Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review


Following the Elden Ring is a mammoth task. It’s one of my favorite games of all time, and there’s no shortage of content, intrigue, and surprises in the core adventure. Shadow of the Erdtree doesn’t outclass the core campaign, but expands it by adding a fun and fascinating fresh zone in the Shadowlands. With fun fresh dungeons, challenging fresh bosses, and a astute fresh form of progression, Shadow of the Erdtree gives Elden Ring fans more of everything that worked in the main game and is a fantastic excuse to brave the many dangers once again.

From Software expansions are known for being exceptionally more tough than the base game. Shadow of the Erdtree is more tough overall, but its degree will obviously vary depending on the character you bring into it. Since defeating Radahn and Mohg is the only prerequisite to start the expansion, and Shadow of the Erdtree requires the base game, players will likely exploit late-game or New Game+ characters. For context, I started the expansion using my endgame (level 165), a one-game-beater character who proved more than ready to take on the fresh threats – at least for a while.

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Due to these circumstances, your character will likely need a huge number of runes to level up. From Software has clearly taken this into account and introduced astute fresh progression items called Scadutree Fragments and Reverend Ash Fragments. These items, scattered throughout the map and spent at checkpoints, escalate overall damage and resistance: Scadutree for you and Reverend Ash for your Spirit Ashes (though the effect only applies in the expansion). It’s a great, streamlined method of powering up your character, and I love not having to rely solely on grinding to collect tens of thousands of runes just to level up once. This is also great for powering up maximum amounts of Spirit Ashes, allowing me to roll with my favorites after they’ve peaked in the base game. These bits won’t suddenly turn your Tarnished into an unstoppable juggernaut, but it’s a noticeable, if minor, difference that doesn’t break the game’s balance.

Without going into too much detail, Shadow of the Erdtree does its best to provide a surplus of smithing stones to upgrade the expansion’s plethora of fresh weapons (which can be used in the base game). This is a forceful argument for phasing out venerable favorites in favor of something fresh. In the early hours, I stubbornly stuck to the gear that made me successful in the main game. I ended up discovering a lot of frosty and powerful weapons, armor sets, spells, enchantments, and charms that forced me to create powerful fresh gear. Shadow of the Erdtree encourages experimentation as much as the main game, if not more, with an array of intimidating, grotesque, and in some cases downright bizarre fresh enemies.

Needless to say, Shadow of the Erdtree is no walk in the park. An impressive fresh class of armored enemies that would probably be considered mini-bosses in the base game now roam the map as a normal enemy type. They are so robust that I was shocked to see them respawn after spending a lot of time and effort defeating them once. The basket-like fire giants stomping around the map might as well be carrying signs that say “Play and Find Out” due to their obscene power and durability. Creative fresh boss encounters offer fresh – and infuriating – trials that had me screaming in pain after defeat and jumping for joy after victory. I won’t spoil any of them, but a few specific enemies may rival Malenia in difficulty. They’re all fun to take down and, just like in the main game, the sting of failure can often be remedied by simply moving to another place.

The Shadowlands may be smaller overall, but they’re still huge and contain some postcard-worthy locations, some of which are even tough to get to. Don’t be surprised if it takes dozens of hours to clear the fog from your map, as From Software makes good exploit of Shadowlands’ verticality to hide layers of key routes and openings. I appreciate how this layered approach to world design makes exploring the Shadowlands feel completely different than traversing the Lands Between. Trekking up or down is usually the answer to most navigation puzzles, with the former often offering stunning views of the landscape and the latter taking players down underground paths, revealing hidden ruins, villages, and more. Despite the increased challenge of finding the next location, the thrill of discovery remains a powerful motivator after more than 40 hours of play, and my curiosity was usually rewarded with a frosty location, a useful item, or a terrifying enemy.

New dungeons, including repetitive ones like smelting forges and underground prisons, beg to be explored closely with clever and devious secrets, showcasing more great examples of From’s unique level design. While it’s challenging to top stunning discoveries like the underground cities in the main game, there were a few compelling spots that made me stop to admire them and have a unique visual identity. It’s a real pleasure to meet the strange and questionably trustworthy faces that inhabit these zones. Even if you don’t fully understand (or care) what’s going on with Miquella and his followers, characters like the shady sorcerer asking for favors or coming into contact with strangely benevolent bug warriors contribute to the dizzying yet alluring charm of this extensions.

The lifeless but ultimately correct shorthand to sum up Shadow of the Erdtree is that it’s more of an Elden Ring. The incredible sense of exploration, fantastic dungeon design, gripping, deep combat, and intriguing story and characters that have defined From Software’s 2022 masterpiece all come to bear in this expansion. From Software didn’t drop the ball and make Elden Ring worse, nor do I think it completely topped what it had achieved before. Shadow of the Erdtree maintains its consistently high status quo, even if this time it loses some of the magic of being a familiar quantity instead of being a complete surprise. Still, Shadow of the Erdtree is a hell of a mic drop that further cements this adventure as one of the best ever created.

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