Shadow of the Erdtree is difficult, shame it’s <strong data-lazy-src=

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Modern FromSoft has a huge problem where it has, frankly, run out of ideas. There is so much reused content in Elden Ring and even Shadow of the Erdtree that are ideas recycled from as far back as Demon’s Souls. If I were being extra cynical, I’d accuse FromSoft of not being bothered to come up with new names for their NPCs any more. If that’s not bad enough, the combat design for Elden Ring and Shadow of the Erdtree has become so stale that the only way FromSoft decided to change things is to amp up the difficulty. This wouldn’t be a problem for me, but only if the games are difficult in an interesting and fun way.

How do they make it difficult? Apparently by never giving your character a ‘turn’ to attack. This doesn’t make the game difficult, it makes it annoying. Some fights in the DLC, especially Radahn and Bayle, I felt are legitimately down to RNG. I got lucky fighting Bayle because his AI decided to use a ranged attack while I was up close. Bayle, by the way, will unashamedly input-read your movements for one of his attacks and so much of his moveset is designed to catch you for rolling too soon. 

elden ring shadow of the erdtree midra lord of frenzied flame boss guide - Midra floats into the air and creates a huge ball of flame
When attacks take up so much visual space, that’s even more of an issue.

Haters, we already hear you typing out ‘git gud’, but if you take a moment, just know that I’ve beaten the DLC and penned guides for every major boss in the expansion, including Bayle. This isn’t a whiny piece about how Elden Ring is too difficult and I can’t beat it. Rather, these are my reflections on how I think FromSoft has fundamentally changed how it makes these games difficult, entirely to its detriment.

FromSoft games could be considered fair, once upon a time. It’s true that Demon’s Souls has so many moments and enemies that will instantly kill you and cause frustration. We all know and loathe the roly-poly skeletons in the Shrine of Storms. But Demon’s Souls is balanced better in the long run, making it a thoroughly enjoyable game to play and conquer. More importantly, when this stuff happened in Demon’s and Dark Souls, it was fresh, fun, and interesting. Since 2009, FromSoft has barely changed a single thing about these games.

FromSoft managed to nail the whole difficulty thing with Dark Souls, arguably striking the perfect balance between being challenging while also being fair. People hyped up the difficulty of Dark Souls so much, but it’s actually the most fair out of all Souls games in my opinion. Stuck somewhere? Go level up. Stuck in Elden Ring? Time to respec and play ‘correctly’.

Congrats, FromSoft, that actually sucks.

Around Dark Souls 3, FromSoft changed its tune. Nearly every enemy or boss you fought had these attacks designed to trick you into parrying early or rolling away only to get hit by an attack the enemy has been holding for four seconds, or caught out by a multi-hit combo that gives you no time to react. For me, the roll-catching in DS3 was aggressively annoying and gargantuanly anti-player, making the game straight up unfun to engage with. Nameless King, anyone? I don’t know why I bothered to complete that game and all its nonsense DLC.

Imagine my surprise when Elden Ring took this idea a step further and jumped off a cliff with it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that literally every enemy in the game is designed around this principle of roll-catching you, tracking your movements, input reading, and awkward animations for these big ‘Hah, we got you’ moments. Congrats, FromSoft, that actually sucks. Dying in Dark Souls felt like you could learn from it whereas dying in Shadow of the Erdtree (and ER in general) was mostly down to something out of your control, or the boss grazed you with their knee and took off 70% of your HP.

elden ring shadow of the erdtree how to beat radahn, consort of miquella
Feels bad, man. GIF created by VideoGamer

In one sense there is no real reason for the enemy to perform an attack like that. They should want to kill you, not trick you. A mindless zombie enemy has no skin in the game in wanting to catch you out for a ‘gotcha’ death. Sure, the long wind-up attacks exist in Dark Souls, but they’re few and far between. Where once there existed a delicate give and take in boss fights and most enemy encounters in Souls games, Elden Ring decided to make things ‘fun’ by not only amping up enemy damage but also giving them a way to exploit your every move.

I firmly believe that the Souls formula does not translate well to Elden Ring and the open world. So many of its systems needed to be different for this to work in a challenging and fun way, and the devs needed to move away from wanting to trick the player and catch you out to force a death. More often than not, your turn to attack is getting lucky and sneaking in a hit, which doesn’t have anything to do with skill. Then, at the drop of a hat, you’ll get comboed to death or swiped by a stray hit. Git gud? More like git lucky.

Parry timings are janky as heck, too, which completely defeats the point of parrying them when it’s all risk no reward.

Another moment from the DLC that really stands out and embodies the problem I’m talking about is the re-used Divine Beast Dancing Lion boss. You can fight this boss again, except, surprise, you now get to fight it with other enemies in an even smaller arena. These enemies, by the way, can insta-kill you by spraying death blight everywhere. This was done in the base game, reusing bosses in dungeons but adding in more enemies or making you fight two of them. For me, that doesn’t make things challenging in a fun way and, more than anything else, it is lazy. Don’t get me started on the visual bloat of bosses, obscuring your view with particle effects and janky cameras whenever the boss leaps absurd distances.

Don’t get me wrong, I love difficult and challenging games. Give me a self-imposed challenge run for a game I like and I’ll do it. Difficulty in a game is a subjective thing, but FromSoft has made it a blanket fact with Shadow of the Erdtree. This game is only difficult because the enemies don’t play by the same rules and they can deal chunks of damage with the lightest touch, while never needing to take a break.

Parry timings are janky as heck, too, which completely defeats the point of parrying them when it’s all risk no reward. Every enemy is mostly a walking stat bag of HP. This is fully on display in the DLC with the huge Furnaces Golems that perhaps are the most anti-player enemies I’ve ever seen. I’d be curious to know if anyone finds simply slashing at their feet and jumping to be a ‘fun’ encounter. 

elden ring shadow of the erdtree how to beat radahn, consort of miquella - our character laments the cost of victory
After a boss fight, I didn’t feel any accomplishment. Image taken by VideoGamer

When I think about a challenging game that has used a similar formula and improved it, Nioh 2 comes to mind. Nioh 2 blows Elden Ring’s combat out of the water in every single way because it innovates with what you can do with the Ki bar, creating a natural flow and ‘turns’ in combat while also being challenging, rewarding your skill instead of using a stamina bar as a constraint for the sake of increased difficulty.

I don’t have a single problem with people loving the game, and more than anything I’m glad so many have a game they love this much.

Stellar Blade, by the way, further proves you can remove a stamina bar completely and still make what is easily the best action game out there right now, while also being challenging. If you thought Stellar Blade was too easy, try playing it on hard mode on a fresh save, without starting it in new game plus.

Despite my moaning and the Steam review bombing for Shadow of the Erdtree, Elden Ring is obviously an impressive game. Even knowing this, I can’t find it fun unless I use the Seamless Co-op mod, so I tend to avoid it. Our review for Shadow of the Erdtree sang its praises and gave it a 10/10, and it’s clear that people absolutely love it and the DLC as a game that can do no wrong. I don’t have a single problem with people loving the game, and more than anything I’m glad so many have a game they love this much.

I’m aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to disliking Elden Ring, and that’s okay because not everyone has the same taste. Some people vibe with this difficulty in the DLC, but I find that the challenge presented to you in SOTE is wholly unfun and unfulfilling. I used to feel a sense of pride when I beat a boss in Souls games – not counting DS2 and DS3 – and this was never the case in Elden Ring nor Shadow of the Erdtree. I simply felt like I had got lucky or memorised the way I was ‘supposed’ to play. If I didn’t have to cover it for the boss guides I wrote for you fine people, I’d have left this game behind and not bothered with the DLC.

About the Author

Jack Webb

Jack Webb is a guides writer for VideoGamer.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

  • Release Date: June 21, 2024
  • Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
  • Genre(s): Action, RPG
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