Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree Review: An Unmissable DLC

Elden Ring's massive Shadow of the Erdtree DLC is a superb achievement.

FromSoftware referring to Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree simply as DLC really feels rather modest on the developer's part once you're able to experience the sheer scope of what it has to offer. Shadow of the Erdtree is more akin to Elden Ring 1.5 or (in the best way possible) a fan-made remake that comes out years later after players have had time to digest the base game and discern what they'd want out of a semi-sequel. If you've seen Elden Ring through to the end and beaten the main story or have at least gotten close, you owe it to yourself to play through Shadow of the Erdtree to elevate your Elden Ring experience even further.

That's exactly what I've been doing for the past roughly 60 hours that I've spent in Elden Ring's massive Shadow of the Erdtree expansion over the past week or so. After spending all that time felling boss after boss and unearthing secrets in the Realm of Shadow, it's a bit humbling to resign myself to the fact that there's no shot I've done anywhere near enough to 100% complete the DLC. Even with all the core bosses and (I think) the "final" boss of the DLC beaten, my final day spent playing Shadow of the Erdtree consisted of finding new, unexplored areas found only after the blinding fervor to overcome a boss was lifted.

Shadow of the Erdtree owes much of its perpetual opportunities for discovery to the brilliant way the Realm of Shadow is set up. While comparisons between the Realm of Shadow and Limgrave in terms of size hold true, the size of Shadow of the Erdtree's play area heavily employs verticality into its unstructured exploration. FromSoftware's maps across its various games always excel at showing the player something far away that they'll actually reach through enough progression, and the same is true for Shadow of the Erdtree when you're looking deep down into ravenous canyons from atop castle walls. If you can see it in Shadow of the Erdtree – and sometimes even if you can't – there's a good chance you can go there.

To that end, it's only fair to point out that the Shadow of the Erdtree map is, at times, woefully unhelpful. The same could probably be said for the base Elden Ring map, but due to the very vertical nature of the Realm of Shadow, the DLC map just doesn't cut it when it comes to things like showing the player in a tunnel or otherwise underneath a certain area. Elden Ring's self-driven exploration where a missed phrase from an NPC will leave you at a loss is already daunting enough, so perhaps the map could cut us some slack here and there.


One of the many new enemies in Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree.


Looking for nooks and crannies and hidden passageways without outside help naturally added to those 60ish hours of play, but another major contributor was the gross amount of new weapons, incantations, spells, and gear to adorn yourself with. The loot Shadow of the Erdtree offers is varied and enticing enough that it made me, a devout Strength/Faith user through every Souls game, respec my character so much that I had a Wiki pulled up to track down every last Larval Tear. From hand-to-hand combat to perfume arts and sunflower hammers, Shadow of the Erdtree has a bit of everything, and you're going to want to try it all.

What's really exciting about the new Elden Ring loot in Shadow of the Erdtree, however, is that it's allowed FromSoftware to experiment and push the boundaries of what players expect from a game like this. Despite being fueled by fantasy, Dark Souls and its sequels have always been fairly sensible and regulated in terms of combat and abilities – nobody's doing things too far off from what you'd expect in those games so that everything makes sense in the context of the worlds you're playing in. Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice experiment further with that formula through trick weapons and more acrobatic combat, but again, their mechanics make sense in their respective settings.

Shadow of the Erdtree, however, gives players tools that sound like things you'd find in the top-rated mods for Elden Ring. Throwable knives are one thing, but a throwable hammer that could knock someone flat before magically appearing in your hands? You can have that in Shadow of the Erdtree. Flurries of fists and feet and weapon arts that'll have you moving around like you're someone else's boss battle? You can have that in Shadow of the Erdtree.

Some of Shadow of the Erdtree's NPCs shirk the base game's conventions, too, to tremendous effect. Igon is the best example of this as a fiery character who sounds shockingly out of place in the DLC compared to the normal characters that are reserved and pronounced even when brimming with anger. The raw emotion of Igon and his story pieced together through the environmental details FromSoftware does so well helped make Igon's story and the culmination of his specific quest the most memorable part of Shadow of the Erdtree's various threads to be followed.


A boss found in Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree.


Those different quests are just as dense and difficult to follow as they are in the base game (assuming you're not using outside help on them), but the bosses waiting at the end of them are almost always worth the headache. A mix of monstrous and humanoid bosses make up Shadow of the Erdtree's gauntlet of baddies, and while it's tough to make generalize experiences since different builds make certain challenges easier or harder, I don't think it's a stretch to say that all of the main bosses in Shadow of the Erdtree are teetering around Malenia levels of difficulty. Two bosses in particular which won't be named here due to spoilers took dozens and dozens of tries where they gradually got easier until something clicked and responses to their movesets became reflexes. As far as boss density goes, the Realm of Shadow far outstrips any particular section of the base game's map.

New resources like Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes help make sure your characters are up to the task for these Shadow of the Erdtree bosses, but those only do so much to soften what was easily the most challenging FromSoftware DLC I've played. Aside from a small complaint that some of the more humanoid bosses seemed a bit too agile for their own good at times to the point that there were hardly opportunities for counterattacks even after perfect evasions, Shadow of the Erdtree largely seemed fair, too, to balance out its oppressive fights.

There's no doubt in my mind that there's more to do still in Shadow of the Erdtree if not in this playthrough then definitely the next. Some NPC's quests were seen through to the end while other stories were very clearly cut short prematurely due to a missed trigger or encounter, but that's FromSoftware for you. If anything, all those missed connections and areas unexplored only make the prospect of returning to the Realm of Shadow on New Game+ with a bunch of new toys to play with that much more enticing.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree was played on the PC with a review code provided by the publisher.