We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Elden Ring’s DLC is too hard, but that’s exactly how it should be

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is decimating players worldwide, and while I'm one of them, I think it's a good thing for all of us.

a close up of messmers face from elden ring

I grew up a Nintendo kid with an Xbox on the side to play Halo and Guitar Hero, but that all changed when FromSoftware released the original Demon’s Souls on PS3 back in 2009. Discourse around the first Souls was a combination of criticism for the punishing difficulty and overall jankiness, mixed with plaudits for innovation – in an era of gaming defined by hand-holding tutorials, Demon’s Souls was all about friction. That was enough to convince me, but after reaching the first boss I realized I made a mistake. Demon’s Souls wasn’t fun. It was needlessly cruel. Fifteen years later, this same complaint is being leveled at Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree.

The spike in difficulty from the base game to the Land of Shadow is immense, but at the same time wholly necessary. The very core of the soulslike games relies on teaching the player through punishing difficulty, and once the player learns, the game becomes much more manageable. Elden Ring Shadow of Erdtree is no different.

a knight facing the massive vanguard demon in demons souls

Much like how Bloodborne felt insurmountable when it focused, compared to its peers, on all-out aggression, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s perfectly tuned deflection system led to much initial grumbling, Shadow of the Erdtree pulls everything you know about Elden Ring out from beneath you.

You can’t grind runes and pump the Vigor stat to overcome Margit, The Fell Omen here. You have to explore the world for Scadutree Fragments to have a shot at taking on even minor bosses like the Blackgaol Knight. There’s no set path through the Land of Shadow, no clear progress route from one legacy dungeon to another. Instead, progress is tied closely to an easter egg hunt.

Take the aforementioned Blackgaol Knight. I couldn’t beat him at first as his attacks would one or two-shot me, but he posed little threat when I returned later on after bumping up my Scadutree level. Likewise, I banged my head against the wall that is Messmer, the Impaler for hours in order to write my walkthrough guide, only to realize I could’ve explored quite a lot more before taking him on, raising my Scadutree level in the progress. In fact, the areas I visited after were much easier to manage.

I realized Shadow of the Erdtree functions in reverse of a regular game, where you’d expect light bumps at the forefront and devious challenges nearer the end. Elden Ring and its DLC instead thrust insurmountable challenges in your face and hide the ways to ease them behind exploration and auxiliary mechanics.

exploring the lands of shadow and the erdtree in elden ring dlc

The most readily available boons are the Spirit Ash and multiplayer summons. Many may not like it, but Shadow of the Erdtree is balanced for summoning, leaving the diehard players an incredibly steep challenge to take on solo if they so choose.

But it’s not just summons. In the base game’s Lands Between, I never found the need to manage resistances and buff damage output. Once I learned it helps in the Land of Shadow, however, my quest to find Miquella became so much easier. Items like Boiled Prawns and talismans like the Dragoncrest Greatshield can negate up to 35% of physical damage. I began using spells like Flame Grant Me Strength and Golden Vow to hit a bit harder. Combined with the massive Scadutree buffs, the Land of Shadow resembled the Lands Between before long.

That said, Shadow of the Erdtree isn’t exempt from criticism. The hyper-aggressive bosses punish the use of slow but incredibly fun spells like the Dragon Communion incantations, greatly limiting viable Elden Ring builds no matter how prepared you are. And yes, the final boss of the DLC is ridiculously overpowered, though I’d argue most would see a more manageable finale as a disappointment.

the legend felled victory words flashing on screen in elden ring

Still, learning remains at the very core of the Souls series and its cousins. The only way for FromSoftware to continue to make engaging, challenging adventures that push the action RPG genre forward is to create new ways to make its games difficult – and subsequently invent new ways to overcome the hurdles they present.

Shadow of the Erdtree is too difficult – but only for now. I have a feeling that, much the same way Demon’s Souls became a walk in the demon-infested park after a decade of learning FromSoftware’s language, by the time Bloodborne 2 rolls around we’ll all look back and say: “Actually, once you know what to do, Shadow of the Erdtree isn’t that hard.”