“Shadow of the Erdtree” Is Elden Ring at Its Very Best and Worst, All at Once

Inverse Score: 8/10

I was on my 60th try against a spear-wielding boss named Gaius riding a massive boar; it’d been four hours and my eyes were burning from staring at the screen so intensely. After getting embarrassed by the porcine boss, yet again, I felt something shift. I craved vengeance. One more try before I quit, I said, and to my surprise, that was the one. With my victory claimed, and my heartbeat well over 100, I decided it was time to take a break.

Elden Ring’s Shadow of the Erdtree expansion is an astoundingly massive addition to an already enormous game. The DLC is packed to the brim with gorgeous new locales, diverse new weapons and abilities, and soul-crushing bosses. That being said, this is also some of the most challenging and brutally difficult content FromSoftware has ever produced. As someone who’s played and beaten everything since Demon’s Souls, this is the first time I’ve ever felt that difficulty hinder my enjoyment. That’s a caveat to what is otherwise a phenomenal expansion, one that finds some fascinating ways to embellish on Elden Ring’s core design.

By the Grace of the Gods

Shadow of the Erdtree introduces a handful of new characters, which means a variety of new stories and details to uncover.

Bandai Namco

The first thing that should tip you off on what kind of brutal challenge you’re in for, is how difficult the DLC is to even access. You’ll need to have beaten both Radahn and Mohg, jumping into the expansion from the cocoon in Mohg’s chambers. Shadow of the Erdtree slots nicely into the main story of Elden Ring, finally revealing what happened to the mysterious empyrean Miquella the Kind.

Of course, the storytelling here is incredibly cryptic, even more so than the main game, forcing you to piece together its disparate characters, lore, and locations. For the real lore hounds, there are a ton of fascinating details to dig into, but if you’re not totally up to speed on the story thus far, the narrative throughline in Shadow of the Erdtree simply doesn’t feel as compelling as the main game. I consistently wondered what my purpose in the Land of Shadow was, and a lot of that didn’t become clear until the final few hours of the expansion.

Luckily, the sheer variety and ingenuity in Shadow of the Erdtree’s locations is enough to assuage that, with the expansion easily packing some of my favorite areas in all of Elden Ring.

This expansion takes you to a brand new area called the Land of Shadow, completely separate from the main game. The moment you enter this new area the game sets the tone perfectly, giving you a visual feast of black rolling hills adorned with ethereal gravestones. There’s something not right about the Land of Shadow, it feels like a nightmare-verse that resembles Elden Ring’s world, but with something uncannily wrong.

Shadow of the Erdtree’s areas are often astoundingly gorgeous, while simultaneously feeling horrific.

Bandai Namco

It’s not just from a visual standpoint either, as the eerie aesthetics often lead to unique mechanics or ideas. The Abyssal Woods are like a walk into the underworld, forcing you to stealth around enemies that can cause madness with their giant eyes in a matter of seconds. A church district is flooded with water, requiring you to platform across a handful of roofs and driftwood. Ancient ruins overgrown by a forest house, a secret network of tunnels and catacombs below, brimming with unearthed treasure.

Each and every area in Shadow of the Erdtree feels distinct and unique, and the expansion rewards exploration even more than the main game, making it a joy to poke around every single nook and cranny. This is supported by a wealth of new gameplay elements in Shadow of the Erdtree, like talismans, and spells. Some of the new weapons are a particular highlight, giving you wildly new options for combat. A martial arts weapon lets you unleash a flurry of punches and kicks, Backhand blades have blazingly fast combos, and Perfume Bottles let you use dazzling clouds of deadly toxins to defeat enemies. Most of the weapon additions are smartly different from anything else in the game, and of course, being able to take them into the main game is another huge attraction for picking up this expansion.

Off the Beaten Path

The Land of Shadow is filled with new dangers, but dealing with them is more than worth it.

Bandai Namco

Elden Ring always did exploration well, but Shadow of the Erdtree does an incredible job of drip-feeding you rewards, making you feel like everything you do is worthwhile.

A big part of this is Shadow of the Erdtree’s new leveling system. Scattered across the Land of Shadow are two resources you can collect, Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes. Both of these can be used at a Site of Grace to boost certain parameters. Fragments boost the damage you cause and your damage mitigation, while ashes boost the strength of your Spirit Ash summons. Both of these boosts are only active in the Land of Shadow. What all this means is that it’s absolutely vital to explore and get these boosts if you want to stand any chance against the intimidating bosses. Even using some of the more notoriously broken builds, like Poison and Rot buildup, still proved an immense challenge for me.

This brings us to my previously mentioned biggest criticism of Shadow of the Erdtree – the difficulty. I’ve never considered myself the best Souls player out there, but I’ve played literally everything by FromSoftware, and was able to overcome every challenge eventually. A vital part of the Souls experience is learning from your defeat and using ingenuity to come up with ways to circumnavigate tough bosses or areas. Shadow of the Erdtree is quite literally the first time in almost a decade that I felt needlessly frustrated by a From game’s challenge. This expansion takes every opportunity to be harsh.

Shadow of the Erdtree has some fantastic new weapons that allow you to play with wildly different styles and builds.

Bandai Namco

Each area is filled with deadly enemies that only get stronger as you go, Sites of Grace seem further apart than ever, and bosses in particular are absolutely relentless in their attacks and pressure. There are a half-dozen bosses in this expansion that was like hitting a wall for me, taking at least 50 tries to finally overcome. Shadow of the Erdtree demands that you’ve mastered Elden Ring’s systems, know exactly which stats to boost or status effects to take advantage of, and requires that you learn the exact timing windows of each boss’ combos.

This expansion isn’t going to be for casual players at all. On one hand, I can respect making ultra-hard content for players who crave that extra level of punishment. But on the other hand, I think it starts to raise an issue for approachability, for both players of varying skill levels and those who might need accessibility options. Anyone simply interested in Elden Ring’s story or exploring the world will find a dozen frustrating roadblocks gating their progress, and while you can grind out Runes or find more fragments to boost your power, that demands a lot of extra time.

Up For the Challenge

The bosses of Shadow of the Erdtree are some of the toughest in any of From’s games, and require intense planning on perfection.

Bandai Namco

Over the years, I’ve veered more towards wanting difficulty options in Souls games, and Shadow of the Erdtree only solidifies that stance. Again, I was able to eventually overcome everything in the expansion through dozens of hours of grinding and hard work, combined with countless experiments on different builds and weapons. But I can undoubtedly say that having to do all that affected my enjoyment of the expansion and made me wish there was some kind of streamlined way to get past all of that.

Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d feel the need to reopen the difficulty discussion going into Shadow of the Erdtree. That alone is my biggest surprise, especially since everything else in this expansion feels masterfully done. In terms of aesthetic and art design, this is the best FromSoftware has ever been. Exploration feels meaningful and rewarding, every area feels wonderfully varied and unique. Everything about Shadow of the Erdtree is a masterclass that shows the studio at its very best; but I simply can’t shake the way I was frustrated with its challenging design.

Shadow of the Erdtree feels like the moment where FromSoftware has to interrogate what it wants its games to be, and how the studio moves forward. Does the studio integrate more options for players, making the games more approachable to a wide array of players? Or do they stick to a core philosophy of being abrasive and unrelenting? More than anything, I’m interested to see how Shadow of the Erdtree lands with players, especially those who played Elden Ring as their first Souls games.

Past all that, though, if you love Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree is a no-brainer of a must-play, an expansion that builds on the main game and makes it richer in almost every imaginable way. But know what you’re getting into. Make sure you’re completely re-familiarized with the game, have a strong build ready to go, and be ready to get crushed to a pulp.


Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree launches on June 21 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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