Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree Hands-on Preview – Voyage to the Land of Shadow

Posted on June 5, 2024

Over two years following the release of FromSoftware’s award-winning open-world Soulslike Elden Ring, its premium expansion, Shadow of the Erdtree, is finally nearly here. Bringing with it new story content, bosses, locations and weapons, this expansion promises to be on a whole new scale compared to the DLC offerings for FromSoftware’s previous titles and looks to be well worth the long wait.

The Shadow of the Erdtree expansion seeks to clarify one of the base game’s main mysteries: what happened to Empyrean Miquella? As one of the setting’s Demigods, Great Rune bearer and offspring of Marika, he has a notable impact on the lore despite never properly appearing in the game itself. According to the expansion, it is revealed that Miquella’s soul was sent to the Land of Shadow, a mysterious parallel realm dominated by a foreboding dark version of the Erdtree. As part of their quest, the Tarnished now must follow in Miquella’s footsteps and solve his disappearance.

Shadow of the Erdtree takes place fairly late in the Elden Ring campaign, with its content only being accessible if you have defeated Starscourge Radahn and Mohg, Lord of Blood, two late-game boss fights. It is recommended that the player be at least level 120, which is about the level one can expect to reach by the endgame after defeating most of the base game’s content. From the content that I was able to experience, the expansion promises a challenging experience to even veteran Elden Ring players, with a fearsome level of difficulty from the new boss fights and enemies.

Throughout the preview, I encountered two of the main boss fights it had to offer. The first of these was Divine Beast Dancing Lion within the Belurat, Castle Settlement area. Divine Beast Dancing Lion was a fast-moving, thrashing lion who began to spew out waves of lightning and frost damage halfway through the fight. The second major explorable dungeon I was able to experience was Castle Ensis, and its magic-wielding boss fight Twin Moon Knight Rellana. In characteristic fashion, some of the more challenging encounters will probably knock you down again and again until you have nailed the timing to dodge or parry their attacks, and the feeling of satisfaction when you do manage to take them down is as visceral in this expansion as it was back in 2022 when the base game released.

Mind, Shadow of the Erdtree has plenty of new features to prepare the player for the daunting trials in the Land of Shadow. There are now items called Scadutree Fragments scattered about the overworld and nestled within dungeons that permanently increase your HP and defence, as well as separate items called Revered Spirit Ashes which do the same for your Spirit Ash summons. These improvements only function in the Land of Shadow, so unfortunately you cannot use them to buff yourself to take down some of the main game’s endgame superbosses, like Malenia or Placidusax. FromSoftware is evidently still reticent to implement traditional difficulty settings in its games. However, I found that including optional features that can alleviate the challenge level a bit to be a welcome addition for players looking for accommodations to make the experience a bit less intense, even if the overall impact is fairly minor.

The new weapon types are also a nice addition. There are 100 new weapons added in the expansion, including eight new weapon types. Although some of the new weapon types, like Great Katanas, Beast Claws and Light Greatswords, basically feel like mostly cosmetic variations on existing weapon types which scale with different stats, there were a few new additions that genuinely changed up the experience in intriguing ways. Some particular highlights are Perfumes, which deal ranged pure fire damage and feel kind of similar to the Dark Souls trilogy’s Pyromancies, and Throwing Daggers, which, unlike the base game’s consumable items, are unlimited ranged dexterity weapons which finally give non-Intelligence and Faith builds reliable ranged options which don’t rely on the player having to purchase or craft consumable arrows and bombs before each boss fight. While the preview gave me a fairly extensive arsenal to choose from, I’m looking forward to discovering more of the treasures that the expansion has to offer.

The developers have advised that more work and resources went into the development of Shadow of the Erdtree than any other expansion that FromSoftware has produced for any of its other games. This is probably why it took over two years to come out. That level of effort is on display, from the substantial size of the Land of Shadows (which is larger than all of Limgrave, the main game’s starting location) to the intricate castles and dungeons into which the player can delve.

The Land of Shadows itself, despite the general terrain and dungeon design feeling fairly familiar, still feels visually oppressive and gloomy. This is exemplified by the replacement of the base game’s omnipresent golden Erdtree with a sickly shadowy variant, which gives the Land of Shadows an intentionally off-putting, mirror-dimension sensation to it.

The three-hour preview I experienced of Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree certainly made me intrigued to find out more. Having encountered two of the at least ten major boss fights, as well as stumbling across a few of the expansion’s mini-bosses, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of its content. Even for players who feel like they have experienced all that the Lands Between has to offer, Shadow of the Erdtree, with its new weapon types expanding the gameplay options and fearsome new challenges, feels like a substantial addition to what was already the most expansive game that FromSoftware has developed.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree will be released on June 21 2024 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.