Shadow of the Erdtree Could Be FromSoftware’s Best, and Hardest, Expansion Yet

Delightfully difficult.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
Bandai Namco

Even after 200 hours with Elden Ring, setting foot into the Land of Shadow was enough to take my breath away. You enter the shadowy realm through a decrepit cocoon and your first sight is a visual feast of rolling black hills adorned with swarms of ghostly tombstones. Misty castles loom in the background, and a ghastly fiery beast stalks the ethereal cemetery. Three hours of playtime later it was clear that Shadow of the Erdtree is the biggest expansion FromSoftware has ever made. I’m also hopeful that it could be its best too.

The story of Shadow of the Erdtree is fittingly cryptic, and I only had the faintest idea of what was going on with my initial visit. The expansion will largely expand on the story and lore of the main game, with a particular emphasis on Miquella the Kind, an Empyrean and son of Marika who mysteriously vanished. In The Land of Shadow, Miquella and his followers seem to be locked in a brutal conflict with a fiery godlike being named Messmer.

Fire seems to be a major theme of Shadow of the Erdtree.

Bandai Namco

Shadow of the Erdtree is just as open-ended as the main game, giving you free rein to explore the Land of Shadow, which is filled with optional discoveries, hidden tombs, mainline dungeons, and more. During a preview event, Bandai Namco noted that the expansion’s world is bigger than the entirety of Limgrave in the main game, and even though I only had three hours, I could already see that.

As you explore the new realm, you run into Miquella’s followers, who act as guides, shopkeepers, and even allies you can summon for boss battles. Some fascinating characters are already at play in the DLC, like a brusque NPC I affectionately came to call “worm face.” These characters are, so far, where most of the story and lore bits are doled out, and shortly into the experience, I was directed to two main points of interest: Castle Ensis and Belurat Castle Settlement.

My new best friend, Wormface (not his actual name).

Bandai Namco

As I headed off toward the first castle, I made the mistake of thinking I could ride my mount past the rumbling fire giant, only to get my face melted off by a fiery kick that I swear covered half the field. Thoroughly humbled, I then gave the giant a wide berth, thinking about if I’d ever want to fight the terrifying beast.

Aesthetically, Shadow of the Erdtree occupies an interesting place, as its visuals clearly fall in line with everything else in Elden Ring. But there’s a unique gothic edge to everything, versus the more high fantasy style of most of the base game. It’s not anywhere near Bloodborne, but the Land of Shadow’s visual style certainly fits its name. One field I ran through had glowing spirit worms that would grasp their tiny little hand at me, and Belurat Castle’s buildings are all made up of hard jutting architecture, with hulking masked enemies that can easily eliminate you with one or two hits.

But outside of new areas and enemies, Shadow of the Erdtree provides a ton of new combat options for players. As you explore the realm you can collect two different kinds of Haligtree fragments that can be used at Sites of Grace. One lets you boost your character’s damage resistance across the board, while another strengthens the power of your Spirit Ash summons. These new empowerment systems are combined with the standard leveling to give you a better chance against the expansion’s enemies, who are clearly intended to be at the same challenge level as the end-game enemies in Elden Ring. It makes sense considering you can’t even access the DLC until you defeat Mohg, a boss quite far into the game.

There are eight new weapon types in Shadow of the Erdtree, all of which can be taken into the main game as well.

Bandai Namco

Getting through Belurat Castle was a struggle that took me nearly an hour, forgoing most of the exploration because of time constraints. Of course, at the end one of From’s infamous bosses awaited me, and boy is the first one of Shadow of Erdtree a doozy. The Divine Dancing Dragon is a lion-headed beast with an unpredictable set of attacks that has it lunging and swaying across the battlefield. Partway through it also employs devastating lightning strikes, an icy tornado that can freeze you, and a lunging grab that can knock off nearly your entire health bar.

Taking this boss down took me over an hour, experimenting with a half-dozen different weapons, on top of my summon and Spirit Ashes. This did give me a chance to try out some of the new weapon types in Shadow of the Erdtree, and a couple of those are an absolute blast. A new martial arts weapon gives you dynamic physical attacks that can stagger enemies with combos, but in my experience, it was much more useful against standard enemies and paled against bosses. My personal favorite is the dual reverse swords, letting you unleash a flurry of attacks that cause massive damage, especially with the right dexterity build. This was the weapon that ultimately let me overcome the Dancing Dragon, as I got a good feel for running in with a quick combo before dodging out of the boss’ attacks.

Shadow of the Erdtree has deadly new bosses, but also a handful of smaller enemies that can prove equally challenging.

Bandai Namco

With my final hour, I dashed through the other castle, past a bridge filled with enemy soldiers and a deadly ballista, weaving through disgusting giant scorpions, and doing under the feet of a giant. At the end, another, even deadlier boss, awaited me, a dual-wielding swordsman who harnessed the power of both fire and ice. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to overcome this second boss, despite getting its health bar to a hair’s width.

Three hours didn’t feel like nearly enough to experience what Shadow of the Erdtree had to offer, and ever since my hands-on time, I’ve found myself thinking about what I want to do first in the expansion, all the little nooks and crannies I can’t wait to explore. My few minutes of exploration put me face-to-face with a miniboss called “Ancient Dragon Man,” with a massive dragon-scale sword as a reward. I can’t wait to dig in and find all the other secrets.

Shadow of the Erdtree brings some fantastic enhancements and additions to Elden Ring, but doesn’t feel like it’ll redefine the game. But at the end of the day, it didn’t need to. It’s more Elden Ring, with deadly new challenges, and that’s all anyone could ask for.

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

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