Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree – Is it Too Hard?

Over two long years since the base game caused a stir among players, new and old, the hype for Elden Ring’s first and last expansion is tremendous. Players scrambled to gather resources and weapons to prepare for the fights ahead, assisting each other to defeat Mohg to access the Realm of Shadow. The requisitory sick leaves and “doctor’s notes” memes on social media. The universal acclaim from critics and becoming the highest-rated expansion of all time on Metacritic – the excitement was contagious.

Shadow of the Erdtree launched on June 21st and immediately soared to “Overwhelmingly Positive” on Steam. In the past 24 hours, Elden Ring’s concurrent player count on Steam was 766,158 – quite impressive, considering its lifetime peak of 953,426. Circana’s Mat Piscatella also confirmed that on June 19th, the game had its highest share of active US players on PS5 since December 2022 and on Xbox Series X/S as of February 2023. One can thus assume exceptional player numbers on console and good times for fans of FromSoftware, Souls-likes and Elden Ring in general.

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As you probably guessed by now, something happened.

Players dived into the Realm of Shadow, thoroughly sifting through its secrets, unlocking new weapons, admiring the sights and jokingly chiding director Hidetaka Miyazaki on yet another poison swamp. They fought the initial bosses, died a bunch and kept going back, again and again. However, the Steam user review score suddenly dropped.

It went from “Overwhelmingly Positive” from a few thousand reviews to “Mixed,” with 63 percent of 28,719 reviews positive as of this time of writing. Some reviews pointed out issues with performance, like frame rate drops or micro-stutters. These issues are reportedly affecting the base game as well, though – once again – your mileage will vary. While we saw performance issues when reviewing the PC version in 4K, lower resolutions were fine.

However, those are only part of the complaints. Many others have also been verbal about its difficulty. It’s not isolated to Steam either, as several Reddit threads have cropped up over the past few days complaining about the same. But why? It’s probably easier to list the reasons why they aren’t.

You have a mounted boss whose hitboxes are considered too unforgiving, another mounted boss that starts unleashing bullet hell-style attacks, an Ancient Dragon with absurd damage, that other somehow worse dragon, and, of course, the final boss. Bosses with too much health, bosses that deal too much damage, bosses with high poise that are impossible to stagger, bosses that fly high, bosses that make you cry – it’s a warzone out here.

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Naturally, there were the counter-threads, mocking players with “Well, what did you expect?” Others provided tips on how to deal with the difficulty and whatnot. However, it feels like an extension of boss habits that some players disliked in the base game, namely long combos with multiple hits to dodge and brief windows for attacks. Throw in area-of-effect abilities and spells, status damage, little time to recover, incredible speed, etc., if that wasn’t enough already.

There’s also the opinion that the Scadutree Fragments, which grant additional levels of damage resistance and output, aren’t enough to withstand many bosses. Pair that with complaints of camera and visibility issues for some fights (you probably know which ones), and it feels like the deck is stacked against players.

As many have already pointed out, this is nothing new for FromSoftware. Dark Souls was already difficult until Artorias of the Abyss arrived and raised the bar. The most challenging bosses in Dark Souls 2, from Sir Alonne to the Fume Knight, are in the Crown of the Old Iron King DLC. Dark Souls 3’s most challenging DLC foe was Sister Friede…until The Ringed City and Darkeater Midir. Then you have Bloodborne and The Old Hunters, which introduced the Orphan of Kos.

Such is the view with Shadow of the Erdtree, where the concern is amplified further due to the sheer size of the expansion. However, in many ways, the approach to bosses reminds me somewhat of certain raids on Contest Mode in Destiny 2. Some of the most challenging didn’t just demand your best weapons and builds – they also required excellence in execution. Raids like The Last Wish and Salvation’s Edge demand that everyone on your team plays perfectly – a single death can be a huge setback. That also applies to solo dungeons, where the bosses not only have immense health pools but conditions to fulfill for short damage windows.

Do you need to play the raids on Contest Mode, where everything deals more damage and takes less? Not any more than you need two or three-man them when it’s not active. The same goes for the dungeons, but there’s another aspect: Knowledge. The best tools and damage set-ups are only one part of the equation – knowing the fights well enough to employ them, never mind getting to the damage phase, is more vital.

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The same can be said for Fatalis in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. You could have the best build, but if you don’t know the fight and the best opportunities for inflicting the most damage – because it has a 30-minute time limit, compared to the usual 50 for most hunts – then forget about beating it.

Shadow of the Erdtree is very challenging – there’s no doubting that. It may contain the most difficult bosses that FromSoftware has created. There’s inevitably a learning curve for even the most experienced players, just like the base game, whether it’s how to dodge specific attacks or the best weapons and builds for each fight. If winning means using everything at your disposal – Summons, Incantations, NPCs, Bleed, Frostbite, Scarlet Rot, dual-wielding Greathammers, consumables for damage reduction, the Black Knife dagger – so be it.

You can go without them – I’ve seen one player defeat a certain Ancient Dragon capable of one-to-two-shooting them without any Summons or Scadutree Blessings. On the other hand, I’ve seen another defeat one of the most challenging bosses in the expansion with a Mimic Tear, Moonlight Greatsword magic, and an immortal NPC summon. That doesn’t mean they didn’t struggle, but they got the job done.

There’s certainly an argument about aspects of certain bosses that could use fine-tuning, whether it’s hitboxes or camera angles. FromSoftware may opt to tone down certain things without overly impacting the fight. However, it’s okay if the expansion’s difficulty isn’t everyone’s cup of tea at the moment. Some players have enjoyed the experience immensely, from the art direction and gorgeous environments to the killer themes and new weapons, while also feeling down on one or two bosses. It’s possible to have it both ways.

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While it’s certainly a balancing act for FromSoftware, it’s worth noting Miyazaki’s views on difficulty. As he recently told The Guardian about the base game, “If we wanted the whole world to play the game, we could just crank the difficulty down more and more. But that wasn’t the right approach.

“Had we taken that approach, I don’t think the game would have done what it did, because the sense of achievement players gain from overcoming these hurdles is such a fundamental part of the experience. Turning down difficulty would strip the game of that joy – which, in my eyes, would break the game itself.”

Whether you agree with that sentiment or not for the expansion – be it the entire experience or only parts – ultimately depends on you and your approach to its combat. However, one thing is certain: Shadow of the Erdtree celebrates everything Elden Ring offers, from its scale and depth of secrets to its environmental design and bosses. The sense of satisfaction and achievement from conquering its challenges is one that few games can replicate, regardless of how many deaths it takes to get there.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.

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