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Game Review

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree Game Review
When Marika the Eternal, the god-queen of the Lands Between shattered the Elden Ring, its pieces fell across the land. Her demigod children then began to war for these fragments and the powers they contained. But alas, the war would end without winners, leaving the world in chaos. Now, the most peaceful of her children, Miquella the Kind, has left the Lands Between for the Land of Shadow—walking on his path towards the dawn of a new age.

I love Elden Ring. Even after years of avoiding the “Soulsborne” games due to constantly hearing about their punishing difficulty, the lure of a world created by George R. R. Martin was enough to pull me in. Not only did I beat the game and get the platinum trophy but my need for more Elden Ring led me to beat Demon's Souls, Bloodborne, the Dark Souls trilogy and similar games like Code Vein and Lords of the Fallen. And now, more than two years later, Elden Ring's one and only DLC expansion is here and it's everything I hope for and more—though it's not without its issues.


To start with, Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, takes Miquella, the most enigmatic character in the base game, and builds an excellent story around him. This story isn't told through our interactions with Miquella but through our interactions with his loyal knights. Through them, we learn about Miquella's plans, goals, and powers—not to mention the knights' personal histories.

What comes from this is the story of a man who is determined to make the world a better place. However, unlike his half-sister, Lunar Princess Ranni, Miquella is unwilling to sacrifice others to do so. Instead, he sacrifices himself piece by piece. At first, he discards the parts he can live without but all-to-soon he starts to cut out things that are vital to who he is at his core. Thus we are left with one thought-provoking question: Can someone truly make a better world if they've given up all the parts of themselves that made them want to make it a better world in the first place?

Outside of the main plot surrounding Miquella, much of Shadow of the Erdtree's various stories are told through environmental storytelling and item descriptions. While many of these serve to flesh out the world of Elden Ring as a whole, the Land of Shadow itself can seem rather empty when compared with the base game. That's not to say there aren't numerous densely-packed big and small dungeons to explore. However, there are also large land masses that are empty—lacking bosses to kill and/or items to collect. Sure, there may be a few enemies and a savepoint somewhere within but there is often no reward for exploring every nook and cranny of these areas.


That said, the Land of Shadow is enormous. Not only is it full of many different—and staggeringly beautiful—biomes it also has a level of verticality not seen in most open-world games. You start the game in one of the middle levels but also travel down cliffs and eventually underground—and even climb beyond the clouds in the other direction. It's not uncommon to see an interesting-looking location far above or below you, only to find a way there dozens of hours later. Or to put it another way, it's the pinnacle of open-world level design.

Another stand out is the newly implemented weapon types. From swords with special stances and hand-to-hand martial arts to perfume bottles and infinitely throwable weapons, there's a ton of creativity on display here. More than that, many of the new weapon types have at least one that works with any given build—and many more can be infused to fit your stat distribution in a pinch. It was a blast playing with these new toys, as was figuring out the correct way to maximize their effectiveness—which is good because doing so is necessary if you want to progress through the DLC.


This brings us to the elephant in the room: the difficulty. While the Soulsborne games have a reputation for being difficult, what I discovered while playing Elden Ring for the first time was that the game is, for the most part, as easy or hard as you make it—that your character's stats, gear, and play style matter more than how well you memorize boss patterns and time your dodge rolls. In other words, you don't have to “git gud” if you decide to “play smart” as all the bosses in the main game can be beaten somewhat easily with a good staff, a few (ridiculously powerful) magic spells, and a tanky summon to serve as a distraction. And if all else fails, you can always mass murder some Albinaurics and over-level yourself to the point that most bosses are a joke.

The big issue with Shadow of the Erdtree is its new Scadutree Fragment leveling system—which makes normal leveling by runes largely obsolete. Simply put, these items act as damage and defense multiplier. Collecting all 50 of them more than doubles your attack damage and reduces the damage you take by more than half. Conversely, this means that when you start the DLC, it's not uncommon to be killed in two hits—even if you're level 200 in the base game. Rather than getting stronger by beating enemies, the only meaningful way to get stronger is to search every corner of the overworld map for Scadutree Fragments—both in logical places (like statues of Marika and Miquella Crosses) and random-seeming ones (like dead bodies and inside giant hippos). Honestly, without using an external map or video guide, you'll likely remain massively underpowered—especially when it comes to the strength of the late-game bosses.


Compounding this problem, many enemies in Shadow of the Erdtree are hyper-aggressive to the point that it often seems unfair. In these types of games, it is not uncommon to dodge or block an enemy's series of attacks—waiting for your turn to get a big hit or two in. However, in Shadow of the Erdtree bosses and other strong monsters are constantly rushing and attacking non-stop until you die. Even if there is a pause in their attack pattern, it is often too short to get in a clean hit with a slow weapon or cast even a medium-powered spell. The last boss is a prime example of this—time and again it felt like I died not to my own mistakes but simply because I was never even given a chance to attack.

However, even with the frustration caused by hyper-aggressive enemies, I still adored my time with Shadow of the Erdtree. I loved the core story and the numerous side stories that tied back to the main game's lore. Each new area was a wonder to explore and the new weapons and items were a blast to play around with—to the point I'm excited to start a new game plus run to mess around with them all some more. Add to that a gigantic new world filled with new enemies to challenge and Shadow of the Erdtree met all of my (exceedingly high) expectations and more. Sure, it's not perfect, but considering how much fun I had, the $39.99 price tag seems almost comically low.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is currently available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Disclosure: Bandai Namco Filmworks Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Bandai Namco Holdings Inc., is a non-controlling, minority shareholder in Anime News Network Inc.

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.
Overall : A-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A-
Gameplay : B+
Presentation : A

+ A solid story that builds on what came before. An impressively designed, vertical world. Tons of cool new weapons that are fun to play around with.
The Scadutree Fragment system. Too many hyper-aggressive enemies.

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