Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree hands-on report

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Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree hands-on report

Exploring the new mechanics, weapons, and challenges to be found in FromSoftware’s biggest-ever expansion.

The Land of Shadow is calling.

After a more-than-two-year wait, we’re weeks away from the launch of Shadow of the Erdtree, the enormous DLC for Elden Ring. FromSoftware hasn’t spent those years basking the accolades their first open-world adventure received; instead, they’ve been hard at work on this, their biggest and most ambitious expansion ever. 

When I recently got a chance to go hands-on with Shadow of the Erdtree, even the tiny slice I saw made it easy to remember why Elden Ring is so beloved. Rise, Tarnished, and hear of the things I saw.

We’re not in Limgrave anymore

Shadow of the Erdtree takes place in an entirely new region, known as the Land of Shadow, and is accessed by touching the mummified arm found in Mohgwyn Palace in the base game. It’s here that Miquella, the oft-mentioned but never-seen character from the main game, traveled to in the game’s lore.

The section I explored opened with a sprawling meadow filled with gravestones and shadowy spirits. In the distance, I could clearly see what lay ahead of me: a vast settlement, an expansive castle, and a dark woodland looming on the horizon. Above all, an enormous tree stood, charred and gnarled, in stark contrast to the golden tree seen across the main game’s landscape.

While regions in the original game often glowed with autumnal warmth, this region’s dried grass and dying shrubs felt ancient and blighted. The dungeon and fortress I explored—Belurat Tower Settlement and Castle Ensis—were claustrophobic and folded over on themselves. They were filled with winding paths and concealed shortcuts, opening to reveal routes back to Sites of Grace. I fought through flooded cellars, lava-filled chasms, and forests alive with an eerie blue glow.

Fresh yet familiar, The Land of Shadow feels like a natural extension to The Lands Between, and FromSoftware’s mastery of level design is displayed here in glorious form.

New opponents await

It wouldn’t be a FromSoftware update without fresh foes to face, and in that regard, Shadow of the Erdtree comes out swinging. The first enemy I faced dove down to attack me from atop a pillar and quickly sent me back to the Site of Grace. After that, I faced hatchet-wielding ghosts, death sorcery-breathing birds, and knights more lethal than anything I had encountered before. Gigantic, flaming brazier-like beasts flung brimstone in my direction mere moments after I started my journey, setting the scene for the rest of my time there.

And then there are bosses. Shadow of the Erdtee will feature 10+ full bosses and additional side bosses. Some are required to progress the story, and others can be challenged when you feel up to it.

I faced two of these. The first, the Devine Beast Dancing Lion, is found in Belurat Tower Settlement and felt like that classic FromSoftware early game skill check. The grotesque beast leaped across the arena to attack, using a mixture of elemental abilities to keep me on my toes before crushing my poor sorcerer between its teeth again and again.

The second was the magic-wielding Twin Moon Knight, one of the guardians of Castle Ensis, who used a distinctive double full moon attack that filled the entire arena with magic blasts. This devastating ability was challenging to avoid and threw me into the air before slamming me back down to earth, often with lethal force. And if the double moon doesn’t get you, their one-two combo of pyro and glintstone-infused blades will.

One consistent thing between every enemy I faced was their speed and agility. Without exception, the inhabitants of the Land of Shadow felt lethal even from a distance due to their ability to sprint, leap, and spin through the air to reach me. Enemies move fast. It’s hard to say if this is unique to the area I explored, but players should be prepared to get very familiar with that dodge button.

Rebuild your armory

Shadow of the Erdtree will introduce around one hundred new weapons for players to discover. From the start, I chose a Greatsword-sized katana, which caused fire damage when it made contact, and a battle shield featuring large metal spikes on the edge, turning this protective item into an offensive tool.

Players can also discover eight brand-new weapon types. The details on many of these types were being kept under wraps for now, but I was given access to one: Martial Arts.

This new category allowed me to go into combat bare-handed, swinging heavy punches and slamming kicks into my opponents. Just like other weapon types, Martial Arts can be assigned a Skill to suit your playstyle, and mine saw me taking a leaf from some of the bosses’ books by leaping through the air and landing a flurry of kicks on my enemies.

Fighting barehanded might seem like madness in this kind of world, but I found it remarkably effective. The blunt impact of the blows made it easier to break enemies’ stance, leaving them open to a quick and deadly finisher. Martial Arts was a joy to use, and if the other new categories are even half as fun to play with, Tarnished are in for a treat with the new weapon types.

Bolster yourself with Grace

Shadow of the Erdtree introduces a new system, called Shadow Realm Blessing, to help level the playing field a little. Intrepid explorers are offered the chance to find and use a new consumable to apply a stackable buff that negates some incoming damage and increases the damage you cause to opponents in the Land of Shadow.

This consumable, Scadutree Fragments, are rare, but can be found littered across the world if you look carefully enough. Useable only at Sites of Grace, the amount needed for the next level of buff increases after each use, but seeking them out could make your journey slightly less harrowing. Of course, if you prefer a tougher challenge, the use of the Scadutree Fragments is entirely optional, and the buff has no effect outside of the Land of Shadow.

Shadow of the Erdtree is shaping up to be a worthy expansion to FromSoftware’s now-legendary adventure. If you’ve been away from Elden Ring for some time, jumping into this new region will feel comfortingly familiar, but even for veterans, there is plenty to uncover.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree launches on June 21 for PS5 and PS4, and requires the Elden Ring base game to play.

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