Shadow of the Erdtree is more Elden Ring in the best possible way

Shadow of the Erdtree is more Elden Ring in the best possible way
Images via FromSoftware

Written by 

Harry Boulton


4th Jun 2024 15:00

The stage is set. A hand droops through a crack in a large egg, and a mysterious character stands aside, beckoning me to touch it. Cascading into an entirely new realm, I find myself within the fields of the Land of Shadow - the setting for Elden Ring's long-awaited Shadow of the Erdtree expansion.

Few things have felt quite as exciting as this in recent memory, and the prospect of being sat at a preview event playing it was just about as enthralling as it was soul-destroying when my three-hour time limit came to a close and I had to leave the world that Messmer laid to flames.

Fundamentally, in a way that every FromSoftware DLC seems to do, Shadow of the Erdtree turns the base game up to eleven, introducing ten new story bosses, 100 new weapons, and a whole new world to explore. While I only got to experience a fraction of that in my preview, I am confident that Shadow of the Erdtree will give us some of FromSoft's greatest moments.

Spoiler Alert

I've tried to keep things as spoiler-free as possible in this preview, but if you're particularly worried about them you may want to come back after the expansion is out.

Cranking up the difficulty

I was certainly expecting the DLC to offer up a challenge, as many of their previous games' most difficult fights have been within their expansions, but I feel like I still underestimated what Shadow of the Erdtree could offer.

The first fight that most players will likely encounter will easily tear through your blocks and dodge rolls with multi-hit attack chains and furiously quick movement, and that's just a standard enemy.

Image of a Horned Knight in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Click to enlarge

Not everything is out to tear you limb from limb, and there are a few friendly faces along the way, but much of what you'll come across is a step above the servings of the base game, and is more than a worthy challenge to seasoned Elden Lords.

It's a whole other conversation when it comes to the bosses though, as the two 'main' roadblocks that were available to face in the preview session felt up there with the base game's most brutal fights, and perhaps even surpassed them in difficulty.

The first, hidden deep within the streets of Belurat - the DLC's first legacy dungeon - was the Divine Beast Dancing Lion, which you might recognise from the numerous trailers we've seen so far.

Immediately I noticed the sheer aggression of this boss, as it hurled itself towards me with uncompromising speed, with attack after attack after attack, giving me little space to breathe and even less time to heal. Like many of FromSoft's best boss fights - and indicated well by its name - this battle has a concrete rhythm to it, and it felt utterly fantastic to weave and dodge through its attacks.

The second main boss of the preview session was one we haven't seen nor heard of before, and I'll refrain from revealing its identity. My astonished face at their name, however, was quickly wiped clean by the boss' punishing multi-hit attacks, and I quickly realised that this was somehow even more challenging than the aforementioned Lion.

Two beefy summons, a Spirit Ash, and my own strong build could barely get past the halfway mark, and the sight of everyone withering away to a mesmerising second phase became all too common for me.

Image of the shield weapon being used in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Click to enlarge

What was almost alarming about this boss though was how separate it felt from the Lion I fought before it. Of course, the lengthy combos felt unrelenting, but this boss gave me space - almost too much at times - and entrusted me to make the opening move, almost goading me into a trap that I could not escape from. Where the Lion possessed the chaos of something like Ludwig, this boss mirrored the patience and dance-like nature of Lady Maria.

While previous DLCs would typically only have one main boss beyond this, the potential eight further challenges make me equally fearful and excited for what FromSoftware really have up its sleeve. More dual health bars, a triple boss fight, Malenia reborn? We'll have to wait and see.

What lies within the Land of Shadow?

Outside of the bosses though there was a huge amount to explore and discover, and despite only having access to just one map fragment, a huge open field acted as the heart of the area I had access to, and numerous landmarks were dotted throughout.

There was a decaying church guarded by a dangerous foe, a settlement inhabited by grotesque beasts, and, of course, the two main structures to the north where our bosses made their home.

Image of Belurat in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Click to enlarge

I even managed to find a 'secret' path of sorts that led to an extended area upon a cliff, housing new secrets including a herd of giant golden sheep that appeared to be summoning lightning from the skies. In the distance was plenty to marvel at too, with the obvious Erdtree overpowering all, but one craggy mountainous structure caught my eye - bearing a similarity to that of Mt. Gelmir in the base game.

What will ultimately delight many though is the abundance of NPCs that you'll encounter on your travels - primarily the seven followers of Miquella who work in search of the Empyrean following their disappearance. They, like you, have travelled from all parts of the Lands Between to this new world to uncover its mystery and where the child of Marika now resides.

Image of Hornsent, one of Miquella's followers in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Click to enlarge

Rune-shaped crosses are dotted all throughout the Land of Shadows, acting as Miquella's footprints and fragments of their body laid on the ground. I only managed to locate a handful of these in this opening area, but I'm sure that they'll continue to illuminate the narrative as it unfolds.

It was perhaps the suggestion of other stories that piqued my interest the most though, with hints and implications that key characters from the base game might play a part in the Land of Shadow's mystery. It's hard to know how much this will really play into the wider picture right now, but it's certainly got my lore brain in full overdrive!

New toys to play with

Among everything else though, one of the aspects that excited me the most was the quality of new weapons and armour that were at my disposal. Due to the nature of the preview, I had a selection of fully-upgraded arms to choose from, but three in particular caught my attention.

Image of Milady and a knight atop a horse in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Click to enlarge

The first, lovingly named 'Milady', was a hybrid between a katana and a longsword, and embodies the swift grace of the former and sheer strength of the latter. Its moveset was complex and varied, and the weapon skill featured either a three-hit flurry or a diving lunge, depending on my chosen input.

Next up was the 'Dryleaf Arts', which was my introduction to the new hand-to-hand weapon type that we've seen teased in the gameplay trailer. It was immediate to me both how enjoyable this new style would be, but also high strength ceiling. Not only could I output quick hits, but each attack held significant attack power and poise damage, with the charged attack and weapon skill proving very efficient.

It was the Backhand Blade that I finally landed on though, and I quickly realised that it'd be hard to separate myself from these twin swords. Lightning-fast attacks, serious damage, and a weapon skill that worked double time as a dodge - I'll certainly be on the hunt for this weapon when I make my way into the Land of Shadow.

Calling for help

What was also great to see was a number of new quality-of-life additions to the game, following on from the several that have been added post-launch. One of the most significant (and personally most requested) was the new 'Recent Items' tab of your inventory, which sorts everything that you've picked up by date, allowing you to quickly read that item description without having to burrow through a mountain of stuff you already own.

On top of that, there's now an exclamation mark against anything in your inventory that you haven't hovered over before, allowing you to quickly see if there's an item you've missed on your travels. Considering how many things I picked up in just three hours of gameplay, I can see this coming in handy quite a lot.

Image of a character on horseback throwing a spear at a giant bird in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Click to enlarge

Undoubtedly the headlining new feature of the DLC though is what's called 'Scadutree Blessing', which allows you to increase your damage and damage negation in what is probably the closest we've ever got to an 'easy mode' in a FromSoft game.

To do this, you'll have to find 'Scadutree Fragments' throughout the world, which you can then use to increase the corresponding boost at any Site of Grace. This is a permanent action, but it's also completely optional - think of it almost as if you're enhancing your flasks.

I tried it out for myself and even three 'tiers' deep didn't find it too pervasive, so I wouldn't worry too much about it making the game too easy - especially considering the strength of the bosses I've fought so far. You'd probably still be far more effective in using Spirit Ashes to clear a difficult foe, and this system should just instead help keep you in line with the increasing challenge that Shadow of the Erdtree presents.

Importantly, Scadutree Blessing only applies to the DLC map, and won't carry over when you switch back to the Land Between. This, I believe, is a great way to balance the expansion without hampering the main game, and I'm glad to see it implemented.

Final Thoughts

Fundamentally, Shadow of the Erdtree gives me the same sensation that I had playing Elden Ring for the first time, without feeling like it's also retreading familiar ground.

People always say that FromSoftware DLCs are the best parts of their respective games, and I really wouldn't be surprised if the same is true here. It's an expansion that is not only colossal in scale but in ambition too, and I'm now counting down the seconds until I can dive into the Land of Shadow all over again.

Previewed on PC. Preview access provided by the publisher. Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree releases on June 21, 2024.

Harry Boulton
About the author
Harry Boulton
Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.
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