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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review: triumphant DLC feels like a sequel

The golden Erdtree in Shadow of the Erdtree.
Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
MSRP $39.99
“Shadow of the Erdtree is so packed with new content that it almost feels like a sequel to Elden Ring.”
Pros
  • Old formula still feels fresh
  • Giant new map
  • Great new weapons
  • Challenging boss fights
Cons
  • Cryptic story is an acquired taste
  • Returning camera issues

Every time I had a difficult time with a boss in Elden Ring, I would just venture off to see what else I could do in The Lands Between. When I stumbled across an undiscovered Site of Grace to save my progress, I knew that I’d found something new that was going to let me come back better prepared to face to the foe I was stuck on. Whether that’d be a new boss or powerful equipment, I’d be making some progress in my quest to get stronger and finally overcome any challenge. That was Elden Ring’s biggest strength. The immense discoverability in its open world combined with the feeling of progress made me never feel like I was wasting my time.

It was a feeling that I thought I’d never get again — until now. Elden Ring’s new DLC, the predictably excellent Shadow of the Erdtree, renewed that sense of wonder with, well, more content. With a gigantic new map to explore, new weapons, and fierce bosses that acted as a final exam for my skills, Shadow of the Erdtree provides a strong reason to return to a generational masterpiece.

The story is for the sickos

The basis for Shadow of the Erdtree’s story involves Miquella, someone who was referenced in the main Elden Ring game but was never directly met. The player is whisked away to the Land of Shadow to uncover its dark secrets and how it involves Miquella. Throughout the Land of Shadow, players come across different NPCs that spout cryptic lore that add a lot to the world-building.

I won’t lie and say I knew what was going on. FromSoftware games are the kinds that players need YouTube essays and explainers to understand their stories. That didn’t hamper my enjoyment of Shadow of the Erdtree one bit, though. It’s incredibly easy to let the story go on the backburner and let the gameplay and exploration do the talking. That’s where its strengths are at their loudest.

Miquella's arm in Shadow of the Erdtree.
FromSoftware

The Land of Shadow itself is ginormous, with a map that’s approximately half of the size of The Lands Between. Just as is the case in the base game, exploration is always rewarded here, and that’s incredibly satisfying. In one instance, I came upon a huge pit in a place called the Moorth Ruins. I knew something had to be down there, but there was no obvious route to the bottom. I summoned my trusty steed and kept jumping down toward anything that vaguely looked like a ledge so I could safely reach the bottom. I died numerous times as a result.

Eventually, I managed to reach the bottom and found a secret passageway. It took me to an incredibly long ladder and I came out of the other side through a well. This one action let me access the entire middle area of the Land of Shadow, a space I’d spent hours trying to find previously. My eyes sparkled as I realized that there was so much left to explore, the same feeling I had when playing Elden Ring for the first time. The magic is back.

Old habits die hard

What’s impressive about Shadow of the Erdtree is how seamlessly it integrates with Elden Ring’s endgame. It’s meant for players who’ve already beaten the main story and are looking for a new way to test their skills. In many cases, expansions and DLC are self-contained, such as Tales of Arise’s Beyond the Dawn and Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade’s Episode INTERmission. That’s not the case here. Players can carry over their levels and most equipment from the main game to the expansion (and vice versa), which makes it feel like a naturally integrated puzzle piece in Elden Ring’s sprawling world. The one exception is the new Scadutree and Revered Spirit Ash Blessings, which are temporary buffs that only activate in the Land of Shadow.

If you’re coming to the expansion for something new, Shadow of the Erdtree has plenty to see. It brings new weapon types, including beast claws, great katanas, and even thrusting shields. The hand-to-hand style forgoes any sort of weapons and has you fighting with your fists like a monk from the Final Fantasy series. Unlike most traditional weapon builds, this is a fun and flashy one for FromSoftware that’s worth giving a shot.

The hand-to-hand combat style in Shadow of the Erdtree.
FromSoftware

As much as I enjoy the new styles, my goal was to win. Rather than totally throwing my old character out the window, I still stuck with my tried and true build that carried me through the main game (a magic-based Sword of Night and Flame build). That’s the beauty of Shadow of the Erdtree. Players can pick a new playstyle to experiment with, or just use whatever helped them previously. The open-ended nature of Elden Ring offers the freedom and flexibility to tackle the challenges that it throws at you.

Still as beautiful as ever

Shadow of the Erdtree’s dark-fantasy aesthetic has never looked better than it does here. From the starting area filled with transparent gravestones, all the way to the glowing palace atop the golden Erdtree at your journey’s end, there’s always some sort of new landmark to marvel at. The environmental variety serves as a reminder that even in a world that’s actively trying to kill you, there’s beauty to be found.

This expansion feels like an unofficial sequel.

The new bosses are quite varied too, both in terms of aesthetic and gameplay. Quick and nimble bosses like Relanna are in small spaces that don’t give much breathing room, but give you the opportunity to corner them. Bigger bosses, like the Divine Beast Dancing Lion, are huge and occupy massive arenas to give players as much space as they need to dodge. These bosses are intricately designed, giving each a distinct look. My personal favorite is a bright pink scorpion-centipede hybrid boss that fired off butterfly-shaped explosives. Its design was so much different than the other bosses in the DLC, which makes for a memorable encounter in a long list of them.

I’ll never forget their desperate attacks, as they’re just as deadly as they are gorgeous. Relanna’s hail mary involved her invoking moons and creating shockwaves that enveloped the battlefield. I died many times from that attack before finally getting my dodge timing down. Spending hours in repeated attempts to defeat a boss is the definitive Soulslike formula, after all.

One of Shadow of the Erdtree's bosses, Divine Beast Dancing Lion.
FromSoftware

For those who were put off by some of the base game’s technical frustrations, know that those haven’t been cleaned up much here. The third-person camera still has a mind of its own, sometimes zooming in too close, especially with bigger bosses and enemies. That can obscure the player’s vision and become frustrating since being able to dodge in time is so important to survival. In one fight, a boss pinned me against a wall multiple times. The camera clipped, and I couldn’t see anything as I was subsequently trampled to death. Devoted fans have come to expect this in FromSoftware games at this point, but it’s still a fair sticking point for newcomers.

Even if it isn’t an overhaul of Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree is a massive achievement in both open-world and DLC design. It’s a daunting task to provide new content for one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, especially with the expectations surrounding it. However, the over two-year wait was well worth it as there’s a staggering amount of content to play with here. Those who love Elden Ring will experience the same sense of awe and surprise that they felt on their first playthrough. The massive world, challenging bosses, and game-changing equipment make this expansion feel like an unofficial sequel.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree was tested on Xbox Series X.

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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