Elden Ring Shadow Of The Erdtree Expansion Review – Messmerising

There are many ways a game can be expanded with DLC. From adding a new chapter to a story to simply adding new features grafted onto the main game.

With Shadow Of The Erdtree, the one and only expansion for Elden Ring, developer FromSoftware decided to make another Elden Ring nestled inside Elden Ring.

Shadow Of The Erdtree expands the base game with more of everything, but the biggest triumph is that it allows players to re-experience the magic of playing Elden Ring for the first time. The wonderment, the suffering and the triumphs are all intact in this packed, yet loaded, expansion.

To even begin Shadow Of The Erdtree, the player must prove their worth by going through a series of non-story progression. What was oddly a dead in a long line of side content progression capping with the fight against Mohg, Lord Of Blood, now continues on after you touch that big cocoon with a hand poking out oozing with blood. So this is for players approaching the late game, though it will be helpful if you progress just a bit further into the base game story.

The expansion expands the lore of Elden Ring further as players follow the footsteps of Miquella. Lore and story of other established characters are explored here, as well as new characters like Messemer The Impaler.

Punted Into The Shadow Realm

Shadow Of The Erdtree takes you to an entirely new map seperate from the Lands Between. The place is interchangeably referred to as the Land Of Shadow, the Realm of Shadow, or, more hilariously, the Shadow Realm. Look, the name’s cool, but between Yu-Gi-Oh and inside jokes in the racing game community I just find “Shadow Realm” to be a silly name despite it actually sounding cool.

Things stop being funny quickly when you first discover that in the Shadow Realm, you’re essentially beginning from scratch. You still carry over your level and gear, but in this new open world map, the damage and defenses stats go through a different scaling, so it will be normalised to lower numbers.

What this results in is that people who have gone through multiple New Game+ playthroughs thinking they are overpowered for Shadow Of The Erdtree have been humbled by the new terrors that lurk in the Shadow Realm. Soulslike games aren’t hard, they are punishing.

How Shadow Of The Erdtree Is Seemingly More Difficult, Thanks To One Simple Trick

And Shadow Of The Erdtree amps up the punishment game even further with one simple trick: knights. The base game has its fair share of Crucible Knights roaming about. These are enemies that are generally much stronger than the usual mob enemies.

A lot of the dungeons are littered with Black Knights, Fire Knights as well as the new Ascetic enemies that are tall and wield chakram-like backhand daggers where its front silhouette looks vulgar. And these enemies will quickly dispatch you in a few hits if they get catch you lacking. Even worse, some of these enemies have high poise, they won’t simply flinch by your hard hits which allows them every opportunity to whip out their special attacks.

The way the enemy placement is done in Shadow Of The Erdtree shows that FromSoft still has more tricks up their sleeves. Players who have grown confident in spotting sneak attacks from blind corners and ambushes around a glowing item will find themselves humbled yet again by enemies that have no business being this strong this early in the game. Even with enough Scadutree Blessings, the new levelling system that specifically works in this expansion, they are still a menace.

But that’s not the only new trick, there are new enemies with new ways to mess you up. And it can be infuriating because the tricks are rather obvious but you still fall into the proverbial mousetrap. And it that way, Shadow Of The Erdtree is able to recapture that nostalgia of suffering through punishing trials that hardened Elden Ring players, presumably, miss.

(A new patch has dropped to buff the early Scadutree Blessings levels, so players did not miss being punished really hard in the early game.)

It’s Supposed To Be Punishing, Not Hard

By mid-game with enough Scadutree Blessings levels, the game feels fine, difficulty wise. But the early game feels a bit rough. Yes, we all know you start out a bit weaker, by how much? It’s hard to internalise that as the first few areas you go you face new enemies. And I can’t tell if they are supposed to be stupidly strong or I am just underleveled.

Do I need to upgrade my weapons to max levels? Because enemies drop Smithing Stones like it’s candy, and all of upgrade materials for weapons and Spirit Ashes, especially the max level ones, are easy to get. Though some levels don’t drop as often- I find Smithing Stone (7) don’t drop as often so I can’t use the new weapons as much as I want to because I can’t upgrade them to the max like my go-to Armaments are. Enemies are just to stubborn to die in the early parts of the expansion.

This disconnect is why some players, players who have gone through a good chunk of the base game already to reach this far and should be fairly competent at the game, find the game difficult. Again, soulslike aren’t hard, they’re punishing. But when players struggle to see why they are punished so hard that’s not a good sign.

And don’t get me started with the boss fights. They are insane, in that it overwhelms you with awe that you’ll be awestruck for a while to process what even are these moves (sometimes literally, there are big framerate drops in some of these big attacks). Which means, expect to just die over and over as you process how to even approach these boss fights.

People are losing it over one of the earlier boss fights that will change the way one would look at Chinese New Year celebrations. And expect that level of intensity in the other boss fights, including the optional fights.

You will need to be at your peak performance, and done the necessary preparations (get the Scadutree Blessing level up). It is during this expansion that I, an inexperience soulslike player, finally understands the value of applying buffs pre-fights and the handy use of Ashes Of War. Because these boss fights aren’t playing around.

That being said, I have had boss encounters that completely wipe me in two hits, despite the earlier level segment I can clear the mobs in two hits myself. The level spikes here are so weird.

It’s Not A Circle, It’s A Spiral

But the appeal of the expansion isn’t about its difficulty. At least not entirely. What captivated me the most is how packed the Shadow Realm is with exploration opportunities. FromSoftware remains second to none when it comes creating worlds that’s just fun to explore, and arguably some of the most fun exploration for a game with an open world.

Like the Lands Between, the Shadow Realm loves its spiral labyrinths. And that’s not just the dungeons having a clever loops and circling paths, but the entire open world. So many instances where you climb upwards or fall downwards to access the many layers of lands in the Land Of Shadow.

The Shadow Realm map looks smaller but it packs just as many secrets and discoveries, especially off the beaten path. From the serene azure sights of the southern coast to the not-poison-swamp-but-just-as-bad bogs that will drive you crazy hidden down under the depths. And from the grassy lands that cover the north to the craggly rocks and finger-rocks that uncolour the southeast. The Shadow Realm has its fair share of new gimmicks, but also plenty of diverging paths to explore. As long as you remember those diverging paths you have yet went to after running for your life from an unexpected, way-too-strong-for-now giant enemy of sort, that is.

One particular change to the base game in terms of exploration is how well-hidden some of the paths to the next layer of area are. In two separate occasions I found a huge hole, thinking this must lead to somewhere, but couldn’t find a way to get into them. After coming back to the same holes later (after a few more Scadutree Blessings levels) I eventually spot the paths from the many messages on the floor. The first time I didn’t see them is probably because I was under duress from all the enemies hanging out around the hole ready to smack an unsuspected Tarnished that stares too far down into the hole to notice getting hit in the back. Cheeky as always.

There are still mini-dungeons like the underground tombs, and they get a big glow-up. Some of these tombs really makes use of the St. Marika statue as the dungeon goes on and on for so long. There’s also a new type of mini-dungeon, the Forges, which are exceptionally creative. Instead of the challenge being a boss fight, it’s about navigating through tight areas where there are enemies that are way, way to strong but slow. And the solution to reach the final reward of these Forges require some lateral thinking to reach- the ones I discovered involves clever uses of lifts and gates to reach certain areas. Thankfully, even without looking up a guide, you can sometimes stumble into the right path via online messages left by players.

There are many moments where I have to stop and look around for the online messages, hoping that some good fellow would leave hints, only to find messages of “I want to go home” or worse, “I want to go home and Edge”.

Though that’s not to say they are not many helpful messages. Instead of troll messages about hidden walls, now people are outright telling there’s indeed no hidden wall and asks to “praise the message” like a YouTuber saying “like and subscribe”. And annoyingly it works- those messages are pretty popular and in the thousands.

The in-game social media meta has evolved, but the community still carry on with new inside jokes. Somehow, those “but hole” messages actually are more helpful than ever before. And these helpful and oftentimes goofy, messages from fellow players certainly adds to the enjoyment of going through the expansion, just like the base game.

And of course, it would be remiss of me to not mention how stunning the Shadow Realm looks. Elden Ring manages to combine the horrifying and grotesque imagery with the serene and wonderful. A lot of stunning views from vistas, plains with vivid use of colours, as well as enough swamps and sewers to balance them out. The visuals sure are mesmerising.

Closing Thoughts

If you read this far and start to think that all these points is just as applicable to the Elden Ring base game, that’s because they are. Shadow Of The Erdtree is practically Elden Ring again.

I wanted to say it’s a smaller Elden Ring package, but I’ve now lost more than 40 hours into this and only halfway through seeing all the content it has to offer, when my base game progress was about 75 hours already from start and up until the fight with Mohg.

This expansion is huge, even if quantity-wise it adds only a handful of new content. A few new weapons (including new weapon types), some new armour sets, though there’s a big load of new talismans and craftable items that surely will be helpful to bring back into the base game. It feels huge.

Shadow Of The Erdtree is the next best thing to a sequel to Elden Ring, because this is Elden Ring, again. If you’re craving for more content out of action RPG and you’ve progressed far enough, or better yet, have beaten the game already, Shadow Of The Erdtree lets you re-experience the start of a new adventure, but in a more concentrated package.

The bitterness that is the punishment factor for each mistake made is definitely heighten, but that concentration of flavour also makes its triumphs all the more sweeter.

Now I’m even more excited should FromSoft ever make an expansion for Armored Core VI. Which they should.

Played on PS5. Review code provided by the publisher.

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