Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree has the same crippling claustrophobia I haven't felt since this 27-year-old console horror slasher scared the crap out of me

A creepy figure standing beneath a light in Nightmare Creatures
(Image credit: Activision)

There's a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. I've barely breached the bounds of Castle Ensis, an early location in Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, but something's amiss. I've so far ran the gamut against hordes of half-dead, a towering giant whose thirst for blood was antithetical of Roald Dahl's greatest children's novel, and a huddle or intermittently disappearing mages who showered blue piercing sorcery on me without a second thought. But now it's quiet. Too quiet. 

As I move towards the crest of a hill that leads to a clearing, I crouch in the opportune long grass that hugs the cliff face to my left. I edge forward, slowly, before pausing. Nothing. I rise to my feet, take two steps forward and – BLOODY HELL! Where did that zombie dog come from, and why has half of my health bar vanished? 

It's a tale as old as time, isn't it? Just when you think you're safe in these types of games, you, very clearly, are not. Just like Dark Souls. Just like Bloodborne. Just like Demon's Souls. And just like Kalisto Entertainment's Nightmare Creatures, a game whose unnerving claustrophobia still haunts me to this day.

 Teach an old dog 

Fighting with a sword in Nightmare Creatures

(Image credit: Activision)
Double the scares

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree screenshot

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

One area in Shadow of the Erdtree proves FromSoftware should make a horror game


Given the obvious chasm in hardware capabilities between the two, Nightmare Creatures and Shadow of the Erdtree aren't immediately similar in visual terms, but there are stark overarching similarities off the bat. They're both set in gothic worlds, each filled with the most abhorrent and twisted baddies. They unfold under the cloak of darkness and are driven by stomach-turning sound design. Nightmare Creatures isn't set against a sprawling open world in the same way Shadow of the Erdtree is, but the former's wider world is constantly alluded to via its story – it being set in the year 1666 wherein a devil-worshiping cult has taken over London and poisoned its unwitting civilians, in turn transforming them into unsightly monsters. 

From there, the occult takes hold with a host of nefarious agents, unreliable narrators and generally untrustworthy bastards vying for absolute control of a mythical, possibly-not-real but eternally revered object. Sound familiar? Of course it does, but these thematic cornerstones reflect FromSoftware games on a ubiquitous scale as opposed to anything specific. Visually and indeed narratively, Nightmare Creatures' Lovecraftian veneer likely flies closer to Bloodborne than Elden Ring, in fact. But it's Shadow of the Erdtree's unrelenting sense of claustrophobia that's kept me thinking of a PS1 game from 27 years ago throughout my time in The Realm of Shadow.

Shadow of the Erdtree's masterful balance of open and closed spaces prevents you from settling and finding a rhythm, lending melee battles in tight walkways an extra anxiety-inducing edge. The same could generally be said about Elden Ring, but while the base game keenly shows players just how big it is from the outset – this is a marked departure from the Souls series, after all – Shadow of the Erdtree is a reminder of just how brutal these games can be when you're under pressure. 

And you're always under pressure. You're always looking over your shoulder, always tentatively peering around blind corners, and always, always, expected to expect the unexpected. Which is as impossible as it sounds. It's left me a bit of a blubbering mess, truth be told. Shadow of the Erdtree has rattled me – in the very same way Nightmare Creatures, a game I discovered by accident, did over a quarter of a century ago. 

Fighting a large monster in Nightmare Creatures

(Image credit: Activision)


Having not long turned 11 years old in 1997, I'd picked up the Official PlayStation Magazine volume 2, issue 7 to read the print publication's Abe's Odyssey: Oddworld review. I played the accompanying demo disc knowing nothing about Nightmare Creatures, before it sunk its rusted hooks into me from the off. Its brutal melee horror and ensemble of grotesque monsters kicked my ass, but what I really loved was the claustrophobic level design that kept me constantly on edge. Even in its rare stretches of down time, Nightmare Creatures force-feeds its omnipresent unease, making you second guess every shadow, blind corner, and narrow walkway. 

I might not have described it like this in so many words back then, but Nightmare Creatures messed with your head. Bear in mind, it arrived before Silent Hill's terrifying realm-shifting horror, before Parasite Eve's unorthodox horror-RPG combination, and before Resident Evil's action-oriented shift of the early 2000s. It toyed with your sensitive disposition like nothing I'd played at the time, and while Shadow of the Erdtree is hardly a horror game, it has scared the crap out of me more than any other FromSoftware game, Bloodborne included. 

Can you blame me? Around every tight, unsighted and claustrophobia-inducing corner awaits a huddle of Cleaver Ghosts, a gang of Mutated Lantern Heads, a murder of Undead Priests. And a long-grass-hiding zombie bastarding dog. I will happily wait another 27 years before being scared so shitless again. 

It's definitely spooky, but is Shadow of the Erdtree too difficult? 

Joe Donnelly

Joe Donnelly is a sports editor from Glasgow and former features editor at GamesRadar+. A mental health advocate, Joe has written about video games and mental health for The Guardian, New Statesman, VICE, PC Gamer and many more, and believes the interactive nature of video games makes them uniquely placed to educate and inform. His book Checkpoint considers the complex intersections of video games and mental health, and was shortlisted for Scotland's National Book of the Year for non-fiction in 2021. As familiar with the streets of Los Santos as he is the west of Scotland, Joe can often be found living his best and worst lives in GTA Online and its PC role-playing scene.