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July 2024

Elden Ring

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: From Software
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Elden Ring' Shadow of the Erdtree DLC

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 20, 2024 @ 11:00 p.m. PDT

Unparalleled adventure awaits in Elden Ring, an epic fantasy action/RPG title created by Dark Souls' Hidetaka Miyazaki, and George R.R. Martin.

Elden Ring is one of the most ambitious games to ever come out. Creating a massive world filled to the brim with things to explore without losing its appeal, Elden Ring made it feel like the developers held nothing back. Its DLC, Shadow of the Erdtree, had a huge legacy to live up to. It doesn't just need to be good; it needs to be Elden Ring good. I was genuinely delighted to discover that it more than deserves its place alongside the main game in the pantheon of Fromsoft's greatest.

Shadow of the Erdtree begins late in the game. There's little I can say that isn't a massive spoiler, so I'll simply say that it starts after you've defeated Starscourge Radahn and Mohg, Lord of Blood. Upon defeating the latter, you'll be able to venture to a new land called the Shadow Realm. This realm holds the secrets to the missing god Miquella's fate, and the god's power has drawn warriors from every faction in the Land Between to seek its mysteries. You join these lucky — or is it unlucky? — would-be heroes as they seek to unravel this strange land.

If I have one minor complaint about Shadow of the Erdtree, it is that it comes so late in the game. You need to be able to take out Mohg, Lord of Blood in order to access the DLC, and by that point, your play style is fairly set, and you likely have at least one weapon at max upgrade level. Obviously, the general ease of respecing your character and the entire NG+ feature means there are still plenty of chances to use some of the new stuff, but it did make it difficult to drag myself away from tried-and-true methods. On the other hand, I appreciate how it doesn't compromise. Selling DLC that requires players to defeat one of the toughest bosses in the game displays a confidence in your player base that is uncommon but welcome.

The Shadow Realm is that it is huge and arguably the single biggest land area in Elden Ring. Going into it was a genuinely overwhelming sensation as I looked around and discovered massive mountains to scale and distant islands to reach. There are tons of caves, each of which has their own secrets and items. In general, Erdtree feels like the quality you'd expect from the rest of the game. Indeed, similar to how I felt about the main game, I could get lost exploring the DLC, and my first dozen hours were spent riding around and finding hidden items, unexpected paths, and dungeons aplenty. There's a lot to discover. Half the fun of the game is discovery, so I don't want to spoil any of the specific tricks, but there are invisible walls, hidden passages and secret areas galore. There are still Spiritsprings that can launch Torrent high into the air, but many of them are sealed, and you have to knock down pillars of rock to free them.

The DLC is also frequently beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Venturing through a flooded city while hearing ominous noises, I could swear that something moved beneath the water. It's a horror experience that will put any Resident Evil to shame, and more than once, I entered an area, saw an unholy abomination, and noped right out. Other areas were genuinely breathtaking displays of masterful art design and incredible to look at. Wandering into the Cerulean Coast near sunrise and getting the massive splash of color almost made me forget that roughly five inches away were a dozen different things that wanted me dead.

Going right into Erdtree from the main game could be a rude awakening. Enemies in Erdtree hit hard. Even the everyday foes can chunk a vigor-leveled character's health down in a couple of hits. This is because Erdtree has its own leveling system. By exploring the land, you can find Scadutree Fragments. At any Grace point, you can use these to add a blessing to your character, giving you a percentage increase to all stats. The more you find, the stronger you get — but that also means that you'll need more Scadutree Fragments to level up next time. It's rather like using Golden Seeds to upgrade your Flask charges. A similar system exists for Torrent and the summon ashes called Revered Spirit Ashes, so your Mimic Tear can join in the fun.

It's a pretty cool system that  means all the leveling you did in the main game isn't worthless. It also means you're not inherently overpowered going into the DLC if you've grinded to the extreme. Since you can use the Scadutree Fragments when you want, if you're a masochist who loves fighting hard bosses, you can go in with the hardest challenges. On the other hand, if you find yourself overwhelmed by a boss, you can leave and explore the lands to seek out more fragments and return with better weapons and boosts.

The Shadow Realm is also plentiful with upgrade materials. There are various dungeons that hemorrhage the items you need to upgrade weapons and Spirit Ashes. (Somber Stone 7 is still infuriatingly rare, in my experience.) This alleviates some of the potential frustration of having a fully upgraded weapon but finding that the DLC weapons or spirits are more fun. Indeed, the game's generosity is very welcome, and just the act of going through one of the Forge dungeons will probably get you enough Smithing Stones to upgrade a new weapon to near-max.

Shadow of the Erdtree has a ridiculous number of new weapons. A good number of these are newer, cooler versions of weapons in the main game, including new greatswords, bows, and more. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I can't avoid some spoilers about the new weapons. There are a whole host of new weapon styles in Erdtree, many of which can significantly change how you play the game. These include massive weapons like great katanas, which are massive blades that would feel right at home in Sephiroth's hands, to the ability to fight hand-to-hand as a legitimate fighting style rather than flailing ineffectually. You even get ranged weapons like perfume bottles and throwing daggers which, unlike their item-focused versions, have unlimited uses and their own combat styles.

A lot of these weapons are absurdly cool. One of my favorites was Milady, a light greatsword-style weapon that combined the long reach of a greatsword with a more agile and high-mobility play style. I've always been a little iffy on the slow weapons but loved their reach, so this was a great compromise. I was a bit colder on the Thrusting Shields, a weapon class designed to let you beat up enemies with a shield, but I've always shied away from the heavy tank builds in Souls games, so it might not have clicked with me.

Despite using a magic-focused play style, my biggest surprise was that I found some of the new weapons still worked wonderfully. In particular, I found that throwing daggers (properly tuned to magic) made a fantastic replacement for my lower-level spells to the point where I could save all my FP for bigger and more valuable things. They had enough range to give me an advantage over enemies while coming out much quicker. I was genuinely surprised, as I expected to be most drawn to the new spells — some are extremely cool — but the humble throwing daggers became my new MVP. It was a nice alternative, and I'm tempted to re-spec into a pure throwing dagger build in the future.

There are plenty of magic spells and Ashes of War to find. There's a whole bunch of new abilities for basically every build you can think of. Perhaps what I found most surprising was that there's a good amount of new healing spells and abilities that aren't particularly useful for single player but seem like they'd be phenomenal if you're the kind of player who likes going into other people's games and helping them.

You'll need the help because, of course, Erdtree's bosses play rough. You need to beat Mohg to go in, and that's a pretty telling check of the kind of challenges you can expect. Some of the most intense and overwhelming fights can be found here, including what I think is probably the single coolest battle in the entire game. There are lesser bosses and enemies who won't drive you to controller-breaking frustration, but even those have some nasty tricks up their sleeves. I had to adjust my build and reconsider my options, especially since some bosses seem custom-tailored to counter certain popular cheese strategies. Lord knows the aforementioned swap from magic to dagger-and-magic was born from necessity as much as desire.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is everything one could want from an Elden Ring DLC: a huge new area to explore, new bosses to fight, new weapons to try, and new lore to unravel. It is a genuine joy to play and easily one of my favorite DLCs of all time. Its quality is high enough to even justify the $40 price tag. If you like Elden Ring, then Shadow of the Erdtree will give you everything you could want. If you're a newcomer, it's probably best to play through the game first before taking on the DLC. After all, Mohg, Lord of Blood is only the beginning.

Score: 9.5/10

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