Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review – Raising an impossible bar

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is easily one of the most impressive DLCs we've seen in recent memory – and that's saying something.
elden ring shadow of the erdtree

Elden Ring is a remarkable game as it is. It rightfully sits high on the list of many a player, and for a long time I wondered if it would be better left untouched as a piece of incredible art. But now, with Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, I am so very, very glad that it wasn’t.

I have vivid recollections of persevering through Elden Ring, at a time in my life where I found myself lacking in the patience to methodically redirect my efforts. Instead, I was doggedly throwing myself head-first at a wall, recklessly attempting the same manoeuvres over and over again to no avail – eventually coming to a place where I sat comfortably in my own defeat. Learning to identify Elden Ring as an allegory for death helped give me the energy and life enough to finish it.

In Shadow of the Erdtree, this theming continues in spades – and it’s accompanied by a dense array of new enemies, ashes and blessings. In a deceptively significant amount of map space, this DLC utilises every spare inch, weaving an extension to the magic of the original while still paving a path for the player that feels new.

It’s like playing 4D chess, with layers and layers of environments to navigate. Sometimes only a blanket of mist and fog separates you from different zones, and finding your way through each area to access the next is surprisingly challenging at times.

Read: Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree launches in June 2024

The spectacle of sheer scale

Without delving too deep into the specifics, the narrative and lore takes the predictable and turns it on its face. Players will venture into the Land of Shadow, tracing the Empyrean Miquella – and as it happens, you’re not the only one. With a host of assorted NPCs – some friendly, some less so – also pursuing the same goal, your journey is peppered with insight and aid from the most unlikely suspects.

It’s fortunate, because the Land of Shadow is a much darker place than you expect, with decay and destruction found in spades. From the size of the new area through to the scale of the enemies and bosses you’ll face, the best word to describe Shadow of the Erdtree is simple: awe.

I am known for my love of a good freak – the bigger the better – and so personally, I was immediately struck by the hulking greatness of the Furnace Golems. These colossal flaming beasties are near-invulnerable, save for a few specific spots, and their twisted design resembles a wicker basket if it was completely twisted by the fires of hell itself. In other words: the exact kind of design I love.

In order to bring in large enemies like this effectively, the world and story needs to be equally larger than life – and that’s where Shadow of the Erdtree hit home for me. Elden Ring was already so fantastical, so significant in its scale. To expect more? I was hopeful, of course, but genuinely surprised at how well it was executed.

elden ring fromsoftware shadow of the erdtree
Image: FromSoftware

How Shadow of the Erdtree‘s fragment mechanic works

Ashes to ashes, fragments to fragments. There are two very important and relevant aspects of play introduced in Shadow of the Erdtree, but the one worth really focusing on is Scadutree fragments. These fragments are necessary when it comes to mitigating how much damage you take, as well as increasing how much you’re able to deal to your enemies – and fortunately for you, they’re found all over the DLC.

These function similarly to Runes – which it’s worth noting, you can still use, but will require WAY more of. It’s essentially a parallel levelling system, which exclusively works in the DLC and doesn’t affect the main game.

The resulting effect does in essence make Shadow of the Erdtree feel easier at some junctures, but never in a way that feels like it’s gratuitous or over-indulgent. You’re still going to have to die repeatedly (no, really – it is a FromSoftware game after all) and the sliding scale of difficulty means it will remain just as much of a challenge as you’d expect. The bosses will still drive you to the point of extreme frustration, and my god, there were moments that I wanted to scream – but that’s kind of the point, no?

The other items worth noting are Revered Spirit Ashes, which can increase the health of summoned spirits and also give a bit of extra resilience to the very wonderful Torrent – not to mention increasing how much damage he can mete out. As someone who carved out a Torrent-shaped space in her heart very early on in the piece, this makes me very happy indeed.

Read: Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree DLC – Review Roundup

Setting a new bar for DLC

It’s no surprise that Shadow of the Erdtree is getting thoroughly praised in other reviews. It’s a magnificent piece of art, and does exactly what a DLC should do: accents the main game without feeling out of balance with the original’s level of flash, flair and creativity.

The characters, landscapes and goals are all impactful in the right way, and truly there’s no other DLC in recent memory that has captured that essence. Devotees of Elden Ring will adore it, and who knows: maybe it will be just the right incentive for folks who haven’t finished the main game to get their characters into gear.

My advice? Don’t go in cocky. If you think you’ve prepared your character enough, you probably still haven’t. Sure, you only have to have beaten Mohg and Radahn to gain access, but it’s definitely worth boosting yourself up just in case. As someone who only remembered she’d started a NG+ run on her main character soon before getting hands on the DLC, and then decided to just get in as quickly as possible… Well, just trust me and learn from my mistakes.

Five stars: ★★★★★

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 21 June 2024

Steph Panecasio is the Managing Editor of GamesHub. An award-winning culture and games journalist with an interest in all things spooky, she knows a lot about death but not enough about keeping her plants alive. Find her on all platforms as @StephPanecasio for ramblings about Lord of the Rings and her current WIP novel.