The Elden Ring DLC is better than most full-size games — here’s why

 Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree.
Credit: Bandai Namco/FromSoftware

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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree has been kicking my ass since it launched and I’ve loved every second of it.

Elden Ring is by far my favorite game release of this console generation, so it’s not surprising that I’m enamored with its DLC expansion. Like we said in our Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review, this new adventure is a microcosm of the Elden Ring experience — containing everything that made FromSoftware’s open-world action RPG so special. It’s absolutely incredible … if you don’t mind a stiff challenge.

Shadow of the Erdtree isn’t as long or teeming with extracurricular activities like Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth and Stellar Blade. However, FromSoftware’s expansion feels more meaningful since none of its main and side quests feel superfluous. Exploring the densely packed map always yields rewards. And thanks to its difficulty, you can’t just breeze through any given area. The 20 to 30 hours you’ll spend playing this game feel substantial from beginning to end.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is the most fun I’ve had playing on PS5 all year. Here’s why.

Elden Ring: was $59 now $49 @ Amazon
A collaboration between developer FromSoftware, the creators of Dark Souls, and acclaimed fantasy author George R. R. Martin, Elden Ring is a stunning open-world action RPG where every victory is hard-fought. You'll die frequently, but the sense of satisfaction that comes after downing a hulking boss after dozens of defeats is practically unmatched in all of gaming. Now is the ideal time to jump into Elden Ring as its Shadow of the Erdtree DLC just launched over the summer. View Deal

It’s all about the challenge

Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree

My colleague Rory Mellon said this in his review, but I also initially strolled into the Elden Ring DLC with a big ego. And could you blame me? I defeated the main game’s final boss, and lesser foes didn’t stand a chance against my melee-focused character. I expected a new challenge when I entered the Land of Shadows (where the DLC takes place), but after almost being killed by the first enemy I encountered, I got an instant reality check. This wouldn’t be the walk in the park I expected.

Like the original Elden Ring, the DLC taught me a very valuable lesson about having patience in tough video games.

Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree

The challenge in FromSoftware’s games is a major part of the draw since it creates an oppressive environment that constantly keeps you on alert. This is doubly true in Shadow of the Edtree since you need to use an item called Scadutree fragments to make yourself stronger in the Land of Shadows. Given the scarcity of this item, you can’t farm it like Runes dropped by enemies — which serves to heighten the challenge. Forcing you to effectively start over was a smart gameplay decision since it instills the same tension one felt when booting up Elden Ring two years ago.

One thing I didn’t want to start over with was my character. Instead of creating a different build, I optimized my strength-focused character to better withstand the punishing Lands of Shadow. I enjoyed fine-tuning my build last time and it was fun to do that again. I still get my butt handed to me if I’m not careful, but at least bosses don’t kill me in one hit like when I first started the DLC.

Defeating a boss (after dying 50 million times) is arguably more satisfying in this DLC than in the main game because of how aggressive they are.

Speaking of bosses, Shadow of the Erdtree has some of the nastiest boss encounters of any FromSoft game. In fact, it was these battles that forced me to reassess my build. Having a decent Scadutree level helps, but not by much. Some bosses felt unfair since they sometimes never let up on their attacks, but figuring out how to either withstand or avoid them when they go berserk was enjoyable. Defeating a boss (after dying 50 million times) is arguably more satisfying in this DLC than in the main game because of how aggressive they are.

You’d think playing Shadow of the Erdtree with friends would make it easier but that’s not always the case. For instance, the already super-aggressive bosses become downright ferocious when you’re in a group. This was also true of the main Elden Ring game but it’s much worse in the DLC. But even though the game can be more difficult with friends, I still prefer having my buds around. One shouldn’t die alone, after all.

The bringer of pain

Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree
Screenshot from Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree

Video games have become far too easy in recent years, with even the hardest modes not posing much of a challenge a lot of the time. Because of that, I’m glad Shadow of the Edtree actually amped up the difficulty. It’s a humbling (but awesome) experience. Games are supposed to test you, and this expansion does an exemplary job of doing that.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is merciless; testing your skills and mental fortitude. But even though the DLC sometimes makes me want to break my controller, I’m having a blast overcoming the game’s insane challenges. FromSoftware has delivered another masterpiece of an expansion — and one that’s often better than most full-sized games.

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