Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware’s highly anticipated expansion

Let's get ready for Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree with FromSoftware's spectacular launch trailer

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware’s highly anticipated expansion

We flew to Paris to try Shadow of the Erdtree. After three hours of playing, here’s what we can tell you about this fascinating expansion of Elden Ring.

Although FromSoftware has rightfully earned a place among the most renowned teams of all time in the last decade, Elden Ring still remains one of the highest peaks ever reached by the Japanese company. This incredible open world may not have had the evolutionary power and impact on the development world of Demon’s and Dark Souls, yet its astonishing success has managed to discover the soulslike genre well beyond the (however enormous) niche to which he was referring.

Elden Ring captured players that no FromSoftware title had even remotely intrigued, and managed to break down such barriers with its formula that even its DLC, Shadow of the Erdtree , was a more anticipated event than many full blockbusters. And the great thing is that this diffusion arises mainly from general word of mouth and the quality of the base game, because, when it comes to marketing and communication, the tendency of the Japanese studio and Bandai Namco has always been to punctuate the information by revealing the bare minimum .

Shortly after launch, however, Miyazaki and company usually always offer at least a taste of the fairly in-depth gameplay of their creatures, and this time too they respected this habit, giving us and a lot of the international press a test of three hours in the first region of the Land of Shadows .

We flew to Paris to try the game in an exceptional location – we were in a deconsecrated church, very suitable – we then tried to glean everything we could, before the inevitable arrival of the complete game for the review. Curiously, this test was not without its surprises, and turned out to be much more enlightening than expected.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware’s highly anticipated expansion

An expanse of death

In case you’re wondering, all the minimum requirements to reach the new Elden Ring area have been confirmed: Mohg and Radhan must be eliminated to gain access to the DLC and this is found right on the map where the first one is fought of two. There you will find a mysterious armored warrior waiting for you in search of Miquella, who will ask you to interact with the chrysalis nearby; predictably, this is the entrance to the first area, initially so dark that the player can orient himself only by observing an expanse of ghostly tombs and the light of grace in the distance.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
This is one of the first legacy dungeons you’ll explore in Shadow of the Erdtree. If you’re wondering… yes, it’s as complex on the inside as it looks on the outside

Things change very quickly, however: as soon as you rest at the first checkpoint the day advances, and a light muted by an unnatural sky illuminates one of the most beautiful areas ever seen in FromSoftware’s creature. In fact, the Land of Shadows is only minimally reminiscent of Sepolcris , and as soon as you start exploring it you quickly notice how its lands are much richer in points of interest and secrets. Just turn the camera marginally to notice complex structures, suspended green areas, gigantic stone portals and a huge distorted tree called Scadutree towards the horizon; here too, in short, FromSoftware has managed to apply the design canons of classic souls to extended maps (and that partial freedom of approach to exploration), but has not forgotten to offer clear visual clues to immediately understand where it is necessary to head. Not only that, already in the first area there are two Legacy Dungeons , respectively called Ensis Castle and Belurat Walled Settlement, obviously full of dangers and with dedicated bosses.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
Don’t attack this guy on sight. He is one of Miquella’s followers, and is clearly linked to some quest. The dear Empyrean who guides your new journey has many friends, and they all come from different factions. Curious…

The two Legacy Dungeons were not huge – although, due to the nature of the test, we went straight without getting too lost in exploration – however Belurat particularly surprised us with its level design , which structurally seemed to be a smaller and more easily explored version of the first game’s capital, Leyndell. The fact that you can wander around similar maps right away, however, should be a clear indication of what Shadow of the Erdtree will offer in terms of content . More than 10 major bosses have been confirmed (some optional, it seems), along with over 100 new weapons belonging to eight new categories, and this should indicate a DLC easily capable of occupying a few dozen hours at least even for veteran players (and probably many more for those who love exploring each map in detail).

Since we have brought up weapons, however, it is time to talk about the peculiarities of our test, because predictably to wander in the new setting we had at our disposal not one, but three different characters, all built in a very specific way. To be precise, he was a mixed faith/intelligence spellcaster, a powerful strength warrior and an agile dexterity fighter; However, they did not use skills and weapons from the base game and had been carefully calibrated to be able to use a large number of new weapons from the expansion, normally not available from the start. The reason? Let us experiment with the additional move sets , and it only took a few minutes to understand why the studio wanted us to participate in this…

Team that wins sometimes changes

On the other hand, there were only two ways to push anyone who had finished the campaign to test new weapons and builds: create shamelessly powerful instruments of death capable of breaking everything even more than the basic ones, or create weapons so unique and hilarious that stimulate the curiosity of any user .

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
Have you always wanted to be as annoying as the perfumers in the base game? Now you can! And their flasks are truly powerful weapons

Fortunately, FromSoftware seems to have mainly followed the second path, although a hint of the first has been noticed in certain choices. To be precise, in our inventory we found completely new categories, from the perfumers’ bottles of the first game to gloves with various effects, up to apparently classic weapons, but equipped with move sets so different from the common ones that they could practically represent categories stand-alone. The exceptional thing? Each of the weapons on offer was so unique that it deserved its own build . To give a few examples, the new gloves allow you to fight like a kung fu master, complete with spectacular combinations of punches, spinning kicks and area-of-effect weapon art so efficient as to exterminate entire groups of enemies in a flash; the bottles mentioned above spray explosive perfume that remains on the ground and damages anyone who comes within range (but with a limited radius, understandably), and finally the new throwing knives allow you to throw blades in bursts indefinitely at a distance of a few meters, with plus a dedicated art that is very slow in activation and capable of transforming normal throws into sniper shots. Already similar additions could make most people salivate, yet even the most common weapons have confirmed that they have unpredictable tricks at their disposal : hammers and spears? They can be thrown like projectiles with the heavy attack and return to the hand after casting without any particular problems; other types of gloves? They don’t necessarily attack with martial arts, but they can apply status and give a moveset more similar to that of a ferocious beast. Add to all this frighteningly powerful weapons such as a fire greatsword with which we have chopped most of our opponents, and a long sword with movements comparable to those of Malenia (but more basic and elegant), and you will get a list of first fruits capable of making you falter. even the player most fond of his classic build.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
Even shields have unique movesets in this expansion. A joy for anyone who wants to use atypical and extremely defensive builds

Obviously there is also no shortage of new magic , some of the ones we tested seemed truly brutal. Unfortunately, however, some balancing problems in the demo did not allow us to validate its effectiveness. Once properly adjusted, however, these too will almost certainly become an excellent addition to the arsenal of any wizard, cleric, or in between.

In case you are afraid of not having enough materials available to enhance all the good things described above, we assure you that there is no need to worry. During our exploration we found a myriad of weapon enhancement materials, clearly designed to allow any player to bring at least a handful of new items to maximum power level effortlessly. That there is such an abundance makes perfect sense, especially when you consider the number of new instruments and how much care has gone into creating each one. That said, even these powerful new methods of cracking the skulls of enemies may not be enough against the dangers of the Land of Shadows…

The needle hangs towards the slaps

Remember when it was reported that Shadow of the Erdtree’s difficulty would be similar to what we saw from the base campaign’s Giantspeak onwards? Well, whoever said that was blatantly lying. Our test gave us characters with a lot of vigor, respectable armor and equipment that was not only fully upgraded, but impossible to obtain at the beginning of the expansion, yet there was absolutely no shortage of deadly blows.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
Even among the basic enemies there is no shortage of surprises. Do you see these birds? They are miniature versions of the death birds from the basic campaign. Extremely annoying

Any inhabitant of the Land of Shadows has the ability to melt your life point bar at the speed of light: monsters kill within a handful of hits, some bosses can disintegrate you in one or two attacks even with an investment in force for several of 50 points and, if that wasn’t enough, practically every main opponent has a borderline insane amount of life points, which requires significant optimization of your character to have an easy life. Sure, the test builds weren’t perfectly optimized and lacked, for example, some of Elden Ring’s most devastating tricks (weapons with very high bleeding, certain spells and much more), but they weren’t to be underestimated in the slightest. Shadow of the Erdtree’s difficulty is a monstrous spike compared to the rest of the campaign; this expansion is clearly designed as endgame content.

Just to make you understand why the level of challenge is so high, we would like to point out that this is not a simple question of damage . No, to ensure that players do not ferociously abuse dodging and feel in constant danger, the developers of FromSoftware have applied Malenia’s characteristics to many monsters and bosses of the Land of Shadows : certain enemies have unnatural tracking, and permanence activates moves in such a way that it is very difficult to dodge them even with the right timing. Furthermore, the blows landed on heavy shields seem to have a more resounding impact on the stamina of one’s alter ego, and the statuses give the impression of working more occasionally on enemies (even if we were only able to test this last thing to a limited extent). Yes, simply put, stronger builds should work here too, but certainly not with the unstoppable power with which they clean everything in the base game. We’ll talk about balance and its dilemmas in more detail in a separate article, but considering how Elden Ring works, perhaps these were the only possible choices to maintain a high difficulty in a DLC.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
The balance of Shadow of the Erdtree is once again quite unstable, especially because it is calibrated upwards, to stem the most exaggerated builds. The blessings, however, seem designed to allow anyone to at least partially circumvent this

That said, part of the charm of FromSoftware’s open world also lies in the ease with which this level of challenge can be circumvented, compared to other souls. Miyazaki and company have therefore decided to implement an extra “blessings” system into the game with which you can strengthen your character and make your life easier against bosses. Wandering around the map you will find Miquella’s runes waiting for you in various areas and nearby there will always be a part of her “body” that can be spent on graces to obtain the Scadutree’s blessing – in practice an enhancement valid only in the new area, which decreases damage taken by enemies and increases your own. Accumulating several before the bosses is very feasible (just leave them as the last objective) and can significantly simplify the lives of those who were not able to perfect their skills during the basic campaign. There is only one problem: it is not clear at the moment whether it acts in percentages or with fixed values , nor whether it has a different effectiveness on low-level characters and on characters who are already enormously enhanced. On those offered for testing, the effectiveness of this blessing did not seem particularly exceptional and, if it did not offer significant changes on low-leveled characters, Shadow of the Erdtree could prove borderline impossible for some players. These are undoubtedly aspects that will need to be properly evaluated during the review. For the record, in parallel to that offered by Miquella, on certain statues there is an additional blessing called Revered Spirit Ash Blessing , which enhances the resistance of Torrente (your faithful mount) and ashes for summoning. It is obvious that they are still seen as a resource to be taken into consideration.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, we spent three hours with FromSoftware's highly anticipated expansion
Exploring the game world could pay off more than ever in this DLC. The mysteries to be revealed are more exciting than ever, and seem much better delineated

We mentioned it a little while ago, but it is worth underlining it again: the build of the game we tested was not the most recent and had clear bugs, as well as strange skill balance problems. Certain charged spells did less damage than their basic versions, sometimes the criticals behind them didn’t work, and it’s clear that to offer us advanced weapons the developers had to touch on some significant data, because even certain talismans found while exploring didn’t seem to have effects of any kind . It is quite certain that the full version will be quite different from the one we tried, and who knows whether even the balance of blessings might reveal its actual qualities more clearly.

Overall, however, Shadow of the Erdtree managed to completely capture us right away. The Land of Shadows is a rich place capable of bewitching anyone who explores it, not to mention that it takes very little to meet a large number of NPCs, and start asking yourself countless new questions about Miquella and the game’s universe. Furthermore, every encounter, every cutscene, and every description impresses thanks to the expert staging of the developers, now among the best in the world when it comes to creating worlds that drip with mystery from every pore. Of course, doubts about balance remain (and it’s unlikely that they will be completely allayed at launch, knowing FromSoftware), but it’s really unlikely that what you’ve seen will disappoint. Shadow of the Erdtree is clearly a huge and ambitious expansion, and we can’t wait to discover every secret.

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