberally from some of Nintendo’s homework in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the much revered FromSoft succeeded at transposing its tried-and-true hardcore hack ‘n’ slash RPG into a sprawling, beautiful open world of impossible scale. The greatest feat of this radical shift was that The Lands Between felt cohesive and focused despite its gargantuan nature, housing a constant flow of secrets, surprises and challenges across hundreds of hours of gameplay. On top of that, that same foreboding atmosphere and signature difficulty permeated every inch of the experience, and Elden Ring became a certifiable masterpiece of design and execution in the eyes of many.

It’s been a long two years since Elden Ring’s release, but its first DLC Shadow of the Erdtree is proof that FromSoft wasted absolutely none of that time.

All my Yu-Gi-Oh training has prepared me for this exact moment

I spent just over a hundred hours traipsing about The Lands Between, and to put this DLC review in perspective, I was level 160 after completing the base game and was smack bang at the start of a new game plus. This is important, because if you’re in a similar position and are keen to delve into the DLC, you’ve got a few hoops to jump through. FromSoft has always made the entry requirements for its DLC a little odd, and Elden Ring is no different. In order to reach the self-contained Shadow Realm and dive into its new chapter, you are first tasked with taking down two optional main game bosses – Radahn Starscourge and Mohg, Lord of Blood. This took me about six hours from the start of the game, with knowledge of a few shortcuts and a fairly well kitted character making things slightly less painful (burn in hell, Mohg). It makes sense in the grand scheme of things, as these two are key to Shadow of the Erdtree’s story, but take heed that you may not be jumping right in straight away

Entry requirements complete, you are able to whisk yourself away to the Shadow Realm, and the first visual impression of this completely new area is as impactful as emerging from Elden Ring’s Cave of Knowledge for the first time, and will no doubt have you clambering for the screenshot button. Nestled at the base of the golden Erdtree, the Shadow Realm is quite simply a visual feast. You enter this scarred and nightmarish land on a vast, open ghostly plain, and panning the camera reveals looming structures in the sky and several landmarks in the distance beckoning to be explored. One of Elden Ring’s key design features is the relatively loose guidance it gives you, simply urging you to let your curiosity (and courage) drive you forward as you piece things together; if you see something in the distance that looks interesting, there’s every chance you can go their and indulge your inquisitiveness and generally be rewarded amply (or be killed by something you find there). That familiar sense of dread and wonder that forms the DNA of the FromSoft experience is present at every turn, and proves more than enough to continually drag you off the beaten path.

Effortless Sailor Moon impression

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Shadow of the Erdtree’s story (to me at least) is just as opaque as any FromSoft title, but for lore purists out there there’s plenty of new intrigue to bathe in. The thrust of the story has you following the trail of the missing god Miquella, and early on you’ll meet a few their friendly(ish) devotees who are similarly interested in the fate of their master and the reason for their exile to the war-torn Shadow Realm. The way Mohg and Radahn tie into the overarching search for Miquella is interesting, even if I was often too focused on not getting my arse kicked to appreciate some of the more subtle plot details. I’ve always been content to simply let a FromSoft title enchant me with its gothic atmosphere and am guilty of perhaps not reading enough item descriptions, but for those looking to get immersed this new storyline has plenty of nuance and references to characters from the main title to keep you sated.

Not much has really changed in the nuts and bolts of the gameplay, but there are a host of new additional items, weapons, armour, Spirit Ashes and spells to expand your character’s arsenal. I unashamedly rock a faith turtle build (incantations and heavy armour plus sword and board all the way), and as such I was delighted to discover quite a few new offensive incantations. One particularly nasty one included summoning a wave of scarlet rot heralded by a sea of pink butterflies, and another allowed me to roll around with spikes coming out of my back like an angry ethereal echidna. There is a dizzying array of new weaponry and armour to acquire from bosses and rank-and-file enemies, and the new options to outfit your character that build upon the already impressive kit from the base game are seemingly endless. I will admit that no new weapons or Spirit Ashes could completely wrest the Blasphemous Blade and Maleklith’s Black Blade from my hand or stop me ringing the bell for that comforting Mimic Tear, but it was fun to experiment with some odd additions like the Poisoned Hand (does exactly what it says on the tin) nonetheless.

Sense of foreboding intensifies

I have always relished the superbly balanced challenge of a FromSoft game, and most of the more troublesome bosses have that hard but fair thing going for them – hopefully that knowledge will help you resist the urge to peg your controller into the ocean

One gameplay tweak that does have significant impact is the introduction of a parallel progression system that is only operational within the Shadow Realm. Strewn about the place you’ll find Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes, which apply significant buffs to the attack and defence of your own character and your Spirit Ash summons respectively. These are essential to survive in the Shadow Realm, because even if you are high level and have a host of +10 weapons and Spirit Ashes, Shadow of the Erdtree will likely humble you at some point.

It should come as little surprise that this DLC features occasional brutal difficulty, and this is especially true if you’re tackling it in new game plus as I was. I have always relished the superbly balanced challenge of a FromSoft game, and most of the more troublesome bosses have that hard but fair thing going for them – hopefully that knowledge will help you resist the urge to peg your controller into the ocean. But I will say that the difficulty can be fairly uneven across bosses, even when tackled in sequence along the story critical path. I absolutely stomped quite a few bosses and mini-bosses first try (one or two certainly gave me pause though), but the final boss is no doubt going to be a Malenia-sized point of contention for many players. I won’t spoil the nature of this multi-phase fight, but it is by far the most brutal encounter I have ever experienced in a FromSoft title (this includes Isshin, the Sword Saint). I think it pushes the friendship perhaps a little too far, but I’ll let the community decide whether or not they think FromSoft has finally overstepped the mark. The amount of bloodstains I interacted with showing people simply launching themselves off the edge of the stairs into oblivion rather than facing this boss is perhaps some hint as to the despair this encounter will inspire.

Quick drip check before getting my arse handed to me

An aspect I wasn’t so enamoured with was some of the exploration in sections where verticality features prominently. There is a confusing middle section where it’s obvious you must make your way gradually down, but it’s not always clear exactly how to get there. This is evidenced by the plethora of familiar bloodstains on the edges of treacherous cliffs, symbolising the kindred confusion and frustration of pre-release players trying to find their way to the bottom of the area. Some interior sections are also a little smaller than their architecture would suggest and are disappointingly brief, but this is a minor complaint given the sheer volume of distinct areas to explore.

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Final Thoughts

Shadow of the Erdtree gives all you Elden Ring masochists out there exactly what you want – a sombre, grandiose story which is more than meets the eye and a gorgeous new land to explore with a ludicrous amount of nooks and crannies in which to get lost and/or killed. It is a chainmail gauntlet thrown casually at your feet daring you to pick it up – if you thought FromSoft was running out of new ways to torture you, then let Shadow of the Erdtree convince you otherwise. This DLC is as expansive in size and scope as some full games, and represents the work of a studio at the height of its power, a studio showing little sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree Review
To Erdtree is human
Elden Ring’s Shadow of the Erdtree DLC has more meat on the bones than many full releases, and if you miss the beauty and punishment of the base game then the Shadow Realm beckons.
The Good
It's more Elden Ring
Visual design and execution is masterful, the Shadow Realm draws you in immediately
A cornucopia of new weapons, armour, sorceries, incantations and Spirit Ashes to mix and match
Huge amount of content for a DLC
The Bad
Navigation in the midsection is a little laborious due to verticality
Fluctuations in difficulty are par for the course but hit particularly hard in some instances
The final boss hurt me physically and mentally and I'm going to go lie down now
9
bloody ripper
  • FromSoftware
  • Bandai Namco
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / PC
  • June 19, 2024

Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree Review
To Erdtree is human
Elden Ring’s Shadow of the Erdtree DLC has more meat on the bones than many full releases, and if you miss the beauty and punishment of the base game then the Shadow Realm beckons.
The Good
It’s more Elden Ring
Visual design and execution is masterful, the Shadow Realm draws you in immediately
A cornucopia of new weapons, armour, sorceries, incantations and Spirit Ashes to mix and match
Huge amount of content for a DLC
The Bad
Navigation in the midsection is a little laborious due to verticality
Fluctuations in difficulty are par for the course but hit particularly hard in some instances
The final boss hurt me physically and mentally and I’m going to go lie down now
9
bloody ripper
Written By Kieran Stockton

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy

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