Shadow of the Erdtree is the Best DLC Ever Made

Elden Ring Expands

DLCs are a bit like a second slice of pie. If the first slice was good, do you really need more? And if the first slice was mid, will the second make it better? Especially with a well-received game, fans have come to expect DLC. But often it disappoints, either by being too short or feeling superfluous. Then there’s the difficult choice of how players will access the new content. Make it available to everyone and veteran players will complain, but make it dependent on finishing some major portion of the base game, and you lock out potential new fans (and income). FromSoftware has always been masters of DLC. With Shadow of the Erdtree, they have released what is likely the best DLC for any game, ever. Hyperbole? Maybe, maybe not.

Shadow of the Erdtree is the first — and certainly only — expansion for 2022’s Elden Ring. Playing a FromSoft game has always been like solving a Rubik’s cube covered in thorns. Beating it becomes an obsession, but at the cost of bloody hands. In many ways, Elden Ring gave the player optional padded gloves to wear, and it opened the door to millions of players. It could be said that Shadow of the Erdtree takes those gloves completely off. While it makes hefty demands, however, it pays equally hefty rewards. The challenge is back, baby.

The Question of Difficulty

When it was revealed that the DLC was gated behind a pair of late-game — though optional — bosses, some casual players were resigned to never playing it (only 62% of Elden Ring players had reached the required boss). Others scrambled to complete the basic requirements. But FromSoft knew its core audience. After over two years, the developer assumed that most dedicated players had beaten the game, often several timers over. The core fans were more than ready for new and heftier challenges. 

And challenge it delivered. To the point where the chorus of “it’s too difficult” became hard for FromSoftware to ignore. So, the developer did something rare in its history. Miyazaki and company tweaked the balance post-launch. They made the DLC-only upgrade system even more helpful to players in the early hours of the game.

FromSoft games have never just been about skill or gear, however. Lack one, and you can rely on the other to see you through. Shadow of the Erdtree’s enemies — especially bosses — are often immensely challenging. As always, players with a mastery of mechanics will have the easiest — though not easy — time. But anyone with high-level gear and a smart combination of weapons, armor, and enhancements can muscle through. Shadow of the Erdtree drops some amazing new weapons, too. They’ll change things up in the base game’s PvP community for sure. 

Smart Quality of Life Improvements

Shadow of the Erdtree gives fans both long-requested improvements to the game as well as QOL changes they didn’t even know they wanted. Most of these transfer to the base game as well. First and foremost is the ability to quickly identify new loot. After two years, a player’s inventory is a bulging treasure chest of stuff that can take a long time to scroll through. Shadow of Erdtree tags new acquisitions, making it easy to find that shiny new weapon or talisman. It’s a small thing but much appreciated.

Difficulty scaling in the DLC is handled in a way that rewards high-level players without punishing those with minimum stats. Rather than change the stats on enemies, the game generously doles out two optional items that increase both offensive and defensive player stats. Use the items and the game gets a little easier. But players can opt to not use them and keep the challenge dialed to max. This system doesn’t carry back into the base game. As noted, since release the developer has made the upgrade system even more useful to struggling players.

Lore and narrative are often ignored, but in FromSoftware games, they are nearly always guides to where to go next and what to do. Players of Elden Ring complained that the story signposting was a bit too obtuse. That’s a shame, because the mythic, multi-layered story in Elden Ring is haunting and tragic. 

The story and progression in Shadow of the Erdtree are more clearly designated by a series of crosses, each with a bit of lore and NPCs with helpful maps. Of course, players who couldn’t care less about why they’re there and the backstory of the bosses can still have plenty of hack-and-slash fun. As always, there is a world of hidden content for players to stumble upon. 

Matter of Size and Scope

A lot of DLCs are small chapters of added content that can be completed in a couple of hours. They offer up a new area, a handful of new enemies or weapons, and call it good.

As befits FromSoftware’s sprawling masterpiece of Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree is longer than the majority of action games, clocking in at a minimum of 30-40 hours. What’s not apparent from the map is that most zones have several vertical layers, underground dungeons, and hidden areas, so that the explorable map is much bigger than it already appears. Of course, just like the main game, Shadow of the Erdtree is filled with a huge amount of visual and artistic variety and environmental contrast.

While the DLC naturally recycles some enemy types from Elden Ring, it also includes well over 100 new bosses, dozens of new weapons, spells, incantations, and armor. It’s a great way to refresh the experience of the main game, as all of the new gear can be brought back into the base game to mix up familiar PvP play and make new game + runs more interesting. Generous is a serious understatement.

Nothing’s perfect, of course. Shadow of the Erdtree has a few performance problems and graphical quirks. The difficulty curve is a bit binary: either pretty easy or very difficult, with less middle ground than the base game. 

COGconnected Anticipated

But small issues aside, Shadow of the Erdtree is everything FromSoftware fans were hoping for. Huge, complex, and challenging, Shadow of the Erdtree does what few DLCs accomplish. It gives the player a rewarding new experience by itself and enriches and even improves the base game. Yes, the wait was agony, but the reward is sweet. Like every FromSoft game, it raises the bar for other developers daring to release sub-par DLC.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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