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Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review - a monster of an expansion

Our Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review determines if it’s worth revisiting the Lands Between and trekking through the Lands of Shadow.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: close up of a boss wielding fire in their hand.

Our Verdict

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree sits proudly among the best videogame expansions of all time thanks to its sense of adventure, epic boss battles, and ambitious new additions.

During my 50-hour Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree playthrough, I set about scaling the gnarled tree branches of the Ancient Ruins of Rauh believing a secret or treasure awaited me at the very top. An hour later and over a hundred thousand runes lighter, I realized it was all for naught. Yet it’s the promise of exploring a mysterious world filled with potential secrets and rewards that makes the game so special. Back in 2022, we hailed Elden Ring as FromSoftware’s masterpiece, one that “lights the path ahead for open-world games in general.” Its Shadow of the Erdtree expansion, meanwhile, reinforces this idea even more, boasting memorable and befuddling areas and – yes – the soulslike staple of occasionally rage-inducing bosses.

To start the Elden Ring DLC, you must first defeat Starscourge Radahn and Mohg, two optional bosses from the base game. The latter is locked behind a convoluted process, which gives this expansion an oddly high barrier to entry for anyone looking to get quickly stuck in. Should you succeed, you’ll find yourself in the Realm of Shadow. This world is separate and distinct from the Lands Between, though some locations act as analogs. These include the Caria Manor-like Castle Ensis and Shadow Keep, a major dungeon with multiple passageways and open areas comparable to Leyndell Royal Capital. Some locations are even blighted by enough Scarlet Rot to give veteran players nightmares.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: The player stands in front of a character named Leda, who’s a loyal follower of Miquella.

Likewise, you’ll come across the fields of the Cerulean Coast and Charo’s Hidden Grave, with blue and red flowers blooming along the countryside. There’s also the ruins of Rauh covered in woodland canopy, a trek through mountain passes with lightning striking your path, a horror-infused forest, and numerous rivers and falls leading to new destinations. Shadow of the Erdtree’s world is just as vast as Limgrave and Caelid, yet there’s a greater level of verticality here, leading me to peep over cliffsides for hidden ledges. It’s perplexing and, at times, discombobulating, but the promise of discovery kept me forging ahead.

I can’t and won’t spoil the many secrets I uncovered in my dozens of hours with the DLC, but I will say I stumbled upon several by bravely leaping across precarious platforms, randomly hitting walls to uncover illusions, and performing emotes or gestures at specific points of interest. As far as exploration goes, my only complaint is that undiscovered regions all appear on the overworld map, ruining the sense of finding them by yourself, as you always know there’s something there. I’ve also yet to see anything as surprising as the base game’s Nokron and Nokstela underground map reveal.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: The player casts the Night Comet spell against the Fire Knight.

I can heap praise on Shadow of the Erdtree’s level design and map all day long, but I’m a little let down by its storytelling. Throughout the Realm of Shadow, I met several characters hunting for Miquella the Empyrean – one of the few beings who can ascend to godhood. For a while, it felt like I was exploring alongside other adventurers with their own motivations, and while I initially enjoyed their arcs, the late-game presents some truly jarring moments.

For instance, a seemingly dead character suddenly became available as a summon, while another presented himself as an option even though I’d never encountered him beforehand. Similarly, a couple disappeared from their last known locations and never surfaced again; some I did find but couldn’t progress with any further because their cryptic hints failed to illuminate where to go or what to do next. It’s obtuse even for a soulslike game, and this irritation hurts what could’ve been a truly fulfilling narrative.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: The player, on horseback, runs away from the ‘Brazier Giant’ world boss.

Thankfully, Shadow of the Erdtree’s combat and level of challenge do not disappoint. I’ve noticed that bosses and even normal enemies tend to be faster here than in the base game, with the Dancing Lion in Bellurat and Rellana in Castle Ensis unleashing multiple follow-up attacks in rapid succession. There’s also a deadly dragon boss, whose name is most certainly a nod to Balerion the Black Dread from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones universe. One particular enemy type, a demihuman-like harlequin with chakrams, attacks with a half-dozen quick swipes in a frustrating combo chain. Then there are the ‘Brazier Giant’ colossi with their one-hit-kill homing fireballs and flame beams.

There are some truly taxing battles here, but they always felt surmountable if I remained persistent. The new DLC-only power-ups known as Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes are an invaluable help, with the former boosting your attack and defense, while the latter buffs your summons. Also helpful are Shadow of the Erdtree’s amazing armaments, including the madness-inducing Nanaya’s Torch, the Euporia twinblade with its whirling ability, and the Dancing Blade of Ranah, whose Ash of War makes my character spin and weave for prolonged periods. There are plenty of extra armor pieces, too, and some like the Fire Knight, Armor of Night, and Gravebird sets look especially stunning. Yet I continued to rely heavily on items from the base game.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: The player does battle against the Divine Beast Dancing Lion boss.

The Blasphemous Blade is still a clear winner, even against faster foes, and Night Comet spam remains one of the most viable options for Int-focused casters. Similarly, Black Knife Tiche, Banished Knight Oleg, and even the Greatshield spirit summons are as potent as ever. So while I enjoyed experimenting with the DLC additions, it’s good to know that the best Elden Ring builds remain largely valid.

In the end, Shadow of the Erdtree is further proof that Elden Ring is special. With over 50 hours spent venturing across vivid and eerie landscapes, toiling away in boss fights, enduring platforming woes, and occasionally hitting narrative dead-ends, I can say FromSoftware’s latest stands head and shoulders above most other videogame expansions. Yes, it delivers more of what you love about its big brother, but that’s a good thing when we’re talking about one of the best PC games ever made.