Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is a Haunting and Occasionally Terrifying Final Chapter to a Masterpiece

As I stood before my first Golden Fog Door, the intimidating gateways to boss encounters in From Software’s Souls games, confidence pulsed through my veins. My character, Groucho, and I had spent over a hundred hours together, cutting a bloody gash across the world of Elden Ring, and after stepping foot in Shadow of the Erdtree, Elden Ring’s first and final DLC, just a few hours before, nothing dampened my confidence. As I roamed around a ghostly field full of translucent gravestones, I rarely encountered enemies who posed a threat. I easily bifurcated every creature unlucky enough to get in my way with my Greatsword, a mountainous tool of destruction that Groucho wielded with ease. If I did receive a blow, the dent to my massive health bar proved trivial.

My character, Groucho, in Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
My boy, Groucho.

So I waltzed into my first boss fight feeling ready for anything, wondering if I might have over-leveled myself in the base game before Shadow of the Erdtree released. As the monstrosity revealed himself through a brief cutscene, I didn’t flinch. He was a beautiful and horrible creature with a lion-shaped head and a body that reminded me of a traditional Chinese dragon. As the fight began, it gracefully danced and floated towards me. I ran directly at him, ready to smash my Greatsword against his huge head. Coming to just within the sword’s reach, he floated up far enough to cause me to whiff, and he crashed down upon me before I recovered from the swing, thrashing me to the ground.

About half of my health bar vanished in an instant. I rolled myself up and clipped his side with my sword, but his health bar hardly took notice. Before I gathered my bearings, he floated gracefully up again for a retaliatory attack. Knowing that I didn’t have time to attack him again, I panicked and started to run out of the range of his smash, but I was too late. He crushed me. Within one minute, I was defeated, connecting with only one swing that hardly dented his health pool. A familiar despair set in as I felt the impossibility of landing even one solid heavy attack, let alone the many dozens it would take to dispatch the thing, all while avoiding every single attack that he levels against me. It didn’t seem possible. At this moment, I felt it: I was at home again in the world of Elden Ring.

Over the next few hours, of course, I did defeat him. I slowly learned his patterns and recognized his tells, learned when to dodge, and when he was opening himself up for an attack. When I finally killed him, with just a sliver of my own health bar left, I felt complete, wonderous joy. As a fan of From Software’s Souls games, this is largely what I’m here for. It’s what keeps me coming back to each new iteration that they create. I love seeing a seemingly impossible task and knowing that it is possible. With perseverance and patience, it can be done. I love working on the challenges that these games present and becoming a little better with each run until I succeed. Few things are as exhilarating as fighting with all your skill against an incomprehensibly powerful enemy and eventually conquering it. In the world of gaming, there’s nothing quite like it.

Warrior fighting a dragon from Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

If you’re unfamiliar, Shadow of the Erdtree is the first and final DLC for From Software’s 2022 open-world video game, Elden Ring. Here, players will leave The Lands Between and enter The Land of Shadow, an area disconnected from the world of Elden Ring. To access it, one must beat a difficult and optional boss from the late stages of the base game, which teleports you to the new world. This is no trifle add-on. It’s a fully fleshed-out 30+ hour game, with dozens of memorable bosses, multiple detailed side-quests, and a huge, sprawling world. While it is, in some ways, just more Elden Ring (not a bad thing), it does subvert expectations in various ways.

Shadow of the Erdtree has a new leveling system called Shadow Realm Blessings. Scadutree Fragments are scattered throughout the world, consumed to increase attack power and negate incoming. Revered Spirit Ash does the same for your summons (including Torrent, your faithful conjurable steed). All of this helps ensure that the game is never easy and that even the most experienced Elden Ring players won’t find themselves waltzing through the game breezily because many of the enemies hit much harder than the enemies of the base game, with movesets that are more unpredictable.

While the challenge posed by these games is a big part of their draw, focusing solely on that aspect can also be a little reductive. The challenges are worth mounting because the team at From Software are among the best in the world when it comes to world-building in a video game, and Shadow of the Erdtree presents players with a similar world to that of the base game. Still, many subtle differences make this a unique experience. While the base game was marked by the almost constant presence of the Erdtree, a large, golden, glowing beacon that the player constantly progresses towards, Shadow of the Erdtree (as the name suggests) is somewhat darker in tone than much of The Lands Between. There isn’t anything as disturbing as the red fields of Caelid, the bubbling, writhing land of death and Scarlet Rot, but the darkness in the Land of Shadow is more subtle.

Ghost Worm from Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

The twilit fields of these dusky lands are forever shadow-cast and still, with darkened, roaming denizens who wail, moan, and cry in pain and sorrow. The lands are dotted with patrolling Fire Golems, who cast little light with their flames. Occasionally, you will come across an area of stunning beauty, but that beauty contains the dread of what grotesque things you may encounter there, and sometimes there are none—this is the rare From Software game that gives the player the occasional moment’s respite to appreciate the darkly beautiful atmosphere.

Those moments are brief. Compared to the base game, Shadow of the Erdtree is much denser, and most areas are a fraction of the size of the areas in Elden Ring. This DLC is a wonderful, vertical slice of everything that From Software does so masterfully, and each section quickly gives way to another equally stunning area. It isn’t rare to explore a random corner of the map and see a cave, to explore that cave and find not an ending with a boss but an exit into a new, unexpected biome, which can range from serene to disturbing to outright terrifying.

Putrescent Knight from Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

The density of the world forces From Software to do more with less, resulting in creative and elegantly layered areas to interconnect in surprising ways. In this respect, you can see the DNA of the design ethos of the classic Dark Souls games, with their integrated, Metroid-style levels that loop into one another. There’s a strong line-of-sight mentality, where everywhere the player looks, they will find something intriguing in the distance to explore. You will discover tighter, more creatively designed dungeons containing more layers of verticality, thoughtfully constructed into unique pieces of architecture. And while Elden Ring’s various dungeons can often feel a little similar, each dungeon in Shadow of the Erdtree feels aesthetically unique, with its own atmosphere and design.

With upwards of eighty bosses and countless new areas to explore, Shadow of the Erdtree could almost be a new game entirely. This game, like all From Software’s Souls games, puts the player through a crucible—thrusts the player into a beautiful but hard-as-steel world upon which to grind themselves into an ever-sharpening tool of destruction. Welcome home.

Written by Dustin Roberts

I teach literature in a swamp. When I'm not doing that, I'm probably picking dog hair off of my clothing.

You can find me on Bluesky at

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