Elden Ring 'Shadow of the Erdtree' DLC review: The easiest 10/10 we've ever given.

Two years after Elden Ring took players by storm, FromSoftware has refined its concepts to near-perfection with the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC.

Elden Ring
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Verdict

The Shadow of the Erdtree DLC is Elden Ring at its most refined, with overly formulaic elements of the base game's open world design cut away and some of the most exhilarating boss battles in the entire FromSoftware Soulsborne catalog. The result is a game-sized masterpiece of an expansion that will keep players enthralled for upwards of 40 hours, with its new map home to an enjoyable character-driven narrative, a diverse collection of treasures, and countless secrets to discover.

Pros

  • +

    Gigantic open world map dense with secrets to discover

  • +

    World design is more original, less formulaic than base game

  • +

    Incredible art direction and visual presentation

  • +

    Excellent boss fights, tons of enemy and loot variety

  • +

    Good story with fun twists and cast of likable characters

Cons

  • -

    Incoming damage feels a tad overtuned

  • -

    Reused enemies may annoy some

  • -

    Some NPC questlines can be tough to find or progress

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Well over a year after developer FromSoftware and publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment first announced the Shadow of the Erdtree expansion for its wildly successful 2022 action RPG Elden Ring, the release of the highly anticipated DLC is finally imminent.

For fans of the landmark open world Soulsborne title, it's been a long wait — but having spent the last week galloping, hacking, slashing, and rolling my way through my first playthrough of Shadow of the Erdtree for this review, I can say with great aplomb that it was absolutely worth it. This expansion represents Elden Ring at its most refined, with a tighter, denser, and less "gamey" world design that gives way to some of FromSoftware's best-ever boss fights.

Scheduled to arrive on June 21, 2024 on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4, Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree will undoubtedly go down in gaming history as one of the best DLCs ever made — and in my seven years writing about games, I haven't reviewed a release more deserving of a perfect score than this one. Let's delve into why that is.

Disclaimer

This review was conducted with the Windows PC version of Elden Ring, and made possible thanks to a review code provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The company did not see the contents of this review before publication.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree | $34.89 at CDKeys (Xbox)

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree | $34.89 at CDKeys (Xbox)

Shadow of the Erdtree is Elden Ring at its most refined, with the base game's overly formulaic elements cut away and some of FromSoftware's best boss fights. The result is a 40-hour-long masterpiece of a DLC that's an absolute must-play for any Soulsborne fan.

Also see: Shadow of the Erdtree (PC, $37.09) | Deluxe Edition (PC, $90.89)

Elden Ring DLC: What is Shadow of the Erdtree?

ELDEN RING Shadow of the Erdtree – Official Launch Trailer - YouTube ELDEN RING Shadow of the Erdtree – Official Launch Trailer - YouTube
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Before getting into the meat of this Elden Ring DLC review, it's important to give some context about what Shadow of the Erdtree actually is and what Elden Ring players can expect from it.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree DLC

Elden Ring

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Price: $39.99 | $34.89 at CDKeys (Xbox) | $37.09 at CDKeys (PC)
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Genre: Soulslike RPG (open world)
Install size: 15.06GB
Playtime: 35-40 hours
Platforms:  Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC (Steam), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
Reviewed on: Windows PC (Steam)
Release date: June 21, 2024
Xbox Game Pass: No

Put simply, Shadow of the Erdtree is a massive expansion for the Game of the Year-winning 2022 action RPG that features a new map entirely separate from the Lands Between. It takes the Tarnished to the Land of Shadow — a realm nestled in the umbra of the Erdtree that towers over the base game's regions — and tasks them with the pursuit of Miquella, one of Queen Marika's Empyrean children destined for godhood. Going in, the reason why Miquella came to this place and what specifically he hopes to accomplish there is unclear, though marketing materials for the DLC note that he "awaits the return of his promised Lord" after "divesting himself of his flesh, his strength, his lineage. Of all things Golden."

Much like the base game of Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree is a very exploration-focused experience, with players encouraged to comb through the Land of Shadow on horseback as they search for dungeons to adventure through, treasures to claim, characters to meet, and fearsome bosses to challenge. All of these and more await, with the vast majority of discoveries fleshing out both the expansion's narrative and the wider lore of Elden Ring's world. Through it all runs FromSoftware's trademark "tough-but-fair" design ethos, complete with a special new mechanic that ensures endgame-level characters can't breeze through the DLC's challenges (more on that later in the review).

I went over how to access the DLC and start Shadow of the Erdtree in a guide recently, but the TL;DR is that the process requires you to beat both the Starscourge Radahn and Mohg, Lord of Blood bosses. Then, in Mohg's arena, you'll find one of the expansion's new NPCs along with the option to enter the Land of Shadow.

Elden Ring DLC: The Land of Shadow

The Land of Shadow, much like the Lands Between, facilitates thorough exploration on horseback. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Elden Ring, rich and layered as it was with truly unimaginable amounts of content, had one notable problem: some of the Lands Between's open world was overly formulaic, which made portions of the game's secrets rather predictable past the mid-game. Though each of the map's regions do feature a healthy number of more original, bespoke dungeons, it became tough to get excited about finding caves, mines, and catacombs once you realized that every area had these, and often several of each.

Before playing Shadow of the Erdtree, I was hopeful FromSoftware would address this criticism with the DLC, perhaps narrowing the scale of its world down a bit but filling it with more distinctive discoveries to stumble across. Having now journeyed and played through the vast majority of the Land of Shadow, I'm beyond happy to say my hopes have been made reality.

Indeed, while the map is huge for a DLC — about the size of Limgrave and Liurnia of the Lakes combined, if you placed them side-by-side — its individual areas are smaller, but also considerably denser with a greater number of unique secrets that are an absolute joy to find through Elden Ring's organic, icon-free exploration. That's not to say there aren't any common caves or catacombs here, because there are; there's just a significantly lower ratio of them compared to more remarkable types of side content than there was in the base game, and they're scattered far wider, too. Essentially, Shadow of the Erdtree is the open world of Elden Ring refined to near-perfection, with the DLC handsomely rewarding the attentive and the curious with layer upon layer of wonders.

You may remember these fields of gorgeous blue flowers from one of the DLC's trailers. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Of course, a big part of what makes the secrets Shadow of the Erdtree has in store so special is FromSoftware's world-class art direction, which makes up for what Elden Ring lacks in terms of raw graphical fidelity tenfold. Like the base game, the Land of Shadow is a rich and colorful feast for the eyes, with everything from grand castles and colossal towers to sequestered villages and war-torn ruins scattered throughout its numerous fantasy biomes (along with some particularly special areas and points of interest I won't spoil here). Fittingly for a world in shade, though, there are striking dark overtones here, both visual and thematic. This is made immediately apparent when the DLC starts in fields of golden grass — partially bathed in shadow and strewn with hundreds of spectral headstones — that stretch as far as the eye can see.

There's also an incredible amount of jaw-dropping verticality to this realm, with the developers somehow managing to build a map that feels comparable to the Lands Between's highest peaks and deepest depths despite only being about a third of its size. There's a bit of neat interconnectivity to discover in the world's layout, too, though don't expect something on the level of Dark Souls' Lordran.

Shadow of the Erdtree, much like the rest of Elden Ring, reserves its more structured and interconnected Dark Souls-style level designs for its Legacy Dungeons, which are the largest zones you'll find in the Land of Shadow. There are three of these, and although their sizes vary — one in particular is so unfathomably massive that it took me an entire day of playtime to explore, and I'm still probably missing something there — all of them are put together expertly, and I had a blast playing through each one.

Elden Ring DLC: Gameplay, bosses, and combat

Hornsent Knights are one of the deadliest new foes you'll face in Shadow of the Erdtree. (Image credit: Windows Central)

One thing that's always made FromSoftware action RPG DLCs appealing is their inclusion of several new enemy types to fight, with base game foes often either completely absent from or placed very sparingly in their environments. Given that Elden Ring is far grander in scale than something like Dark Souls or Bloodborne, I was curious to see how the studio would handle "populating" Shadow of the Erdtree's areas, especially after some players voiced concerns about the reuse of enemies in the vanilla experience.

Lots of the enemies you'll encounter on your journey are wholly new, with brutally strong curved greatsword-wielding horned knights, unsettling gargoyle-like birds, large half-spider, half-scorpion beasts, and a number of other threats ready to send you back to your latest Site of Grace. Some, however, are indeed repurposed from the Lands Between, though most basic troops in the Land of Shadow have been given sizable adjustments to make them feel more distinct. Generic soldiers are more aggressive and wield large axes or pikes with entirely new movesets, while knights battle with greathammers and twinblades instead of greatswords and spears.

Overall, I think the developers struck a great balance here, only reusing mobs in limited quantities and where appropriate so that encounters with new ones can shine, with tweaks to the rank-and-file spicing things up considerably. Rest assured, even seasoned Elden Ring veterans have plenty of engaging new challenges to master with this DLC.

One of the earliest bosses you can encounter is the Divine Beast Dancing Lion. (Image credit: Windows Central)

On that note, let's talk bosses. Bandai Namco has previously revealed that there are 10 major bosses in Shadow of the Erdtree; I encountered and defeated eight in my playthrough for this review — including the expansion's final boss — along with a myriad of minibosses found off the beaten path in side dungeons or other hidden locations (the remaining two are likely in the pair of areas I wasn't able to find before writing this).

Some of Elden Ring's bosses are criticized for having overly lengthy attack chains or unreasonable offensive flurries (looking at you, Malenia's Waterfowl Dance), along with extremely narrow recovery windows that can make getting hits of your own in feel impossible sometimes. Though I greatly enjoy most of the base game's bosses, I do agree that some have these issues, and had high expectations going into the DLC for FromSoftware to design its bouts with better balancing.

Shadow of the Erdtree has exceeded those expectations completely, and I'm confident in saying that several of its bosses will become known as some of the best in Soulsborne history. Every major one I bested was an amazing fight, and while one's second phase is a bit much, all of their movesets are fairly telegraphed and intuitive to learn, ensuring that each has finely tuned mechanics to match their incredible visual and musical spectacle. Be ready to get humbled, though, as these are unquestionably some of FromSoftware's toughest ever encounters.

Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes can be found everywhere, with at least one typically found within major points of interest like Castle Ensis. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Speaking of difficulty, the developers have implemented a new "Shadow Realm Blessing" upgrade mechanic to give the Land of Shadow its own progression curve for endgame characters that's reminiscent of leveling during the base game, while simultaneously encouraging widespread exploration. Though you'll start the DLC quite susceptible to incoming attacks, you'll gain the ability to permanently reduce the damage you take while also improving the damage you deal in the Land of Shadow with Scadutree Fragments. Similarly, both Torrent and your summoned Spirit Ashes will get these benefits when you find and use Revered Spirit Ashes.

Both of these can be found all over Shadow of the Erdtree as special treasures, with upgrades eventually requiring two, and then three to perform. If you're struggling with a certain fight or area, you may want to come back later when you've found and buffed up with more of these, much like how exploring to level and find gear could help you overcome hurdles in the Lands Between. I love the feeling of progression that Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes add to the experience, though even with the stat improvements they grant, I'd say incoming damage in the expansion feels a bit overtuned.

In addition to these two upgrade materials, you'll also find plenty of other loot as you explore the Land of Shadow, including crafting recipes for powerful buff consumables, max level Smithing Stones, randomly dropped gear from defeated foes, and tons of Shadow of the Erdtree's new weapons, armor sets, Ashes of War, talismans, spells, and more. There's great variety and creativity in these sandbox additions, which ensures you'll find exciting things to use no matter which of the best Elden Ring builds you've chosen; a sword capable of afflicting minor enemies with Sleep permanently, a Frostbite-applying weapon version of Perfumer aromatics, and sorcery bolts that split into smaller fragments as they assail a target are just a few of the things I walked away with that play nicely with the Strength/intelligence character I used for this playthrough.

Elden Ring DLC: Story and characters (no spoilers)

Needle Knight Leda is the first new character you'll meet when you begin the DLC in Mohg's arena. (Image credit: Windows Central)

As I wrote before, the narrative of Shadow of the Erdtree is centered around Miquella, Queen Marika's son. Miquella has mysteriously traveled to the Land of Shadow in the aftermath of the defeat of Mohg, the Lord of Blood — his abductor — at your hands (give this explainer a read if you need a refresher on pre-DLC context), and now you, along with a band of his followers, are tailing him to learn what he plans to do.

The Empyrean's motivations unravel as you progress through the expansion and find cryptic crescent-shaped crosses he's left in his wake. These are often where you'll encounter his followers as they, too, search for "Kindly Miquella" in lands scarred by the flames of Messmer the Impaler, another major character you'll meet with significant ties to the Land of Shadow's past. 

There are seven — yes, seven — of these devotees, and each one has a questline that connects to both the main story and the arcs of the other characters in fascinating ways. Though a few of these are easy to miss and a bit confusing to progress, I feel that overall, they're quite compelling, complete with great dialogue and voice acting. Eventually, they all coalesce at the climax of the DLC's core narrative, which culminates in some fun and genuinely shocking twists.

Ultimately, there's a great character-driven tale here that's enriched by FromSoftware's excellent world building and environmental storytelling, and it's one I look forward to playing through again alongside Elden Ring's community.

Elden Ring DLC review: Conclusion

Though often darker than the base game, Shadow of the Erdtree isn't without its vibrant locations. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Previews for Shadow of the Erdtree often described it as "more of the same," and given that this is Elden Ring we're talking about, that alone was enough to rocket my hype levels into the stratosphere. Now that I've played through the full experience myself, though, I feel compelled to stress that it's not just "more of the same." It's better. It's everything you love about Elden Ring, but amplified, and with none of the design issues that detracted from the base game's excellence. Not only does it rekindle the joy of discovery in this incredible world, but it elevates it to new heights.

The developers have given an official warning that spoilers for the DLC are out in the wild, so I strongly recommend staying off social media and out of comment sections until it's out, and you're playing. And while I agree with Elden Ring game director Hidetaka Miyazaki that using guides is "a perfectly valid playstyle," my recommendation is to go into and adventure through the Land of Shadow blind. Don't rob yourself of the magic.

Arise once more, Tarnished champions. The Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree DLC is slated for release on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PS5, and PS4 on June 21, 2024. 

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree | $34.89 at CDKeys (Xbox)

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree | $34.89 at CDKeys (Xbox)

Shadow of the Erdtree is Elden Ring at its most refined, with the base game's overly formulaic elements cut away and some of FromSoftware's best boss fights. The result is a 40-hour long masterpiece of a DLC that's an absolute must-play for any Soulsborne fan.

Also see: Shadow of the Erdtree (PC, $37.09) | Deluxe Edition (PC, $90.89)

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.