Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review — This time, for Miquella

Elden Ring set a new benchmark for open-world exploration when it was released back in 2022. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Elden Ring is one of my favorite games of all time, as I sunk over 500 hours into the game, trying out different builds, collecting all the weapons and armor, defeating all the optional bosses and dungeons, as well as partaking in jolly cooperation and recusant invasions. The Shadow of the Erdtree expansion effortlessly manages to reignite that feeling of wonder after stepping foot into the land of shadows for the first time. As such, my expectations for this long awaited DLC were sky high, but does it take the crown as the best expansion to the best game of all time? Almost, but not quite, and let’s see why, foul Tarnished.

The elusive Empyrean Miquella sets the stage here, with the majority of the expansion following in his footsteps. After defeating Mohg, Lord of Blood and Starscourge Radahn, you will be greeted by Needle Knight Leda in front of the cocoon in Mohgwyn Palace. Danger lurks around every corner as you relive the aftermath of an ancient war between the Golden Order and the people of the Realm of Shadow. Miquella’s devoted followers are the main cohort of new characters you meet, each with their own agendas and motivations, but you’ll meet individuals from other factions and backgrounds as well. The narrative is vague and mysterious in typical FromSoftware fashion, with your choices resulting in divergent story paths and endings.

I’d say Miyazaki was quite accurate when he described the size of the DLC to be roughly around the same size as Limgrave. There are 3 main legacy dungeons along with a plethora of smaller dungeons and side areas that take some exploring to figure out how to get to. Shadow Keep, the second main legacy dungeon, is a sublime masterpiece in level design, acting as a central hub of sorts that allows access to several sub areas within the Shadow Realm. The non-linear nature of the dungeon means every entrance and exit leads you somewhere new, keeping things fresh and exciting.

While in the open, keep on the lookout for map fragments to reveal more places of interest and to uncover the fog of war. When in doubt, simply follow Miquella’s crosses. Open-field areas are scattered with sealed spirit springs, hidden secrets, and useful collectibles, along with formidable new foes. The first one you’ll probably notice are the giant Furnace Golems, war machines from Messmer’s army that roam the lands freely. These giants are no joke, but defeating them grants you new Crystal Tears (some that buff your summons and others that supplement stamina recovery) along with rare crafting ingredients. Several important names and individuals from the main game also make a welcome appearance in the DLC. And of course there’s everyone’s fan favorite swamp areas with poison and scarlet rot too.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree Review - GamingTrend [PS5]

The two new mechanics to keep in mind are the Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes that bolster your character and summons, respectively. Collecting these and subsequently using them at any Site of Grace will increase your level and make you a bit more formidable. Scadutree Fragments increase your own attack power and allow you to take less damage from enemies whereas Revered Spirit Ashes do the same for your summons. Keep in mind these buffs only work inside the DLC, and will no longer be in effect if you return to the Lands Between.  

I don’t know about you, but I adore armor and weapon design, and Shadow of the Erdtree delivers on that front. I decked my character out in the new Fire Knight set, which kind of had a Slave Knight Gael look with a red hooded helm and a red cape, which can be farmed by defeating Fire Knights in Shadow Keep. There are also a plethora of new weapon types — perfume bottles, thrusting shields, reverse-hand swords, beast claws, throwing blades, great katanas, light greatswords, and hand-to-hand arts. I’m a dexterity build dual wield kind of guy, so naturally I went with the reverse-hand swords, which have a nifty bloodhound step slash type Ash of War. I was also surprised to see that the new throwing blades and perfume bottles are ranged weapons that don’t spend any ammo or mana! There’s never a shortage of new goodies to get your hands dirty with.

What most people are here for are the new enemy types and grandiose boss encounters and I can confidently say that FromSoftware did not disappoint here. The bosses that I fought in the preview: Divine Dancing Beast Lion and Rellana, Twin Moon Knight were just a fraction of what the DLC had to offer. Not only does each encounter bring something new to the table, most if not all of them drop a part of themselves, whether that be a Remembrance to be used with the Twin Fingers at the Roundtable Hold, or their entire armor set. The new enemy types that range from shielded Messmer soldiers and Crucible knight variants to gigantic scorpions and death birds all hit like an absolute truck. You’ll easily die in a few hits if you’re not careful and the larger enemies have multi-hit combos that can down you in an instant. And of course, ambushes are just around the corner.

Shadow of the Erdtree continues to deliver epic battle and musical crescendos with its sound design. Bosses are accompanied by grand orchestral scores that elevate the intensity of combat with each battle featuring a unique theme that reflects the character’s own story and background. Elden Ring also tends to use an absence of music in the open world, which accentuates the sense of solitude and the weight of your journey. You’ll hear nothing but the rustlings of leaves, distant cries of creatures, or the howling wind on the horizon. The same goes for the game’s artistic direction, with each new region being visually distinct, marked by colorful themes that are both inviting and hostile. My favorite one in the expansion is the Cerulean Coast that features cerulean blue colored flowers that look absolutely beautiful.

While the expansion does many things right, it also fumbles in some ways as well. First off, let’s talk about pricing, because Shadow of the Erdtree costs a whopping $40, which is two thirds the price of the base game. Mind you, DLCs are generally priced in the $10 to $20 range, with only a select few being $30 for the meatier ones. For reference, Bloodborne’s Old Hunter expansion was $20 and took around 10 hours to complete whereas Dark Souls 3’s dual DLCs cost $30 total ($15 each) with a total playthrough time of about 13 hours.

I got through the majority of the Elden Ring expansion in around 25 hours, taking only 10 or so to get to the final boss and another 15 to do side activities. Granted there is replayability here with different weapons, builds, multiplayer, and new game plus, the expansion is nowhere near the two thirds size of the original game. Now to be honest, this probably won’t matter if you’re a major fan of FromSoftware, but for players who struggled to finish the base game, this expansion is probably not for you. As for me, you already know I’m going to play through the expansion in the next new game plus cycle to get the different endings and with my friends when the game launches. 

When Elden Ring released back in 2022, a major critique was its poor performance on both consoles and PC. It has gotten much better in the past two years, but it’s unfortunate that even with the release of Shadow of the Erdtree, the game still performs suboptimally on PlayStation 5. The frame rates, even in performance mode, frequently dip into the 40s. There are plenty of pop-ins in the open-field areas too, which break overall immersion. Load times, on the other hand, are quite speedy. Thankfully I ran into no bugs or hard crashes during my playthrough, which I never experienced with the base game either.

My biggest gripe with the game is the jarring lack of balance when it comes to (one of) the final bosses of the DLC. I don’t want to spoil anything but the final boss came as a disappointment in both enemy design and identity. Furthermore, the conclusion after defeating it was extremely anticlimactic. Yes, I know Elden Ring is a difficult game, and Shadow of the Erdtree is considered late-game content, but the final boss was probably the spongiest and cheapest boss I’ve ever faced in a game. It had roughly over 100k health points (on NG+3) and moves that could 1 shot you if you have only 40 vigor (2 shot if you have 60 vigor). Its moves were not well telegraphed and some of them were near impossible to dodge. I won out of sheer luck rather than my own skills, and I can definitely see many players struggle to defeat it. I’d even consider this fight harder than both Midir and Gael from Dark Souls 3 and Orphan of Kos from Bloodborne. But the biggest disappointment of all was who the boss was, lore-wise.

An avid enthusiast of both tabletop and video games, finding endless joy in exploring different realms of entertainment!



Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

Review Guidelines

I’m both happy and sad that Shadow of the Erdtree is the first and last expansion for Elden Ring. On one hand, it’s a masterfully woven experience that expands on the contents of the base game, whereas on the other it leaves much more to be desired with its disappointing final boss. That being said, it’s still very much worth your time if you’re craving some more Elden Ring.

Henry Viola

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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