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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is already wiping the floor with me

Elden Ring gameplay
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Elden Ring was unanimously 2022’s Game of the Year. While many other fantastic games were released throughout the year, Elden Ring shut down all competition when it dropped in early March. It swept at awards shows and even landed a Game of the Year spot here on Digital Trends. It was the undisputed champ. Two years later, it’s now getting the Shadow of the Erdtree expansion. If a DLC ever had a chance at winning the top prize at The Game Awards, it could be this one.

Ahead of its June 21 release, I spent three hours with a hands-on preview of Shadow of the Erdtree. While it doesn’t offer anything drastically different from the base game, it’s still more of the same Elden Ring you love. It has an excellent atmosphere, fun exploration, and difficult bosses. More of the same isn’t a bad thing when that “same” is as beloved as this.

Return to the Lands Between

For those looking to pop in right on June 21, Bandai Namco clarified that players will need to have already beaten the bosses Starscourage Radahn and Mohg, Lord of Blood in order to access the expansion. Additionally, there are over 100 new weapons, some of which are not found in the base game.

The demo allowed me to pick between three different builds: warrior, knight, and sorcerer. While I typically like to fight from afar with magic, I picked the knight this time due to its straightforward playstyle. The demo generously provided me with a variety of weapons in my inventory. I decided to go with a new two-handed sword called the Fire Knight’s Keen Greatsword due to its strength and ability to light enemies ablaze.

Quite fitting for a game where you die often, the opening area in the Realm of Shadow is filled with transparent gravestones and ghostly apparitions. Right away, I was introduced to two new consumables: Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ash. Consuming these gives you temporary buffs rather than permanent level increases like how Runes do.

One of Elden Ring's castles
From Software

The Scadutree Fragments bolsters attack and defense while the Revered Spirit Ash makes summons stronger. Their effects are temporary in the fact that they remain active while you’re in the Realm of Shadow and have no influence outside of it, so you can’t carry them over back to the main game area. This is a great approach to separate the expansion so that you don’t get too overpowered if you went back to the main game.

These collectibles incentivize exploration in the Realm of Shadow as they’re hidden between every nook and cranny. While I didn’t collect enough of either of them to feel a huge difference in gameplay, I’m hoping that their effects will be noticeable as I find more of them in the full release.

In the demo, there were two main dungeons to explore, Belurat Castle and Castle Ensis. I first went to Belurat Castle, and if you have arachnophobia, this place isn’t for you. It’s filled with both small and giant spiders. The small ones weren’t hard to handle, but the giant ones were quite aggressive. They had many multi-hit attacks and getting caught in a single one nearly meant death. The aggressive enemies were a common thread throughout my time with the demo, and it had me keeping up my shield when I turned every corner, afraid that something would attack me out of nowhere.

You died

Of course, what’s Elden Ring without tough bosses? As I made my way up the castle, I reached the top and encountered the Divine Dancing Lion. This one was my favorite of the two main bosses I fought, as it really showed off Elden Ring’s art direction. The beast was able to control the elements of ice, lighting, and wind for its attacks, calling upon different weather effects to change up the pace of battle. When it summoned lightning, I had to make extra effort to dodge incoming bolts. With its ice powers, I had to be patient as every time it attacked, icicles would spike from the ground, so its vulnerability window was shorter.

The fight was incredibly tough, even though I had two allies in the form of Redmane Freyja (from the summoning pool right outside and my ash summon) and Black Knight Commander Andreas to help take it down. Once I did, the immense sense of satisfaction that every player feels when defeating a hard boss swept over me. That’s the Elden Ring way.

Elden Ring Knight

I made my way over to the other side of the map to Castle Ensis, where I noticed a striking environmental design contrast. Whereas Belurat Castle has dark tones of red and brown, Castle Ensis is surrounded by lush forests and blue skies. When I made my way to the top, I encountered Swordswomen Rellana, the Twin Moon Knight.

For anyone who’s fought Malenia, arguably the hardest boss in the base game, Rellana certainly brings back some memories. She was easily the harder of the two bosses I faced, as she had similar mechanics and attack patterns as Malenia. What makes her so difficult is that, like Malenia, she can heal herself by landing hits. As a result, the strategy I used against the Dancing Lion boss wasn’t very effective here since she would just heal herself whenever she hit my summons.

I was able to get her down to about half of her HP, but that’s when she started enchanting her swords with magic and fire, which did enormous amounts of damage. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to beat her with my current setup and I eventually exhausted the rest of my demo time while futilely trying to take her down.

Despite my frustrations with Rellana, this was exactly what I was expecting from Elden Ring: the roller coaster of emotions of failing over and over again while attempting to defeat a boss, and then finally beating them. Shadow of the Erdtree is just more Elden Ring — and I’m completely fine with that. I can’t wait to see what else is in store when I tackle the expansion with my character.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree launches on June 21 for PLayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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