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‘Shadow of the Erdtree’ is a confounding delight that wants to kill you with kindness

 The Scadutree towers over The Land of Shadow, a photonegative of the Erdtree in The Lands Between.
Bandai Namco
The Scadutree towers over The Land of Shadow, a photonegative of the Erdtree in The Lands Between.

My palms sweat and my heart thunders as I scale Belurat, Tower Settlement. A chorus swells as a sinister lion-headed beast scuttles towards me. Resembling a Chinese dancing dragon, it speeds around on grotesque human arms, shooting lightning in all directions. It takes me a few attempts, but my trusty scimitars and I eventually emerge victorious and relief surges through me.

We are so back.

Like tens of millions of players the world over, Elden Ring hooked me on this exhilarating, sadistic game loop when it came out in 2022. After two years of community lore videos and exhibitions of unbelievable skill, we finally have Shadow of the Erdtree. In a few short days, legions will embark on what’s likely to be the biggest gaming release of the summer.

The Lands Between in miniature

The new expansion drops you into The Land of Shadow, a scaled-down echo of the base game’s vast territory. A massive, decaying “Scadutree” looms over the area — the photonegative of the golden “Erdtree” from the original game. There’s much to entice you in all directions: withering castles, spectral headstones, and a massive Furnace Golem that looks like a giant walking wicker man (trust me; don’t try to fight it!).

The Divine Beat Dancing Dragon, moments before it rained lightning on my head.
Bandai Namco /
The Divine Beat Dancing Dragon, moments before it rained lightning on my head.

But while Shadow of the Erdtree is undeniably gorgeous, it frustrated me more than the base game. I often galloped in circles, searching for paths down forbidding rock faces. The labyrinthine Ruins of Rauh in particular sucked hours of my time as I fought the same foes and hit the same dead-ends. Yet tenuous as the traversal might be, it’s never been more essential.

It’s not just that this end-game realm expects players to have mastered the original content — it also introduces new resources to collect that permanently buff your damage and defense against enemies in the Land of Shadow. While you could try to power through without “Scadutree Fragments,” you’ll likely need to scour the map to acquire them because even early bosses are no joke.

Sweet suffering

Thankfully, Shadow of the Erdtree’s combat shines as brightly as Elden Ring’s. The duels are masterfully constructed, making you feel helpless in the face of huge scorpions, fire-wielding knights, shambling mutants, and more. While they may be insanely difficult, these fights are always fair — and the joy you’ll feel when finally overcoming them is pure video game ecstasy.

 Messmer the Impaler takes center stage, soon after taking my life.
Bandai Namco /
Messmer the Impaler takes center stage, soon after taking my life.

In the week I’ve spent with my Shadow of the Erdtree review copy, I’ve had a blast plunging back into this world brimming with uncanny vistas and terrifying adversaries. Although this expansion doesn’t feel as fresh as FromSoftware’s best downloadable content (like Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters), it’s still a breathtaking sequel of one of the greatest games ever made. I’m anxious to continue my journey, dive deeper into fathomless lore, and laugh each time I get impaled, crushed, electrocuted, lacerated, poisoned, and/or set aflame.

James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this review.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Keller Gordon
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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