I got to play Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree and I'm now confident it'll be one of the best expansions of the decade

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree magic giant
(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

As I summon the ever-trusty horned steed Torrent, I see a spectral graveyard in front of me. Hundreds upon hundreds of ghostly graves glow in the night. Gargoyle-esque carrion birds peer through the dark, perched on top of crumbling mausoleums. Corpses hung from a nearby tree swing in the wind. A burning colossus strides across the field, lighting up the sky like an unholy effigy of some forgotten dark god. 

So opens Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree, the massive expansion to developer FromSoftware and publisher Bandai Namco's 2022 hit action role-playing game. At a recent preview event, I was invited to play an early build of Shadow of the Erdtree, exploring the starting area and learning how this expansion builds on Elden Ring. After over three hours hands-on, I'm confident this won't just be a highlight for 2024's gaming slate, but for the entire history of game expansions, with new enemies to fight, bosses to overcome, and secrets to discover.

Disclaimer

Accommodations for this event were provided by Bandai Namco. The company did not see the contents of this article before publishing.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree Standard Edition

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree Standard Edition

Miquella's mysteries continue as Tarnished players head to the Land of Shadow, a mysterious realm filled with new monsters and powerful magic. This expansion is launching over two years after the release of the original game, and from our time hands-on, it looks amazing.

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Starting off in the Land of Shadow

My hands-on time with Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree began with a level 150 character built for the purposes of the preview, complete with a variety of gear and maxed-out weapons, though the ever-trusty Mimic Tear was not included in my arsenal. As play begins, Bandai Namco notes that players will have to beat General Radahn and Mohg, Lord of Blood in the main game before being able to access the expansion, and this new content is very much built with experienced, well-equipped players in mind. After beating Mohg in his lair, touching the withered arm of Miquella's cocoon transports the Tarnished to the Land of Shadow, a completely new map and the setting for Shadow of the Erdtree. 

The story setup here is fairly straightforward, insofar as FromSoftware games can be. The Tarnished is following in the footsteps of Miquella the Kind, the brother of Malenia who has shed his flesh and fled to the Realm of Shadow. Players won't be alone, as a gaggle of companions who previously served Radahn and Mohg have also come to this land in search of Miqeulla.

Bandai Namco notes that this is FromSoftware's biggest expansion ever, massively dwarfing prior efforts such as Bloodborne's The Old Hunters or Dark Souls 3's Ashes of Ariandel and Ringed City DLC packs.

The scale of this DLC is made abundantly clear almost immediately, with the aforementioned ghostly graveyard serving as the wide-open entrance to a new land. Bandai Namco notes that this is FromSoftware's biggest expansion ever, massively dwarfing prior efforts such as Bloodborne's The Old Hunters or Dark Souls 3's Ashes of Ariandel and Ringed City DLC packs. The total area is said to be bigger than the region of Limgrave in the base game, a comparison that feels like an understatement after spending time wandering in the starting region.

Like the rest of Elden Ring, the Land of Shadow is an open world meant to be explored on horseback, with secrets and alternate routes tucked around every corner. For this preview, I had access to the starting zone, which includes a wide open field with two major places to explore: Belurat Castle and Castle Ensis. The former is a Legacy Dungeon (a kind of self-contained optional challenge zone with special rewards) with architecture reminiscent of Leyndell, while the latter is a war-torn fort pulling some inspiration from Raya Lucaria, and what appears to be an obstacle that's required to complete in order to progress along the main path of the DLC.

Gargoyle-like birds stalk the Land of Shadow. (Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Straight away, I attempted to tackle the aforementioned burning colossus, a wandering boss that paces across the edge of the graveyard. Attacking it and watching its lifebar not visibly reduce made me realize what a poor decision I'd made about three seconds before I was killed by a fiery blast. This colossus (and some other dangerous threats) simply aren't meant to be tackled right away. 

One way of growing stronger and dealing with those uber-dangerous foes is through collecting special fragments that make you deal more damage to (and take less damage from) any enemies in the Land of Shadow. My limited time hands-on means I don't quite understand how the mechanic works, but in theory, it's similar to how players had to collect Giant Souls in order to stand against King Vendrick in Dark Souls 2. 

Progressing further reveals camps of enemies along the roads and hidden off the beaten path, with dozens of soldiers and magic scholars still defending the damaged bridge to Castle Ensis, with an armored magic-wielding giant blocking off access to the castle itself. The balance in Elden Ring against some basic enemies felt a little off in some late-game areas like the Haligtree, and the possibility that would continue in the DLC was a concern of mine heading into this preview. Fortunately, that's not at all the case here, and practically every "regular" fight I was in felt tough but fair.

Deadly new weapons and fighting styles await. (Image credit: Bandai Namco)

As should be expected, there are also some gnarly new enemies lying in wait across the Land of Shadow. Oddly-lithe Omen warriors wielding hooked blades dance and weave up winding castle stairways, while venom-spewing overgrown scorpions made trekking through Belurat Castle perilous, with twisting paths and meandering shortcuts around every corner.

Bandai Namco PR says that there are more than 10 bosses in the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC, with two being encountered during my hands-on time. The first, the twisted and aptly named Dancing Lion, is the final threat awaiting in Belurat Castle. Meanwhile, a lone swordswoman guards a pool in Castle Ensis, cutting down any intruders.

There are more than 10 bosses in the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC.

Both of these bosses provided a significant challenge, dishing out obscene amounts of damage with every blow and utilizing a range of attacks that covered massive chunks of their battlefield arenas. The Dancing Lion used extravagant moves, weaving through the area and calling down elemental blasts that rapidly swapped between frost, thunder, and more. This meant that I constantly had to change my approach. Meanwhile, the swordswoman weaves with grace, coating her blades in fire and magic in a manner reminiscent of Dark Souls 3's Pontiff Sulyvahn and unleashing fluid combo after combo.

While it took a large number of tries, I was able to beat the Dancing Lion before my time ended, just barely obtaining victory right after running out of healing flasks in classic Elden Ring fashion, breathing a sigh of relief at my narrow triumph. The swordswoman, on the other hand, I was not able to overcome, so I'm eagerly looking forward to our rematch when the expansion arrives.

Towering knights and many others stand in your way. (Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Ultimately, it's those renewed senses of struggle before victory and wandering before discovery that has me more excited than anything else. This world is packed to the brim with secrets around every corner, so I know for a fact there's areas and enemies I missed despite exploring carefully. My mind is already racing, with specific areas that I want to revisit more carefully on my second go in the Land of Shadow. That's only amplified due to how big this DLC is. With hours spent in the opening zone, how much more time will it take to uncover everything else that awaits beyond the two bosses I fought so far? 

I still have tons of questions that need answers, many of which won't be easily obtained given FromSoftware's eclectic storytelling style. What kinds of new environments and foes await further in, beyond the opening of the Land of Shadow? What exactly is the "seduction" spoken of in the story trailer, and what did Queen Marika the Eternal do? What is Messmer the Impaler's role in all this? Why do some of the Omen enemies bear a firm resemblance to a uterus? I've got no idea, but I'm looking forward to finding out. 

Since it launched over two years ago, Elden Ring has been praised to no end, and rightfully so, with my former colleague Miles Dompier giving it a perfect score in our review. It's an open world game that built on FromSoftware's established design and elevated it to new heights. Everything I've played indicates that Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is purely more of that, and that's more than enough to make it one of my most anticipated gaming experiences of the year.

I cannot wait to dive back in. 

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is scheduled to launch on June 21, 2024 across Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4. Preorders for Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree are open now. As an expansion, it naturally requires you to already own the base game before playing.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree Edition

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree Edition

Grab the acclaimed game and the upcoming expansion in one fell swoop! Elden Ring is a sprawling adventure that offers dozens of hours of exploration and wonder, and Shadow of the Erdtree seems set to build on that when it arrives in June 2024.

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Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.