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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree Review – Throwing Shade

Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (version reviewed), PC, Xbox Series
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG, Soulslike, Pure Torture

From Software has always been a game company that marches to the beat of its own drum.

From King’s Field to Dark Souls, it loves making its exclusive tier of role-playing games that are obtuse, cryptic, and difficult as heck (not you, Armored Core series; you are A-OK). One could argue that the former and latter series, and Elden Ring to an extent, are just the same games but with different perspectives and approaches, not to mention budget size. The more important factor separating them is that Dark Souls (and Demon Souls) are just accepted by players and content creators due to the then-saturated market of shooters and hand-holding games of the time, making From Software stand out from then until now.

Fast forward to 2022, Elden Ring lived up to delivering what is essentially an open-world Dark Souls (and King’s Field) game with multiple avenues of tackling bosses and special legacy dungeons. It certainly made an impression on us, as some people usually stay away from Soulsborne games sans the first Dark Souls because they play games to destress, not add more stress to themselves. But what made us adore Elden Ring is that it offers tons of playstyles and chances to break the game with many, many character builds from bleed-heavy katana fight styles to magic-casting nukes using the game’s plethora of spells and incantations. Fun times.

The Elden Ring DLC, dubbed Shadow of the Erdtree, is specifically made to counter most of these builds and challenge you further with all of its new enemies and boss battles, with some fun levels and dungeons serving as appetizers before the curbstomp that is the main course. Hell, the paid DLC does a skill check by requiring you to defeat a story boss Starscourge Radahn and an optional-and-tough boss Mohg the Lord of Blood.

That’s rather ballsy of From Software to gatekeep more than half of its base customers, but that’s pretty much the tone of the Elden Ring DLC: a bigger challenge. But does that equate to a better addition? Absolutely.

Shadow Play

 

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree takes you to an all-new area called the Shadowlands, and it’s as ominous and danger-filled as its name implies. No sooner than you step a few feet away from the first Site of Lost Grace in the new DLC, in a bright field filled with spectral gravestones and a foreboding vista, that you’re greeted by a dancing discus-blade-wielding masked psychopath waiting nearby. At a distance, you spot what seems to be a dark fantasy version of the Wicker Man display from that cult movie, only it has a burning brazier of fire and has area-of-effect attacks laced with every one of its moves. And it’ll chase you down the moment you start a ruckus with nearby flame-worshipper druid folk whose prime objective is to lure Tarnished warriors as easy experience points targets.

The DLC greets you with death immediately, and will make you change up your tactics from the base game and be a bit more cautious. Despite your character being past level 99 at this point, enemies here hit like trucks and demand your full attention. Fortunately, with new DLC comes new tools and upgrades. New weapons like the Dragon Hunter’s Great Katana (which replaced my current katana immediately), the Beast Claw, and “machine gun crossbows”, along with spells and Ashes of Wars like Glintblade Trio and Shriek of Sorrow, do open up new playstyles and bolster your already-solid builds in the base game. Noteworthy ones also include the Glovewort Crystal Tear that you can mix into your Flask of Wondrous Physick to buff up your Spirit Ash summons like the frequently-used Mimic Tear. On that note, the Martial Artist build you can form with the barehanded fighting options in the expansion is a treat. It’s useful and fast enough for other players to adopt and test out if they’re sick of using katanas and halberds.

Other new additions include the Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes. These passive bonuses to your stats are only active in the Shadowlands, but they do help toughen you up a bit. However, you can’t rely on these too much since every boss here can kill you in a few hits if you’re not good enough, much like all From Software games since Demon’s Souls.

Speaking of which, the new enemies and bosses will give you a run for their money on the challenge scale. If you thought some of the final few plus optional base game bosses were tough, the DLC will make you want to go back to them. Highlights(?) include the lion dance Divine Beast boss, the knight with the two elemental swords who is straight out of a character action game (like Maliketh the Black Blade but faster and a mid-sized target), a magic knight who occasionally morphs into a centaur for hard-hitting AoE attacks, a dragon boss to end all dragon bosses in From Software, and the guy on the DLC cover (as per From Software tradition).

To top it off, the DLC features a slew of uber-big bads related to the vague-but-still-intriguing Elden Ring storyline as a whole. The kind of lore bombs that will keep folks like VaatiVidya busy for a while. The prerequisite boss fights to access the DLC should clue you in as to who you will go up against in the final part of the game.

As we have stressed before, you’re not meant to coast through the DLC. You have to work your way through it, and it’s meant to be post-game content tier levels of difficulty. Even with the buffs you get, you will take an hour or so dying to the new DLC bosses until you get the hang of their attacks and telegraphs (and fake-outs), as well as figure out if your current build is right for these challenges. At the very least, the Shadowlands is built with the base game’s philosophy in mind: if you’re stuck at one boss, just explore the rest of the area that you haven’t uncovered yet, discover their Sites of Lost Grace, search for treasure and conquer the game’s new smaller dungeons (still using the same tilesets, by the by), and keep at it until you’re ready to challenge them again. From Software may have cranked up the difficulty for the DLC, much like its past practices with expansions, but it doesn’t stray far from the core design it sets out.

From Software RPG fans will eat plenty here, and will eventually “get good” enough for the DLC to enjoy what it has to offer. Even with the trademark From Software jank that’s still available in the base game -attacks completely missing in certain rare angles and positioning even though they look legit, the game registering extra inputs you aren’t meant to do- it’s what its fans and tryhards want and that won’t go away anytime soon.

The Shadow Falls

Elden Ring’s big expansion just adds more beautiful brutality and action RPGing carnage to its already-tough base. Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is meant to test the mettle of the game’s hardcore audience and isn’t going to let up soon. This isn’t going to change your mind about From Software’s approach to its dungeon crawlers: it’s either “get good” or go home and it intends to keep the messaging that way with its Shadow of the Erdtree expansion. The expansion’s new offerings and updates, as well as epic boss fights, are still as grand and challenging as ever to the point that you may see optional boss Malenia (both versions) from the base game as a “walk in the park”. In fighting game terms, imagine playing against a level 8 King of Fighters boss (Rugal, Goenitz, Igniz) with the handicap buff in their favour, and you playing a low-tier character. And your two partners in your three-man team are down. In layman’s term, you’re just paying someone who previously kicked you in the privates to do it 10 more times wearing steel-tip heels. And enjoying every second of it.

While we can’t recommend this to casual players who just want a chill experience -it’s just more of the same if we’re being honest- others who just want to better their metaphorical game will want to dive deep into the Shadowlands; about 30 hours worth of struggling and rediscovering new challenges to curbstomp you further than the base game already did. These special folks had 2 years to prepare, with the DLC being the mother of all expansions for them. You have to give From Software a lot of credit for not compromising: making games just for its core audience who just want bigger and better challenges while not giving anyone an easy out.

For the rest of the world, once is enough, especially if your paid DLC still requires you to jump through a few more difficulty-laden hoops. If you hated Soulsborne games, this sure as heck isn’t going to change your mind.

Pros

  • Beautiful desolate world & aesthetics.
  • Lovely new upgrades, weapons, & levels to find & explore.
  • Great challenges for veterans & tryhards from epic-looking bosses & new enemies.

Cons

  • Still brutally difficult and unfair at times, moreso than base game.
  • From Software trademark jank & awkward controls/feel.

 

Final Score: 70/100

Review code provided by publisher. 

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