Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review
Jordan Helsley


Why is it always something incredible?

Why is it always something incredible?

Scouring through the message-writing templates at any given moment in Shadow of the Erdtree, in an attempt to express a fleeting feeling, I always landed on the same output: "Why is it always something incredible?" If you look, you'll see those words scrawled on the ground all throughout the Land of Shadow, left by yours truly. It's a pervasive, and invasive, feeling that I didn't quite expect from a game I haven't touched in just over two whole years. A game that holds such a special place in my heart, indivisible from the birth of my daughter, incomparable to the games that it, and the studio, inspired, and one of those experiences on the short list of "I wish I could experience that again for the first time." My bar was high, is what I'm saying, as I prepared myself for a disappointment of my own making.

Layers of Beauty

I had the pleasure of winning the dynamic weather lottery. The first time I entered the Land of Shadow it was absolutely drowning in fog. The primary feeling is one of wonderment, and it smacks you in the face the moment you see the landscape ahead, even when it is obscured. Ghostly headstones littering rolling hills that stretch beyond the limit of visibility, the familiar trail of golden light signalling the first sight of grace, and, in the distance, a massive fire giant's orange hue glowing against the dense clouds. All of it was begging me to explore in the same way the original game had, made more intense when the weather cleared.

It happened constantly, like they just wanted to show off, meaning Shadow of the Erdtree makes clear what base Elden Ring only hinted at in comparison: FromSoftware employs the best artists in the world, and they operate on a scale that would be inconceivable, were it not right before our eyes. There are countless moments in the Land of Shadow that are breathtaking, be they staring at a vista or a valley, or running through an impossibly sharp yet traversable cave as lightning strikes all around. It's no wonder why they made paintings a collectable item this time around. The visuals are coupled with level design, too. This new place feels impossibly vertical, another expansion on the base game's concepts. Even with the five map fragments collected, and all of the enticing locations revealed, navigating to many areas remains enigmatic well into the experience. Several key points of interest are layered on top of each other, and it has an entire subfloor that can be seen from the top.

It should also be said that this new landscape is large. At face value, the full map looks to be roughly half the landmass of the Lands Between (overlaying the two would allow the Land of Shadow to fit into the massive water bay of the first game, and then some), but in practice you're looking at an explorable space closer to 70% of the original. It's truly less dense, but you can revel in the beauty and allow the things you stumble into to have a greater impact as a result.

A Brand New Endgame

Yes, Shadow of the Erdtree is difficult, surprising no one who's played a FromSoftware game before. While locked behind a boss that is not quite the mandated final boss of Elden Ring, it is very much an endgame activity. My several hundred hours in the base game, over 3 playthroughs, meant I was entering the Land of Shadow roughly 70 levels above the recommended 150. I was a bit concerned by this, but the first enemy wasted no time to remind me that over-levelling in these games is not exactly a free ticket. Quite the opposite, it gives you a false sense of power and entitlement. This is less an extension of your level from base Elden Ring, and more a reset similar to a sequel.

You're introduced very early on to Scudatree fragments (pronounced 'shadowtree,' because Old English is wild) and they play an integral role in your ability to survive and level up in the Land of Shadow. Collecting, and cashing in, these fragments incrementally increases your character's attack and damage negation, allowing you to increase your resilience when, say, levelling up costs 400,000 runes for minimal effect. These fragments are crucial, there's 50 of them, and you're going to want to hunt them down if you're hitting a wall. Similarly you can acquire Revered Spirit Ashes, which act similarly on your spirit ashes (and Torrent, sans attack power). There's plenty obscure about these items, but you're constantly being nudged by how important these items are. These benefits do not carry back to the Lands Between, but you needn't concern yourself with the past while battling through a brand new landscape.

A New Story To Cap It Off

My initial impression of Shadow of the Erdtree was, indeed, "wow, this is just the sequel," and a different company may have even passed it off as one. Nearly 80 new bosses, 60 new weapons, a massive new open world, new spirit ashes, and, most importantly, dozens of hours. I suspect, though, that a large reason this isn't a true sequel is the length of the story itself. Mainlining the story took a mere 18 hours, with double that, and more, spent on all of the side activities. Worse than being short, it felt short, disqualifying it from a venerable "2" in the title. It is, however, much more "expansion" than it is a simple "DLC," and justice would mean that it helps return that term to gaming lexicon. It was clear at the end (at the very least for one specific plot element) that this is still the brainchild of George R.R. Martin, and I mean that largely in the best way. It feels like a logical continuation, featuring both returning and new characters, but that story extends into the gameplay as well.

Your Tarnished has left a trail of fallen lords in their wake, and many of the foes keeping you from tracking down Miquella are content bringing the fight to you. Enemies, bosses in particular, are much more aggressive in Shadow of the Erdtree, no doubt providing a different kind of challenge if not outright increasing it. There seems to be the slightest Sekiro influence on some of these attack strings, and there’s even an item that allows you a Sekiro-style parry. A certain level of aggressiveness is much more necessary than it probably was before. The developers also leaned a little harder into elemental effects, it seems. You can also, should you choose, change up your entire play style by utilizing one of the many new weapons. These were an absolute joy to at least experiment with, whether it was a hand-to-hand style, a nimble backhanded blade, or a subset of weapons that allow you to throw them at the cost of only stamina. The new ideas present in these armaments meant that I spent hours in the open world testing them out while exploring the out-of-the-way sights, being more engaged than I would have been otherwise. Sadly, no, there are no Bloodborne-inspired weapons to really cement greatness.

Another Classic

FromSoftware seems to have made Shadow of the Erdtree like they have something to prove. From art, to map design, to audio, to gameplay, every aspect has been so delicately caressed, massaged, and carefully packaged into an immense and impressive package. Plenty of the elements will be familiar to those who toiled away in the base game, but there's more than a ton of new stuff to justify your time. And if you, somehow, for some reason, jump into this DLC with no knowledge or basis in Elden Ring, you would be playing the ultimate version of 2022's best game. It nearly demands you play it on its terms (methodically, carefully, wonderfully) but doing so rewards your efforts with another couple-dozen hours of joy. Sadly, souls-like games have once again been ruined by the king reclaiming their crown. Shadow of the Erdtree is not just the best DLC of the year so far, one of the best DLCs ever, one of the best gaming experiences of the year. It is also one of the best gaming experiences ever. It also, not for nothing, did the impossible: it returned the feeling of playing Elden Ring for the first time, for the last time.

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fun score


Expertly crafted gameplay elements in a visually stunning and staggering world. New ways to play, new bosses to defeat, and now characters to meet.


Some of the best content is entirely optional, and it can be more punishing than the base game if you don’t properly engage with the systems. The mainline story is fairly short.