Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree DLC Review - Kill Them With Kindness

  • First Released Feb 25, 2022
  • PC

From Software's expansion for Elden Ring offers an entire new game's worth of content, all of which is exceptionally executed.

Late into Shadow of the Erdtree, Elden Ring's first and only DLC, I encountered something I'd never seen before in a From Software game. Nestled in a far corner of the Land of Shadow was a village untouched by the death, devastation, and decay left in the wake of Messmer The Impaler's bloody conquest. There, I watched trees sway gently as the wind swept through and marveled at the multicolored flowers spread across a field of lush green grass. The twilight of an overhanging moon met the golden rays of a life-giving tree towering above, creating a dream-like tranquility that was accentuated by soft, sorrowful music. No monsters lurked in the shadows and no threats awaited around corners; there was just beautiful, untarnished serenity.

Shadow of the Erdtree takes players to the Land of Shadow, a place that has been hidden away, where the laws of the venerated Golden Order that governs The Lands Between were written in blood, and that has been forgotten and left to fester. Battling through the Land of Shadow's numerous castles, caves, and crypts delivers exactly what you want from a From Software game and what made Elden Ring an open-world masterpiece when it was released two years ago. It offers the same thrilling sense of player-empowered exploration and rewarding discovery, as well as the satisfaction of triumphing over adversity. These aspects of Elden Ring are all as potent in Shadow of the Erdtree, but it's the game's subversions that are the most striking.

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Now Playing: Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree DLC Review

Shadow of the Erdtree is full of surprises, whether it's an unexpected moment of calm, a new gameplay twist, or a narrative revelation. The biggest of these, however, pertains to my expectations. I was ready for a modest-sized expansion to the world of Elden Ring akin to Bloodborne's The Old Hunters or Dark Souls 3's Ringed City. What I got, however, was a full-fledged, 30-hour game crafted by a team that is peerless when it comes to creating worlds that feel as dangerous and unnerving to be in as they are satisfying to conquer.

Unsurprisingly, conquering the Land of Shadow isn't easy. Even if you've completed the base game and have spent hundreds of hours scouring the Lands Between for weapons, spells, and items while leveling up your Tarnished warrior, the Land of Shadow renews the sense of challenge by once again stacking the odds against you. Every battle in the DLC is hard-fought, with everything from roving mobs of soldiers and immortal skeletons to legendary warriors and beings from the outer reaches of the cosmos being deadly threats.

This is because the DLC uses a distinct leveling system referred to as Shadow Realm blessings. Scadutree Fragments scattered around the Land of Shadow can be used at Sites of Grace to raise attack power and damage negation, while Revered Spirit Ash will do the same for Torrent, your spectral steed, and your Spirit Ash summons. There is a unique set of stats that only apply to your character while in the Land of Shadow, so all Tarnished will start on the back foot. But through careful exploration and by defeating notable enemies, you can gain the strength to stand your ground a bit more.

Saying that the DLC makes the game hard again is a very obvious thing to point out, but the implication of it shouldn't be underestimated. After hundreds of hours in the Lands Between, a place designed to be unforgiving to the foul Tarnished in search of the Elden Ring, it feels more like home than an uncharted land of dangers. The Land of Shadow is a strong reminder of how intoxicating the feeling of fighting tooth and nail to survive is. In service of enhancing the glory of victory and the sting of defeat, From Software has outdone itself when it comes to enemy design and boss encounters. There are certain demonic denizens of the Land of Shadow who, even having completed the game, I'm not confident I could consistently defeat. Some move in a way that is unpredictable and erratic, making it difficult to find an opening to strike, while others simply tank your attacks and dish out retaliations threefold, ending your life in the blink of an eye.

Bosses require careful observation and precise executions to best. Moreso than in the Lands Between, I found myself switching weapons and strategies frequently to meet the needs of the challenge I was facing. Early on, while fighting a particularly aggressive boss wielding two swords, I opted to add a shield with a parry ability to my build, allowing me to negate some of the damage and create opportunities to do damage. In another fight, I kept my opponent at arm's length by using a weapon that had longer reach, while also buffing myself using magic and items to make my attacks more deadly. Shadow of the Erdtree provides an excellent mix of bosses that will test your skill and understanding of encounters, and many are jaw-dropping spectacles that show off just how good From Software is at making weird and majestic creatures that make you feel fragile.

The game doesn't make any drastic changes to the underlying gameplay mechanics beyond the upgrade system but does introduce a lot of variety through new weapons, magic spells, and items. A single playthrough isn't enough to get a good grasp on it all, given how many there are, but you're sure to find something new that'll introduce a fresh dynamic to combat strategies. I was particularly fond of the hand-to-hand combat options, and switched between the focused punches and kicks of the Dryleaf Arts and the ferocious Red Bear's Claw, which tears at the enemy with a flurry of strikes. Otherwise, Shadow of the Erdtree plays like Elden Ring, which is nothing to balk at given how refined its combat is.

[Shadow of the Erdtree is] crafted by a team that is peerless when it comes to creating worlds that feel as dangerous and unnerving to be in as they are satisfying to conquer.

The real magic, however, is in the exploration, which leverages From Software's unrivaled skill at creating memorable worlds. The Lands Between has an impressive range of locations to adventure in--the vast fields of Limgrave, the magical Academy of Raya Lucaria, and the depths of the Siofra and Ainsel rivers, to name a few--but its key areas are all spread out across a significant landmass. The Land of Shadow manages to capture the same sense of scale but is more dense in its construction. This means you're moving from one memorable location to the next in quick succession, and each location has that handcrafted feel that you wouldn't expect from an open-world game; they have distinct color palettes, lighting, architecture, enemies and sounds, all of which come together to evoke a very particular mood and atmosphere.

Three-Path Cross, one of the first locations you arrive in, is immediately identifiable as a place where significant life was lost. Graves stretch out as far as the eye can see, and gray, withered trees twist in on themselves, seemingly razed in a wave of fire. Pained violin notes and subtle but haunting operatic singing make it feel like you're in an afterlife of sorts--a cursed Valhalla. Another location changes the tone of the game to that of psychological horror, in which you're hunted by terrifying enemies that drive you to madness in seconds. It's dark and gray, with a fog so thick hanging above that light barely makes it through. It's a place that bears the signs of an Outer God's meddling and the spooky ambience makes every step forward tense. In yet another location, a blood-red sky pulses with the light of thunder, with severe and sharp mountain ranges piercing the sky, as if a colossal dragon is biting into the great unknown above. Without exaggeration, every single major location in Shadow of the Erdtree is awe-inspiring.

The diversity of aesthetics and tones doesn't come at the cost of cohesion thanks to the way the Land of Shadow is layered and connected. Looping pathways and folding dungeons are a hallmark of From Software games, but in an open world, that's difficult to achieve outside of specific dungeons that are more isolated. While that moment of opening a door and finding yourself at the safety of a bonfire you were previously at are fewer and further in between, the satisfaction of them is more than matched in Shadow of Erdtree's feeling of following a route while not knowing where it leads, and then emerging into a vast new area. On more than a few occasions, I ventured down a ladder or off the beaten path and through a cave, only to emerge on the opposite side of the map.

There's depth and breadth to the Land of Shadow; each time I stumbled into a new location, I felt a little smaller and the world felt a whole lot bigger. A couple of these moments involved doing things that are admittedly a bit obtuse, to the point that they may make reaching specific areas frustrating, but they can be figured out by taking it slow and connecting a few dots, which messages left by players should help with. There's a moment in Elden Ring when, after beating Godrick, The Grafted, you walk out onto a cliff overlooking Liurnia. I remember having an eye-widening, "How big is this game?" reaction to that; Shadow of the Erdtree is filled with moments just like that. In every sense of the word, it is sublime--a world that inspires admiration with the immensity of its scale.

That scale is no less ambitious when it comes to narrative. As always, this is an area I will not describe in detail to preserve the experience for others. The basics, however, involve following in the footsteps of Miquella, an Empyrean who has seemingly abandoned the Golden Order, The Greater Will, and his mother, Queen Marika, in search of something else. This has taken him to the Land of Shadow, home of another child of Queen Marika: Messmer, The Impaler, and close behind him, other Tarnished have also gathered in the Land of Shadow to follow in Miquella's footsteps.

The story that is told in Shadow of the Erdtree is additive to Elden Ring's overall narrative and fills in some conspicuous gaps in our understanding of the events that transpired. Miquella's Cross can be found throughout the lands and serves as a breadcrumb trail that leads to a very surprising conclusion. While the stakes are huge for Miquella, the smaller personal stories of the fellow Tarnished are also memorable. There are connections back to figures in the Lands Between and references to new concepts that make the lore much richer. Importantly, it's a story that still is purposely full of gaps, leaving the door open for speculation and interpretation from the community of avid lore hunters that From Software's games have cultivated.

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Elden Ring was a masterful open-world game that I would describe as generation-defining--it will go down in history as one of the all-time greats. But, when the final blow was struck in the Land of Shadow and my journey came to an end, I couldn't help but reflect on how it has made me feel and what has stuck with me. Yes, the moment-to-moment gameplay is thrilling, full of opportunities, and refined to near perfection, but it's the universe that From Software and George R. R. Martin have built, and the stories they've told within it, that I believe is their crowning achievement.

With all that Shadow of the Erdtree offers to accompany what exists in the Lands Between, the story of Elden Ring now feels complete and its world whole, and it's a staggering achievement. It's dark fantasy done masterfully; rich in detail and intricate in its construction; a place that feels dangerous and cruel, filled with memorable characters, fascinating rules, mind-bending concepts, and competing ideologies. It's an achievement in world-building creativity that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, with the closest comparison I can make being the late, great Kentaro Miura's Berserk. Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is From Software's victory lap, an unmissable tour de force that is every bit as brilliant as the original game.

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The Good

  • An injection of fresh gameplay opportunities through new weapons and items
  • Arresting, beautiful, and horrifying locations that make the world feel even more dangerous
  • Refined gameplay challenge that is tough but fair, and so satisfying
  • An excellent addition to the lore of Elden Ring

The Bad

  • A couple of navigational puzzle quirks that can be tricky to figure out

About the Author

Tamoor completed Elden Ring's Shadow of the Erdtree in 30 hours using a strength build. He's going to play Elden Ring for hundreds of hours more.