Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree – What’s New?

When you think about a paid expansion to a game you enjoy, several things come to mind: How the core gameplay has evolved, the various additions and quality-of-life improvements that make for a better experience, and even how the new story ups the stakes. However, when considering expansions to FromSoftware titles, the common statement seems to be, “It’s more of X, and I love it.” The Old Hunters is more of Bloodborne, and it’s great. The Ringed City is more of Dark Souls 3, and it’s fantastic, etc.

Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. Yet it’s interesting how, despite so many changes and new additions, the experience of a new FromSoft expansion boils to making you feel like you’re experiencing the base game for the first time. That sense of wonder returns. Everything feels exciting again when it’s not overwhelmingly difficult and makes you despair.

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The same applies to Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the first (and probably last, for the foreseeable future) paid expansion to the open-world action RPG. It features a new region, The Land of Shadow, with a mysterious history shrouded until now. Queen Marika set foot here first before The Lands Between and – surprise – became an Empyrean that would establish a dominant empire.

What went down? What is the violent purge that took place? Who exactly is Messmer the Impaler? For that matter, what does it have to do with Miquella, Malenia’s brother, who ventured to The Land of Shadow for some unknown purpose?

Whatever the case, it’s your job to pursue. Right off the bat, the quest feels much more personal and not just for you. Also pursuing Miquella is this group of warriors. Leda welcomes you to the entrance, conveniently located at the cocoon in Mohgwyn Palace, where Mohg, Lord of Blood, was fought (and is required to beat to access the DLC). While exploring the region, you encounter other characters like Freya, formerly allied with Radahn and Hornsent. They’ll provide updates on Miquella’s progress through the region at some points, not quite understanding what he’s after, but knowing their role all the same.

Based on previews and impressions, The Land of Shadow – despite being roughly larger than Limgrave – is absolutely massive. That was intentional, per director Hidetaka Miyazaki to PC Gamer, because “we wanted an experience for the player that was going to match that of the base game. We wanted them to experience that sense of discovery, and that sense of wonder and exploration again. We needed a map that was going to uphold that and bolster that.” Density is just as important, especially the “ratio of legacy dungeon to open field areas and how they intertwine.”

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When asked by the publication if it’s pursuing a more Dark Souls-style of world design, Miyazaki said, “There was a sense of that as we were building it. I think what you’re describing there is what we tried to achieve this time with something that’s not quite an open field and not quite a legacy dungeon. It’s something that kind of blends the two and creates that better sense of verticality.”

While you’re going to have those large fields to explore, providing that grandeur and sense of wonder, there will be more variety as well. “So we hope what you were experiencing was that attempt to add to the variety of how we space out and structure the open field to the legacy dungeons,” he noted.

We’ve already heard about some of the dungeons, like Belurat and its eclectic mix of scorpions and Gravebirds (both new enemy types) alongside the traditional armored threats, or Caria Ensis with its magic-based Carian foes (including giants who unleash powerful spells). Based on impressions of both, they’re not quite Legacy Dungeons, but also not exactly on the scale of something like, say, Castle Morne. It’s an interesting middle ground, and the fact that they’re more tightly packed with less downtime in between should make for an altogether different experience from the base game.

Of course, the fundamental Elden Ring experience is changing in other ways. There are about 100 new weapons, and FromSoftware is letting its imagination run wild. A blade that splits into two swords you can dual-wield, with a Weapon Art that’s essentially a dashing side stab? A lighter Greatsword in the form of Milady, which also activates a stance to transition into different follow-ups? The Dryleaf Arts, which are more akin to martial arts than probably anything FromSoftware has offered to date? They’re much less like weapons and more like brand-new playstyles to explore and build on, which is exciting.

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Other exciting prospects are the Scadurtree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes. The former reduces the damage received from enemies, while the latter increases the damage dealt by your Spirit Summons. You could look at them as no different from the temporary buffs available throughout the game, whether it’s through consumables or Incantations, but they’re always (and only) active in The Land of Shadow. So, unlike the base game, you have an avenue to make the experience somewhat easier on yourself, though enduring the various horrors of the new region to find them is necessary. Then again, you can not use them and keep the same level of challenge throughout.

While there could be some concern over whether FromSoft is balancing around these Fragments, I’d like to think it’s giving that extra degree of freedom to players who want a more challenging experience. Think of all the powerful builds that already exist and what Shadow of the Erdtree is going to make possible with its new weapons, Sorceries and Incantations. Having a difficulty that goes further beyond the norm is almost a gift. Finally, a way to truly test one’s self beyond installing mods.

There’s also the possibility that the expansion’s launch will offer a patch that re-balances and adjusts the entire game. Some excellent weapons could get knocked down to the “still very good” tier, while others could make it to “shadow of their former self.”

There’s no telling how many builds could be made worse…or even better, for that matter. Of course, that’s another part of the appeal – that feeling of a clean slate and building up towards something brand new, struggling against all the entities of this new world while making a name for yourself. Of dying numerous times but learning a bit more on each go-round till you finally claim victory.

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Whether you’re looking at it from the perspective of build-crafting, a different flavor of open-world exploration or a new kind of story that’s less “one ring to rule them all” and more “what is even going on,” Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is a game-changer for long-time fans. Yes, it’s innately familiar, but it expands on what players already love about the original while potentially giving them something they didn’t even know they wanted.

If it ends up standing out, much like the base game did, it could become FromSoftware’s best expansion to date, and another shining example of what works on top of other quality content. With the expansion launching on June 21st for Xbox Series X/S, PS5 and PC, it’s thankfully not that long before we find out first-hand.

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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