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Don’t worry, this is spoiler-free.

Remember that Miyazaki interview where he said the Shadow of the Erdtree map was about the size of Limgrave? The man was fibbing; a signature spot of chicanery to lower expectations and then blow our collective minds. The only similarity to Limgrave is that sense of wonder – renewed and intact – when firing up the DLC for the first time. The Realm of Shadows is a big hulking slab of a landmass well-supplied in coiling fortresses, auburn meadows, dank gaols, broad ravines, and plenty more geographical oddities. It’s massive and, for the most part, sensational.

As speculated in our Shadow of the Erdtree preview, the expansion is fundamentally just more Elden Ring. You’ll crest hills to gawk at gorgeous vistas, take on terrifying bosses, get duped as often as you’re rewarded by FromSoft’s idiosyncratic design choices, and bask in the delights of unbridled exploration. If you can see it, you can reach it. While Elden Ring gives players alternative ways to progress when hitting a roadblock – broad optional areas to cop extra runes to level up, for example – Shadow of the Erdtree sits on a whole other level of hostility and punishment. In that respect, it leans more toward Dark Souls than the base game. It’s tougher, more demanding, and less forgiving.

At the end of Elden Ring, you feel powerful, prancing about the Lands Between with a level 130 damage-dealing machine; most enemies are now trivial to beat. Jump into the bleak and oppressive Realm of Shadows, and that confidence melts away almost instantly. You are small again. Death is waiting everywhere. So much death. Standard mobs can wipe you out in a single surprise attack. You start to wonder whether you can even one-hit a buck anymore. There’s a whole optional area where being spotted by an enemy means near-instant death. A couple of late-game fights angle towards the insurmountable, overcome only through sheer dogged perseverance. It feels designed to cater to veterans, no-hit runners, and to really test the player’s skills and resilience. You beat Elden Ring? Here, sink your teeth into this and suffer.

That Dark Souls influence also carries over to the design of the legacy dungeons. One dubbed the Specimen Storehouse is FromSoft at its best. It’s a dense, interconnected vertical maze of secrets and divergent paths that generates as much awe as it does frustration. It’s small by Elden Ring standards, claustrophobic even, but more intricate and granular in its attention to detail. A ladder leads up, but its base is cocooned inside a bookcase. A contraption shifts creaking bridges to higher levels. Red fire knights spew health-sapping fireballs down tight corridors. Overlook a tucked-away lift, and you’ll miss a path to vast portions of the broader open world. There’s a playful veneer to it all. It’s as if FromSoft gave itself the green light to dip into nearly two decades’ worth of experience creating punishment simulators and pull out all the tricks. Some are straight-up deceptive, humorful even. It’s odd to say, but I feel privileged that I was forced to puzzle them out for myself without the option to hop online for the answer. Hard-earned triumph never felt this good.

That more conducted design also carries over to the open world in certain respects. In Elden Ring, you can conceivably travel east to grim Caelid or up north as far as gilded Leyndell within minutes of leaving the character creator. In Shadow of the Erdtree, the open world functions more as a conduit between legacy dungeons, themselves (and even mini-dungeons and caves) acting as crossroads to diverging unexplored areas with, typically, a boss barring the way. This is achieved without the player ever feeling hemmed in or exploration lacking fluidity, but it’s palpably different to Elden Ring. I also like how FromSoft has styled access to portions of the map as puzzles. Put down a marker, gallop towards it, and you’ll often just hit a huge cliff or gaping chasm. Instead, the path is more circuitous, fuzzy, and rarely obvious. Exploration begets exploration in that sense; it’s gorgeously elegant and a deeply satisfying way to uncover the map.

At the final tally, I found over 60 weapons, 30 talismans, a dozen spirit ashes, ten complete armour sets, and countless other individual pieces of gear – enough for a whole, meaty game, let alone an expansion. It’s silly how fun, potentially powerful, and inventive these new weapons are, enough so that you’ll want to give up that trusty Rivers of Blood, Blasphemous Blade, or Moonveil that carried you to victory over Malenia, Mohg, and the rest of the gang. Perfume bottles spew arcs of firework flames. Hand-to-hand martial arts introduce Sifu-esque kicks and aerial acrobatics. Dual curved blades held upside down make you feel like an agile Ghilman. Fiery greatswords play like dex weapons. And on and on. FromSoftware has spoiled us. It will be fascinating to see what builds surface from these in the coming weeks and months.

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: Divine Dancing Lion boss in Belurat.
Captured by VideoGamer

Boss fights are, as expected, superb and testing. By the end, you’ll encounter over 30, with a couple of rehashed designs thrown in for good measure. They take Elden Ring as a template and then weave in some Dark Souls seasoning with more obscure mechanics that are enjoyable to figure out. It’s baffling that FromSoft can still conjure unique designs after so many years and the hundreds on offer in the base game. There’s a certain disparity in difficulty level. Some are beaten quite easily (by FromSoft standards), while others with dial-it-up-to-11 second phases and one-hit attacks pose a serious challenge. The ‘hard but fair’ description typically allotted to FromSoft bosses leans ever-so-slightly towards the unfair. Balance tweaks should remedy this.

Compared to the sea of 7/10s out there, Shadow of the Erdtree flirts with perfection. But, when sized up against FromSoft’s own output, the expansion could be judged more harshly. You’ll stumble across dozens of intertwined areas piled high with hidden bosses, opaque quest line beats, and thoughtful tangents with meaningful pay-offs. But a few portions of the map don’t lead to anything all that rewarding. An extra smithing stone this deep into the game feels underwhelming. Filling up your inventory with a couple of crackable runes that barely make a dent in the amount needed to level up feels similarly like a letdown. You’ll explore these areas because they are there, but they’re almost – as beautifully crafted and diverse as they are – filler in a way that they were not in Elden Ring.

More irritating is that this brewed a sort of fatigue in the game’s final hours. I’d almost had enough. It felt nearly too big, a dessert stacked so high with whipped cream that it’s a chore to shove down when you’re already nursing a bulging gut. Too much of a good thing and all that. But that may be the result of blazing through the expansion in such a short space of time for review. My hope is that a calmer-paced playthrough safeguards the enjoyment permeating the overwhelming majority of the game. Or, more interestingly, these seemingly reward-less areas might hold nuggets of environmental lore to untangle and connect, the fuel for that meticulous digital archaeology that springs up on YouTube – the second wind of any FromSoft game.

Despite these minor misgivings, Shadow of the Erdtree feels special. Not just as a companion to one of the best games out there but because it feels remarkably fresh and untapped despite identical combat, mechanics, and overall design philosophy. It’s an entirely new, carefully curated landmass to explore at a cadence defined mainly by the player, free of those onerous conventions and hand-holding that dog most open-world games. It’s yet another masterful showcase of generosity through restraint from one of the most unique developers and a subtly progressive evolution of the Elden Ring formula. That alone makes Shadow of the Erdtree worth playing.

Reviewed on PC. Review code provided by Bandai Namco.

About the Author

Tom Bardwell

Tom is guides editor here at 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
10 VideoGamer
Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree review: Tarnished riding Torrent with the looming Erdtree in the distance.


Shadow of the Erdtree is a sensational companion to the base game that feels remarkably fresh and a subtly progressive evolution of the Elden Ring formula.
10 Huge uncharted landmass to explore Superb bosses Dense and elaborate legacy dungeons Subtle design evolution in the interaction between dungeons and the open-world Unrewarding exploration in places A slight disparity in difficulty level between bosses