Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree brings further depth and grandeur to FromSoftware's masterpiece (2024)

I got a pretty good sense of how things would go down in Shadow of the Erdtree when, mere seconds into my preview session, I found myself ambushed and fighting for my life. My scenic ride through golden fields was interrupted by a hunched monstrosity with dual discs, who pounced on my head and wouldn't give me a second to breathe. A boss fight, you might ask? Nope - this was just a regular enemy. There's a definite sense that even normal enemies in the Land of Shadow hit harder, and are simply more aggressive, than those in the base game. With danger around every corner, you're kept constantly on the defensive, rekindling that same mixture of fear and excitement you likely felt when taking your first steps through The Lands Between.

This is a DLC that's perfectly pitched to challenge Elden Ring veterans, then. But more than that, Shadow of the Erdtree feels like a FromSoftware greatest hits album. It takes all the things that made Elden Ring extraordinary - its grandiose atmosphere, memorable boss fights and darkly humorous level design - refines these elements, and turns the volume up to 10. Better still, it gives you an even wider range of weapons and tools with which to explore these features. And honestly, what else could you want from an Elden Ring DLC than more of the good stuff?

One thing that does feel different, however, is that the Land of Shadow has a rather more ominous atmosphere than the other regions in the Lands Between. After defeating Radahn and Mohg, you can hold Miquella's withered hand to be transported to this new area. Here, blackened veils drape across the sky, buildings are swathed in heavy cloth, and ghostly tombstones loom from the ground in a golden valley called Gravesite Plain. One of the key themes in this realm is death - or at least, the many different death rites and rituals that have been forbidden by the Golden Order. As Elden Ring loreheads will know, Marika sealed away the Rune of Death to achieve immortality for herself and her offspring, making all other death rituals taboo in the process. In the early stages of my journey through the Land of Shadow, I came across a tower called the Pillar of Suppression, at the top of which read: "The very center of the Lands Between. All manners of Death wash up here, only to be suppressed." It seems this place has been deliberately hidden from view by the Golden Order, to conceal anything that might trouble the prevailing belief system.

Walking through the starting area also reveals the lingering after-effects of "the tyranny of Messmer's flame", with plenty of burned-out villages and ghostly figures lamenting that they were killed despite living innocent lives. One of the very first creatures you see is a burning wicker man from Messmer's army - a terrifying presence that either tries to squish you or add you to its flaming corpse collection. From the gameplay trailer we know that Messmer is likely another of Marika's children, and he seems to harbour a distaste for Tarnished. This was confirmed when I encountered one of his Fire Knights, who declared death upon those stripped of the grace of gold, and lobbed a tracking fireball towards me that took off most of my health bar. Sigh.

In true FromSoftware fashion, however, the early stages of Shadow of the Erdtree raise more questions than answers. Messmer's intentions remain something of a mystery, and the question of what Miquella is doing here is something you must actively investigate. Followers of Miquella can be found throughout the region, with many of these NPCs seemingly having converted to Miquella from other gods, citing Miquella's remarkable kindness. There are glowing markers throughout the world described as Miquella's 'footprints' or 'gravestones', showing places where he "abandoned a part of the flesh of [his] body". It sounds a little similar, perhaps, to the way Ranni abandoned her own physical body in order to escape the influence of the Golden Order. You're asked to search for these markers to help track down Miquella's route through the Land of Shadow, and discover what he intends to do here.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree brings further depth and grandeur to FromSoftware's masterpiece (1)
Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree brings further depth and grandeur to FromSoftware's masterpiece (2)

One of the most enticing places in the opening area is Belurat, Tower Settlement - a fortress that's both mysterious and enormous in scale. It's a place I staggered into after being humiliated by a side boss with a massive greatsword and explosive crossbow (I'll see you in a few weeks, Blackgaol Knight). Belurat is something of a classic FromSoftware castle, with tight corridors, horrible creatures and a ton of jumpscares. Thinking of peeking behind a waterfall? Prepare for a sword to the face. Exploring the downstairs basem*nt? Enjoy a sewer full of insect people. Despite being located in the early stages of the DLC, the enemies here are tough, and half the battle is figuring out a route to the top of the tower.

Once you've successfully navigated the perilous ascent over the rooftops (dodging dual-wielding swordsmen and ghostflame-spouting bird statues), your reward is a particularly gruelling boss battle. As seen in the gameplay trailer, Divine Beast Dancing Lion is a three-bodied creature that spins around while spewing frost and throwing lightning bolts. When it's swivelling around above you, it can be particularly tricky to anticipate its next attack.

Challenges like these, of course, prompt you to experiment with your loadout and tools - but if you get really stuck in this DLC, FromSoftware has introduced a new way to augment your combat power. Scadutree Blessing fragments and Revered Spirit Ash Blessing fragments can be found throughout the Land of Shadow, with the first bolstering your character's ability to "deal and negate damage", and the second improving the power of your summoned spirits and spiritual steed. (I'm guessing the Scadutree is the name of that big tree at the centre of the Land of Shadow, FYI.) Much like a Sacred Tear, these blessing fragments can be activated at sites of Grace, but they only apply to your character when you are in the Land of Shadow. It seems like a neat way to ensure that high-level players are given a challenge through the innate difficulty of the DLC, while lower-level players have an option to boost their power if they so wish.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree brings further depth and grandeur to FromSoftware's masterpiece (3)

I activated some of these blessings during my preview, but I didn't detect much of a change in my attacking power - so you may need to stack several blessings to make a noticeable difference. For me, the key to defeating troublesome enemies was by experimenting with new weapons, and Shadow of the Erdtree brings some exciting additions in this department. There were three builds made available to us as part of the preview session - warrior, knight and sorcerer - and I chose to try the sorcerer's new martial arts fighting style. Known as 'Dryleaf Arts', this item allows you to fight with kicks and punches, in a way somewhat reminiscent of Sekiro's Senpou Monks. I had a phenomenal time using this on regular enemies, where it felt very easy to chain attacks and essentially stunlock opponents. There's also just something very cathartic about giving Elden Ring's enemies a good punch.

Yet the Dryleaf Arts didn't give me enough attacking power when it came to boss fights, and I found myself looking for alternative options. Surprisingly, I found the new 'infinite' throwing knife (the Smithscript Dagger) to be a useful mid-range weapon that helped me take down the big annoying lion. The dagger allowed me to keep my distance from the beast, while also doing a lot more damage than any of my magic could. Importantly, it meant I could quickly dodge attacks without having to commit myself to the slower wind-up of my spells. In short, it's great news for those who enjoy a rogue playstyle and who don't want to spend all day crafting darts.

What's remarkable is that, even after three hours playing the DLC, it felt as though I had barely scratched the surface of the starting region. During the preview one of my neighbours showed me their warrior character, who was exploring a hidden area at the side of the map and flinging a Thor-like axe that reappeared in his hand once thrown. There were locked doors in Belarut that remained sealed, and another large fortress called Castle Ensis that I was only able to visit briefly. From the southern border of our preview area you could spot a reddish, swampy region that led all the way towards a colossal mountain, while there were vertical cliffs above the plains that offered a glimpse of lush, tree-filled areas. The sense of discovery that feels so intrinsic to Elden Ring - the promise of dozens of secrets, tools and locations to uncover - is absolutely present in Shadow of the Erdtree, and then some.

The defining memory of my preview session was, in fact, an unexpected adventure into a secret dungeon. Having stumbled across a cave entrance near a lake, I was stunned to discover an enormous cavern that stretched down miles into the ground. With a deep blue haze and jars scattered everywhere, it was a hauntingly beautiful place... and then the fun and games began. During my descent the pathway crumbled to dust several times, making me wonder just how often I was going to fall for this trick, before I found a chamber filled with jars suspended on chains. I jumped my way down between pots, proud of my parkour skills, until I landed on the final jar - which suddenly sprouted arms. Ah. The silliness and humour of the level design then shifted to all-out body horror when I was confronted by the creatures that reside inside Living Jars. If you want to imagine what they looked like, think back to how Alexander squashed bodies inside himself following the Radahn fight. It was absolutely disgusting, and I loved it.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree brings further depth and grandeur to FromSoftware's masterpiece (5)

It's hard to guess the exact size of the DLC area - large swathes of it were blocked out on the preview map - but I suspect Hidetaka Miyazaki's description of it being larger than Limgrave might be a little on the humble side. That also doesn't take into account how dense some of these locations are: I spent most of my time just exploring the heights and depths of Belurat.

One thing that's certain, however, is Shadow of the Erdtree already has the look and feel of an absolute epic. With its sombre atmosphere, intricate worldbuilding and cheeky level design, it has all the ingredients required for an additional chapter of Elden Ring's sprawling narrative. Since putting down my controller at the end of the preview session, my mind keeps wandering back to the Land of Shadow to consider what could be hidden within its craggy cliffs and hills. There are few games that can conjure up a feeling of such vast mystery and potential. When the DLC releases in just a few weeks, I look forward to re-experiencing the trepidation of setting forth into these tantalising, unknown lands. And, of course, being stomped on once again. You've got to be realistic about these things.

This preview is based on a press trip to Paris. Bandai Namco covered travel and accomodation.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree brings further depth and grandeur to FromSoftware's masterpiece (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rob Wisoky

Last Updated:

Views: 6064

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rob Wisoky

Birthday: 1994-09-30

Address: 5789 Michel Vista, West Domenic, OR 80464-9452

Phone: +97313824072371

Job: Education Orchestrator

Hobby: Lockpicking, Crocheting, Baton twirling, Video gaming, Jogging, Whittling, Model building

Introduction: My name is Rob Wisoky, I am a smiling, helpful, encouraging, zealous, energetic, faithful, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.