Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware’s masterpiece

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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware’s masterpiece

We reviewed Shadow of the Erdtree, a huge and surprising expansion, which consolidates FromSoftware’s position among the best development teams around

At the time of its announcement, Elden Ring had sparked quite a few insecurities among FromSoftware fans . Miyazaki’s team has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for evolution over the years, yet it was difficult to believe that its designers could translate the intelligence of the maps and worlds of their soulslikes into a formula that is inherently more dispersive and difficult to manage like the open one world.

Without a doubt these were justifiable concerns at the time, however largely born from a lack of historical awareness of who this group of creatives constantly balancing between genius and madness really is: the developers of FromSoftware had brilliant and unconventional ideas from the very beginning of their career , even in the era in which they produced titles considered “barely passable” by critics; they only lacked the technical skills and resources to really give shape to their eclectic inventions: when their games started to make money and there was a significant growth in the workforce, the steps forward were gigantic, so much so as to give life to one of the best open worlds around, exceptional in most of its aspects and truly unique in its approach to the content.

True, the structural transformation inevitably led the house to make some mistakes – the game absolutely has some excess in terms of content and balance – yet it is really impossible to complain about the general quality of what was created. Furthermore, Elden Ring has literally managed to disintegrate the barrier that still separated soulslikes from the general public and has become a sort of cultural gaming phenomenon with 25 million copies sold and a community that can’t wait to see more content.

This content, therefore, promptly arrived in the form of an expansion called Shadow of the Erdtree , which from the beginning seemed much more ambitious than the past DLCs from Miyazaki and company (which also included names like Old Hunters or Artorias of the Abyss, so certainly not trifles). We’ve been digging into it in recent days, trying to reveal every secret and what we saw seriously made our jaw drop. Shadow of the Erdtree is a scary expansion in terms of content , which fits perfectly into the original game and improves numerous elements, even if in doing so it returns to a vision closer to the brutality of the original Souls.

Texture: Lots of light in this world of shadows

We have already said it several times, but we might as well repeat it for those who are not yet aware: Shadow of the Erdtree is clearly designed for those who have already finished and exhausted the base game and its requirements are quite difficult, given that one of the two bosses deleting to gain access is optional and not the easiest to find.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
The characters of Shadow of the Erdtree are a heterogeneous group to say the least and they all have a dedicated mission. Completing them all, as usual, will not be easy

The offending names are Radahn and Mohg and the DLC justifies their elimination in a perfectly sensible way, however it is understandable that, for many players accustomed to immediate access to additional content, this choice is much closer to the first souls (access to Artorias of the Abyss was far from intuitive, so to speak) might annoy. , and for our part we consider FromSoftware’s ability to not bend to classic conventions even in the face of the tsunami of sales of Elden Ring to be truly fascinating.

Once Mohg is knocked out, from his arena you can access the Land of Shadows, after speaking with an armored knight named Leda, who will ask for your assistance in retracing the footsteps of her lord, Miquella. The path of the mysterious empyrean in these new lands full of dangers will practically be your guideline to get to the end of the DLC, and its runes a clear signal that you are moving in the right direction. However, don’t expect the new land created by the Japanese studio to be a straight line towards the final boss, because the Land of Shadows is the most elaborate and labyrinthine open map ever created by FromSoftware . When we mentioned a return to the origins we weren’t joking: this new region is huge and its most mysterious points require you to carefully explore certain areas to be found. What’s incredible, however, is the painstaking care put into almost each of these new settings : they are full of secondary dungeons, challenges, mysteries and equipment, as well as being once again artistically exceptional. And if from the point of view of artistic direction the base game is often surpassed, but not always, in terms of map design Shadow of the Erdtree beats it practically every single time, demonstrating the aforementioned ability of FromSoftware developers to learn from mistakes and to listen to feedback.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
These cheerful beasts have a shameless amount of life points, and if eliminated they drop new tears for the ampoule. Raise your fire resistance, you’ll need it

An example? The game manages its rewards much better : side dungeons, points of interest, map encounters and other explorations practically always offer more weapons, pieces of armor, amulets and whatnot, eliminating much of the dissatisfaction that some players felt in the base game when, after facing a tortuous cave full of opponents, they found themselves with little more than an amulet (perhaps completely useless for their approach to battles). Furthermore, after having experienced several of them, we find it really difficult to define the dungeons of Shadow of the Erdtree as “secondary”. Miyazaki and Tanimura’s team clearly also took to heart the criticisms of those who complained about the banality of some of this content when compared to Legacy Dungeons, and therefore opted for the best possible solution: curating them at a level comparable to that of primary dungeons.

Each dungeon in the expansion, even the smallest one, contains a peculiarity of some kind; some caves are full of environmental puzzles or conditions to overcome to reach the final objective, others of enemies with specific characteristics to be circumvented or eliminated in a creative way, still other dungeons are simply long multi-level paths that lead to other areas of the map and are therefore much more significant than initially expected. All, however, have multiple rewards scattered throughout their rooms, more calculated and unique bosses, and solutions that make them a pleasure to explore. This is a really good step forward compared to the original campaign, and the incredible thing is that the leap in quality becomes even more striking when you start exploring the Legacy Dungeons , because this DLC contains even five of them. Ok, only two are truly extensive, while the remaining three are minute in size and can be explored in a few hours if you approach them with caution, yet it is always in these rooms that the skills of FromSoftware’s developers shine at their maximum brightness. The new Legacy Dungeons manage to propose structures similar to those seen in the rest of the game in a more concentrated and lucid form, and one in particular, Messmer’s fortress, is a wonderful work of design: a sort of multiple dungeon with multiple levels, full of secrets of rare infamy and bosses. That alone would have been enough to justify a DLC, let alone all the rest of this goodness.

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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
Shadow of the Erdtree is a titanic DLC, and its open map is truly brilliant. The Legacy Dungeons, however, are still the pinnacle of the experience

In short, everything perfect? Almost. Although the work done is titanic and the expansion in terms of content is clearly the most massive ever created by FromSoftware – an expert and overleveled player will calmly take more than 30 hours to find what can be found, and we have no doubt that they can easily double it for the majority of users – there are some large areas that seem to have been developed a bit hastily compared to the others . We repeat: Shadow of the Erdtree is full of unique additions, exceptional dungeons, and clearly offers the most varied, interesting and complex region of the game, but it does have some small repetitions (just a few bosses taken from the base game and enhanced ) and a couple of its optional maps are unnecessarily large and empty, almost as if they were inserted only after completing the basic skeleton to give more stubborn players something extra. However, they are not unpleasant – the first contains the most curious (and minute) legacy dungeon and has an incredible atmosphere, but suffers from not being navigable with the mount; the second is aesthetically splendid and very important from a narrative point of view, but too empty – however if compared to the incredible quality of the other areas they represent a fair waste of potential.

Narrative and gameplay: infinite ways to fight the darkness, few opportunities to understand it

Even from a narrative point of view, Shadow of the Erdtree is in some ways a step forward compared to the base game, but this does not mean that we should expect a crystal-clear story told in a common way.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
FromSoftware has gone out of its way to offer a monstrous number of new weapons and the incredible thing is that almost all of them are incredibly tempting, even when they are not optimal for your build. You will want to experiment endlessly.

To dissect the events that brought Miquella to the Land of Shadows, it will not be enough for you to watch the sparse cutscenes and pay attention to the dialogues: once again reading the descriptions of each object found will be fundamental, with gigantic revelations relegated to easily ignoreable texts by those who are not used to examining FromSoftware’s works. That said, the progression of events, the motivations of those involved, and the way everything fits together with what was discovered in the original game is clearer and more calculated than usual, perhaps even too much so considering the house’s history.

However, Shadow of the Erdtree does not seem to be an expansion capable of perfectly closing the circle; outside of Miquella’s search and the stories linked to her servants – which also represent the primary missions of the DLC – information on other elements of the game universe and fundamental characters is mostly scarce, if not completely absent. Of course, during our test we certainly missed something, but we are quite convinced that the world of Elden Ring still has a lot to tell, even after this new hail of small and large revelations. In short, if you were expecting a complete transformation in terms of narrative, you were in for a disappointment; part of the charm of Miyazaki’s games lies precisely in their fragmented narrative to study and interpret, and we highly doubt that the next souls games will abandon this formula.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
Predictably, Shadow of the Erdtree’s difficulty is set much higher than the base game, especially due to the monstrous damage inflicted by the bosses and their life points. With the right build and strategy, however, you can get by without too many problems even in the Land of Shadows.

If the approach to the story might discourage some, however, we are quite convinced that there is no way to be disappointed by what the house offers in terms of gameplay. This expansion of Elden Ring is not only impressive from the point of view of the maps, and indeed it is almost even more surprising due to the excessive number of additional weapons, talismans and magic , objects which are also designed to significantly modify the style of any player. We had already mentioned it during the preview, but FromSoftware’s intent in the Land of Shadows was clearly only one: to offer a large quantity of tools suitable for every kind of build, equipped with moves and powers so unique as to push players to test them even if they are not necessarily optimal. And while on the one hand some combinations of the base game remain spectacularly effective and difficult to replace, we believe that FromSoftware has truly found the key here, because it was practically impossible not to change specializations and equipment several times in the face of certain new features. There are eight entirely new weapon categories , and some of these cover significant shortcomings of the base game; to be clear, the so-called “quality weapons”, which scale with both strength and dexterity here are among the best ever seen and many combinations poorly represented in the basic Elden Ring campaign such as faith/dexterity weapons are curiously powerful and numerous. Add to all this a fair number of excellent new sorceries and an absurd mix of spells, and you will have a real canvas on which to use the blood of the bosses as a dye. A little paradise for those who love experimenting with statistics and equipment.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
Some of the areas in the game are disturbing to say the least. The one you see represented here is certainly not the most refined, but it counterbalances with the atmosphere

There is only one problem that is anything but negligible: such a number of new tools, added to an experience already practically impossible to balance perfectly, could have broken things even more, especially considering that many players will face the DLC after having reached monstrous levels with his alter ego. FromSoftware has therefore decided to approach everything with the proven “pain cure”, calibrating Shadow of the Erdtree very high in terms of difficulty . Let’s be clear, with a very strong build the Land of Shadows is not particularly brutal: every setting tends to have some annoying elite enemies, but what worked very well in the original map remains effective here too, and you will have no problems deleting groups from the universe entire bleed enemies, Azur’s Comets, and many other builds discovered to date by the community; to avoid everything being a walk in the park, however, the developers have decided to dramatically increase the damage inflicted and the amount of life points of the bosses, who can no longer be eliminated in a few seconds even with absolutely devastating combinations (unless you are level really exaggerated, or you have reached souls deity damage optimization rates). What’s more, the new bosses (there are around ten primary ones, but overall you will encounter many more) tend to be markedly more aggressive than in the past and to have offensive schemes designed to put those who dodge in difficulty, due to blows multiples with rather subtle timing, or attacks whose stay on the ground exceeds the invulnerability window of your dodge. It is not a very elegant solution, it must be said, and at times the damage inflicted by certain bosses seemed truly absurd to us, yet managing them in this way gives a much greater meaning to the ashes (certain bosses seem calibrated precisely to push us to use them, since the windows are so small times in which they are discovered) and honestly there was probably no other way to maintain a sensible progression of the challenge level, given how abuseable the system is.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
You might experiment with builds with spectacular fire spells or devastating weapons

Furthermore, in Shadow of the Erdtree part of this peak in damage and resistance is stemmed by the presence of blessings : in practice a parallel progression system, which increases the damage of your character and his resistance, or that of his mount and the ashes summoned , provided you find a certain number of objects that allow you to strengthen yourself in places of grace. Contrary to what was initially thought, this is not a novelty that imposes maximum limits on the value of damage inflicted and suffered, but simply a percentage bonus that increases from time to time , and begins to have significant effectiveness only when he is approaching the final stages of the campaign and his most furious enemies are facing him. In some ways it is a version expanded to all the statistics of what we saw with the souls of the giants in Dark Souls 2 (which decreased the resistance of the boss Vendrick based on their number in the inventory), and overall it seemed to us that the developers they inserted it more to give a sense of growth to those who have reached too high levels, rather than to really facilitate the game.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
Don’t underestimate the secondary dungeons this time. Not only do they offer more rewards and materials than usual, but they are really nice to explore and full of interesting puzzles and finds

In short, doing some mental calculations, the impression is that this expansion is calibrated for a character with well-calculated skills and statistics around level 150; facing it with a weaker alter ego can be quite shocking at times, while overcoming this level greatly facilitates at least the initial phases. We, however, found the adrenaline-filled battles to be just right, and the difficulty still sufficiently circumventable with the right knowledge. It was almost certainly the best solution: a drier and more limiting intervention would most likely have made the experience less attractive for the majority of the public, and a good part of Elden Ring’s appeal lies precisely in its enormous flexibility compared to other Souls (which they are however easily “breakable”, let’s be clear); However, we advise you not to underestimate the inhabitants of the Land of Shadows, you could have some nasty surprises…

Little to say in terms of the technical sector , however. Shadow of the Erdtree is artistically magnificent and we’ve already praised it in this sense, but we didn’t feel like we saw any particular improvements in terms of graphics or balance with this DLC.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the review of the incredible expansion of FromSoftware's masterpiece
The lights make this glimpse of the Land of Shadows even more fascinating

However, there are some truly appreciable changes related to quality of life, including the possibility of activating a new inventory page dedicated to recent objects, as well as indicating everything that has recently been collected in the others. It may seem like a small thing, but once you get used to these simple additions you can’t go back: they allow you to orient yourself in your character’s pockets much more easily.

 
 
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