Five take-aways from three hours with Elden Ring’s Shadow of the Erdtree expansion DLC

An expansion to a good game is always an exciting proposition - but it’s obviously a little more so when it’s building on a past Game of the Year pick - and arguably, one of the greatest games of all time. As such, our excitement for the Shadow of the Erdtree expansion DLC for Elden Ring is palpable.

FromSoftware arguably doesn’t need to show much of its hand for this game - many of us are undoubtedly already on board, spurred on by adoration of the original game. Nevertheless, FromSoft and publisher Bandai Namco saw fit to give media a taste of the DLC before it launches on June 21st - and so we had three hours to explore a limited segment of The Lands of Shadow, the mysterious realm that is home to the expansion’s adventures. 

Here’s five take-aways we got from that hour - keeping things spoiler-free. 

Shadow of the Erdtree adds a sizable new zone to the game, with much to explore.

It’s FromSoftware’s biggest DLC to date - and it shows

When you first touch the Withered Arm that acts as the teleportation point between The Lands Between and Shadow of the Erdtree’s zone, you’ll spawn into a small, dark space. A minor wander up a narrow path spits you out into a wide open area - much to see on the horizon, the promise that you’ll eventually visit all of those places. It’s an attempt to recreate the ‘Wow Moment’ of first entering Limgrave at Elden Ring’s onset - and it rather works.

FromSoftware and Bandai Namco representatives are saying that this is the developer’s largest-ever DLC - and I think you can tell. With an extremely limited scope to the preview, it’s difficult to exactly tell how large the DLC expansion will be - but in comparing the in-game maps, I can say that the single map fragment of the Land of Shadow that I explored was around half of the main game’s Caelid map. Claims that the zone will be of at least a similar size to Limgrave in total (including the Weeping Peninsula) also track - though it’s difficult to get a full picture of this in a limited build.

With that said, one thing I could get a feel for is how populated the zone feels to play and explore - and I actually think it feels a little more densely packed than Elden Ring proper. The characters in search of Miquella alongside you pop up with more regularity than similar characters in the original game, and even within a small area there’s a range of biomes and visual touchstones - almost like the developers are trying to squeeze as much into a relatively small area as possible. 

Everything you’d expect from a new Elden Ring zone is here - from major dungeons with big bosses to small side distractions like caves and catacombs that terminate with a more minor boss. The order in which you explore things remains up to you, too - so rather than something more linear, this truly feels like another zone added directly to the main game.  

Expect face-offs with a range of new foes, some of which have some wild attacks.

The Expansion’s World is unforgiving - so you’ll need to be sufficiently powered up

There actually isn’t a level requirement to access Shadow of the Erdtree - but the content is ‘gated’ in a pretty classically FromSoftware way - and ultimately, it’s clear from the hands-on that this is intended as late-to-endgame content.

To access the Land of Shadow, the expansion’s separate zone, you’ll first need to have defeated General Radahn and Caelid and Mohg in Mohgwyn Palace. It’s from Mohg’s Palace that you actually access the DLC, by interacting with an added prompt - and this means the real ‘gateway’ to the DLC is in reaching and defeating Mohg, who is a pretty challenging boss in the main game.

In the hands-on, Bandai Namco offered us three saves with three separate character builds, all at around Level 150 - though company representatives were keen to note that was not a required level, noting they expect many players to be able to tackle the zone as low as Level 120. 

Of the limited stuff I saw in the hands-on, it’s clear that from a mechanical perspective FromSoftware is designing this as an end-game level challenge. I saw two major bosses - one that was brimming with new ideas, unpredictable and wild, and another that was a new spin on something seen in the main game, but turned up to eleven. Both seemed significant challenges, so those looking for a real test should be thrilled. If you’re not a difficulty fiend, however, it’s not all bad news…

New move sets and gear will seriously shake up the Elden Ring meta.

There’s some difficulty-softening mechanics for those who might struggle - but they’re optional

If you enter The Land of Shadow and are on the lower end of the leveling, are rusty after over a year away from Elden Ring, or otherwise find yourself struggling with the difficulty in any way, there’s a new mechanic baked into the expansion that’s there to help.

There’s two new key items you can find - and you can use these to buy ‘Scadutree Blessings’ - that being ‘Shadow Realm Blessing’ and ‘Revered Spirit Ash Blessing’ upgrades. This works a lot like the flask upgrades - pick up items, and cash them in for upgrades when resting at Sites of Grace. Each subsequent upgrade gets slightly more expensive, so you’ll have to be diligent in collecting the macguffins to get the maximum benefit.

These upgrades boost your attack power while reducing incoming damage - one focused on your Tarnished, and the other on buffing summoned Spirit Ashes. Because you have to ‘spend’ the items, it makes them optional - so those wanting the maximum challenge can simply avoid buying these upgrades. Any buffs are exclusive to the Land of Shadow, too - so they can’t upset the balance of the main game.

There's quite a few new characters to get to know as you trace Miquella's footsteps across the Land of Shadow.

There’s a new cast of lovable friends - and some horrible new foes

At first blush the Land of Shadow seems quite unfriendly - my first encounter was with a brutal enemy with a long attack reach that killed me twice. Naturally. But venture a little deeper into the realm and you’ll discover friendly faces - many of whom have appeared in trailers, screenshots, and key-art pre-release.

These characters all appear to be well fleshed-out individuals, and give off a similar vibe to the friendly Tarnished you encounter in Roundtable Hold. They’re all ultimately on a similar adventure to you - trying to follow in Miquella’s footsteps in this mysterious shadowed realm. As you get to know them, it appears more of their backstory will be revealed - and I have no doubt there’ll be tragedy, though I didn’t get so far as to see any of that in this limited preview.

New friendly characters with endearing new voicework is great, but one thing I’m particularly excited by in this three-hour hands-on is the enemy variety. There’s some reuse of basic soldier types, yes - but there’s some great new enemies, from magical birds to nasty enemies that are part-spider, part-scorpion, and all-horrible. 

For the big encounters, Bandai Namco are saying that there’s ‘more than ten’ new major bosses - though there are a range of side and smaller bosses, too.

If a challenge proves too much, the expansion slots into the game like any other zone, so you can leave to do something else.

You can travel back to The Lands Between at your leisure - and you’ll probably want to

This is more of a clerical thing to note, but I do think it’s important. Once you arrive in The Land of Shadow and activate your first Site of Grace there, which happens within a few minutes of starting the expansion, you’re free to return to The Lands Between at any time you like.

In fact, in general, this DLC holds firm with Elden Ring’s open world design, something which worked to make it much more approachable than other Souls games.

If you hit a brick wall in the Land of Shadow, you can hop back and keep mopping up remaining challenges in The Lands Between. Alternatively, you could turn your horse around and find some other challenge in the other corner of the Land of Shadow map. 

Plus, with 8 new categories of weapon and over 100 new weapons - plus other equipment and gear - you might want to respec and change your character build. To do that, you hop back to Rennala, as in the main game - so you’ll be teleporting back-and-forth a fair amount.