With Shadow of the Erdtree, FromSoftware wanted to build a map 'that's not quite open field and not quite legacy dungeon,' but instead 'blends the two together'

 Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree screenshot.
Credit: FromSoftware

As we noted in our preview of Shadow of the Erdtree last week, the expansion's new map is notably different from the Lands Between, which we explored in Elden Ring. It's smaller, yes, but also denser with enemies, activities, and notable locations, and not quite so simple to navigate. You'll find more cliffs, valleys, and bridges blocking off new areas you may have first thought you'd be able to gallop to.

More Erdtree

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

- Elden Ring devs know players use guides, but try to cater to those who go in blind
- The biggest lore reveals in Erdtree's first few hours
- Why Shadow of the Erdtree had to be big
- How Shadow of the Erdtree's new leveling system works

FromSoftware boss Hidetaka Miyazaki said that the team planned for this expansion to be big from the start, because they wanted players "to experience that sense of discovery, and that sense of wonder and exploration again," and they needed a large scale map "to uphold and bolster that."

But how did the more intricate design of the new world map come about? When we spoke for PC Gamer's cover story on Shadow of the Erdtree, I asked Miyazaki if there was a bit more DNA from Dark Souls' tightly interconnected map here, this time.

"There was a sense of that as we were building it," he said. "I think what you're describing there is what we tried to achieve this time, with something that's not quite open field and not quite legacy dungeon. It's something that kind of blends the two together and creates that better sense of verticality. While you do have the large open field area… we wanted to not just capture the sense of scale and granularity, but the sense of variety as well. So we hope what you were experiencing was that attempt to add to the variety of how we space out and structure the open field to the legacy dungeons."

When I played through Elden Ring back in 2022, I loved some of the freedom and flexibility its open world design offered, but also found myself worn out by the scope of it all and some of the repeated boss battles. It was a grand accomplishment but also made me pine for FromSoftware to return to a game the size of Dark Souls 1 (with all the expertise the studio has picked up in the decade since). Miyazaki's comments made me wonder, though, if another FromSoftware open world game could retain Elden Ring's mass appeal while still being a bit slimmed down—less "open space between points of interest" and more, just, of interest.

Easier said than done, I know. Still, I hope this DLC points towards what to expect from Miyazaki's next game. And once we've fully explored the DLC's new Land of Shadow, we'll have a better sense of just how successfully FromSoft blurred the lines between the open world and its intricate legacy dungeons. Maybe in whatever comes next, the two will effectively feel one and the same.

Look out for more from Shadow of the Erdtree—including our cover story dropping online—before the expansion's release.