Shadow of the Erdtree First Impressions

The Shadow of the Erdtree DLC for Elden Ring dropped on Friday, June 21st, and since then, the reviews for the game have suffered due to its difficulty. Memes have already begun to circle online about the unfair difficulty. However, after spending the majority of the past week grinding through the base game to unlock the DLC, and then arriving in the Land of Shadow, I can safely say the DLC is absurdly fun and well worth your time!

I haven’t finished the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC yet. Honestly, I might lose interest and stop playing at some point (and that’s okay), but for now I’m having the time of my life. With Elden Ring’s review suffering due to the DLC’s difficulty, it may help to hear my first impressions of the game that has everyone talking.

The following are a few experiences that are emblematic of what the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC can offer. If any of this sounds like fun, then the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC is for you.

The Blackgaol Knight from Shadow of the Erdtree

The Blackgaol Knight

One of the first NPCs you’ll likely run into is the Blackgaol Knight. The Blackgaol Knight is a side boss in the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC that lurks in a one-room dungeon in the starting area and is essentially a random nobody. 

The Blackgaol Knight is not a shardbearer, not some epic eldritch star alien, not a demigod, not a protagonist, just “some guy.” The Blackgaol Knight is a quintessential “Dark Souls” boss and will absolutely put you in your place. I first learned about the difficulty of the Blackgaol Knight from memes online about the game’s difficulty, and the knight absolutely lives up to the hype.

The Blackgaol Knight is a boss that took me about three hours to beat on a level 150+ character in Shadow of the Erdtree. Even if you’re on your third New Game+ and you’re level 700, the Blackgaol Knight is a serious challenge. Prepared to be humbled and… well, “prepare to die.”

The Blackgaol Knight is a wake-up call. The knight is placed in an area you’re likely to wander into early on. It’s meant to seem like a fight that is a quick diversion. A nifty little sideboss before diving into the first real legacy dungeon. The Blackgaol Knight was anything but a diversion.

Why Are We Here? Just to Suffer?

The Blackgaol Knight is meant to put you through your paces. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the fight. The knight is a relatively cut-and-dry warrior with a big sword, a crossbow, and a few different attacks. The knight can also mercilessly one-shot you without warning. If you miss a dodge or mistime a block, then that’s it. You Died. Try again.

The Blackgaol Knight’s difficulty is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty standard for FromSoftware. The Blackgaol Knight is a very classic boss from the creators of Dark Souls. It hits hard, demands a high level of skill, punishes you if you don’t have that level of skill, and doesn’t care if you can’t handle it. 

The Blackgoal Knight certainly feels like it’s meant to serve as a wall for players. If you can’t handle the Blackgaol Knight, then the rest of the Shadow of the Erdtree is probably not for you. If that’s the case, then that’s totally fine! You should prioritize having fun going into this DLC. However, if you’ve already played through the entirety of the base game of Elden Ring and you’re stuck at the Blackgaol Knight, I think you owe it to yourself to see it through.

Prepare to Die

I like the Blackgaol Knight. This fight was difficult, but not insurmountable. The Blackgaol Knight never felt like it was impossible to beat. Every loss felt like victory was within reach and emphasized the importance of getting better.

The Blackgaol Knight was the fight that taught me how to play a Dark Souls game again. I couldn’t just steamroll this random side boss with my over-leveled character, so I had to actually get down to brass tacks and get good at the game again. This was the fight where I realized I had spent dozens of hours learning bad habits while playing Elden Ring, and now I had to unlearn them.

The Blackgaol Knight takes the game back to basics. The knight requires the player to be precise with dodges and to know when to block. Even basics like learning attack patterns and managing stamina are important when fighting the Blackgaol Knight. The Knight was there to beat these lessons into me every step of the way.

For me, The Blackgoal Knight was a return to the classic Dark Souls feeling, which is great! The Blackgaol Knight perfectly captured the experience that comes at the start of every Soulslike game. No one can deny that these games are difficult. But sitting down and taking the time to get good at the game and overcome the challenge posed by bosses like the Blackgaol Knight is one of the defining features that makes these games so fun.

The Bayle the Dread boss from Elden Ring

Dragon Tales

If you liked the Dragon Communion mechanic from Elden Ring, then you’ll love Shadow of the Erdtree. While wandering around the first area, I found a quest that consumed me and made me fall in love with this game all over again. 

The dragon quest in Shadow of the Erdtree is the first quest in the DLC I’ve seen through to completion. It’s a stunning example of an absolutely amazing quest. If this is what the rest of the quests are like in the game, then we’re all in for a treat! While the quest does not intersect with the game’s main plot, this is your spoiler warning, as this quest can dramatically alter how you play the game.

Let me cut to the chase: there is a quest in Shadow of the Erdtree that will allow you to turn into a dragon when you finish it, and it’s awesome. The quest starts when you come across a screaming man named Igon, loudly cursing the cruelty of the dragon Bayle. Over the course of the quest, you’ll get the chance to avenge Igon, vanquish Bayle, and claim true draconic power.

Part of what makes this quest so good is that it is remarkably straightforward and easy to follow. After talking to Igon, you’ll follow the path he’s on, which will help you progress through the quest. Each fight has you square off against powerful draconic opponents, including one fight in an open field with dead dragons around, before arriving at the Grand Altar of Dragon Communion.

The Grand Altar is where this quest really picks up, and it had me on the edge of my seat until I finished it. At the altar, a half-draconic, half-human priestess speaks to you and asks you if you want to consume the flesh of the dragon Bayle and truly become a dragon.

I said yes without question. Doing so allowed me to progress to the next stage of the quest to kill Bayle and feast on its heart.

A startling draconic change that awaits you at the end of the Bayle questline.

Draconic Ascension

The moment you agree to eat Bayle and become a dragon feels incredibly profound. You’ve agreed to something that will fundamentally alter you, something you were warned about from Yura early on in the base game of Elden Ring. It’s made even better by the fact that the Priestess is connected with Placidusaax, a name you may remember from the end game of Elden Ring.

As I accepted the quest, I felt as if this was something that could have profound effects even on the main game of Elden Ring. I still haven’t beaten Elden Ring or even reached Farum Azula, so allying myself with a priestess of Placidusaax is not only epic but feels like it could shift my encounter with the Dragon Lord in the end game of Elden Ring.

Agreeing to this quest was so momentous that it occurred to me that this decision could lock me out of certain endings. After all, the Lord of Frenzied Flame from the base game also had you undergo a transformation that locked you out of all but one ending. I wasn’t certain, but this moment was too awesome to pass up.

Every fight I completed in this quest was epic. From start to finish, you fight no less than three separate dragons before you reach Bayle. The fight with Bayle can even see you summon Igon for final revenge against the dragon that broke him, making for an awesome fight.

This quest affected me so much that I respecced my entire character to experience it fully. While previously, I’d used a sorcerer build, participating in this quest inspired me to abandon that playstyle entirely and rebuild my character using only incantations handed down from dragons.

My reward at the end of the quest was a special incantation for defeating Bayle and a final dragon heart that can turn my character into a dragon-hybrid at any time. This item is awesome and totally changes how you experience the game, especially since it requires you to abandon your armor.

If this quest is anything to go by, the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC offers quests that dramatically alter not only how you play the game but the story being told. I can’t wait to discover what awaits within the Land of Shadows.

The Twin Moon Knight boss who has interesting lore connections to another base game boss.

Lore of the Ring

Shadow of the Erdtree tells a captivating story full of mystery that I can’t wait to uncover. The antagonist of the DLC, Messmer, is a compelling character with secrets to uncover. Additionally, the character who drew us to the Lands of Shadow, Miquella, seems to have hidden reasons for his actions that I can’t wait to be revealed. Much of what was teased in the trailers raises questions about the game’s lore that will have to be slowly teased out through the DLC.

To try and understand more about the game, I’ve taken to reading the lore descriptions on nearly everything, from mushrooms to boss remembrances. FromSoftware has created an intricate and detailed lore for the world of Elden Ring. Each new piece of information that gets uncovered paints a new piece of the picture. 

The more you put into understanding the lore of Elden Ring and its DLC, the more you get out of it. It’s been immensely satisfying to see enemies in a region, then read an item they drop and understand why they are there.

The world-building of Elden Ring is excellent, allowing for deep speculation the more you read and the more you understand. For instance, the Carian sorcerers in the second legacy dungeon I faced felt like a revelation. Their presence placed Messmer’s rise to power during a definitive point within the timeframe of the game’s lore. I can’t wait to learn more!

Shadow of the Erdtree is packed full of secrets about the game’s lore, just waiting to be revealed. The secrets of Messmer’s heritage and Miquella’s quest are incredibly enticing, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

A promotional image for Shadow of the Erdtree

The Shadow of Elden Ring

Elden Ring’s rating has fallen to mixed reviews on Steam because a lot of people have spoken out against Shadow of the Erdtree being too hard. That’s a shame because I think this DLC is the perfect Soulslike experience, and I like it a lot.

Shadow of the Erdtree is the next in a long line of titles made by a company that pioneered a genre whose primary feature is that you’ll die a lot. They have put difficult bosses in the starting area before. They have introduced difficulty spikes before. This time is no different.

Nearly everyone I know who played Elden Ring the first time around had the experience of trying to fight the Tree Sentinel in the opening field and dying because it was too strong. Or, god forbid, attacking Varre because he called the player “maidenless” and then quickly finding out how bad of an idea that was.

FromSoftware makes hard games that will kill you a lot because they understand that half the fun is overcoming that challenge. This type of game may not be for everyone, but it’s genuinely baffling that the game is being reviewed badly for being too hard… when that is the point of these games. 

FromSoftware games are not for players seeking an easy experience. These games are for people who want a challenge, even at high levels. Shadow of the Erdtree is no different. 

Shadow of the Erdtree has so much more to offer than just hard combat. From immersive stories and quests to lore and secrets that will keep you playing, Shadow of the Erdtree is a great DLC and a worthy successor to Elden Ring. I can’t wait to keep playing.

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