Shadow of the Erdtree is somehow easier than Elden Ring for me, but I'm worried that's only because I fixed my awful build that almost made me quit this RPG 2 years ago

Elden Ring
(Image credit: FromSoftware)

True to FromSoftware's DLC tradition, Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is proving to be the hardest part of the game. At least, that's what everybody else seems to think. As complaints about the expansion's difficulty rain in, I've been feeling like I've been playing an entirely different game. I wouldn't call any part of Shadow of the Erdtree easy, but I found the original game more challenging in general with far more frustrating moments, and now I'm afraid I might've made some mistakes back in 2022.

When I started up Elden Ring at its original launch, I set two rules for myself. First, I would avoid any kind of online guide. Second, I wouldn't be afraid to make use of any kind of in-game advantage. Summons? Spirit Ashes? The cheesiest weapon strats I could come up with? All on the table. With that in mind, I specced my character toward what I remember always being the coward's way of playing a FromSoftware game: ranged magic.

But, of course, it turns out that FromSoftware built Elden Ring's bosses to account for ranged cheese, to the point where it was never cheesy at all - in fact, I was repeatedly wrecked by pretty much every boss I came across. I don't remember how many times I lost to everyone from Margit to Rennala, but I was burning out hard by the time I reached the game's final areas. I was done with Elden Ring long before I was really done with Elden Ring, to the point where I tapped out around the 55 hour mark and called on Let Me Solo Them - or some effective copycat of that legendary player - to beat the final boss for me. 

Elden Ring DLC Shadow of the Erdtree

(Image credit: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco)

Nonetheless, the hype around Shadow of the Erdtree drew me back in. This time, I figured I'd go for a proper melee build and see how I'd do playing the game as all those annoying FromSoftware gatekeepers play it. I cross-referenced what I already had in my inventory with what seemed like general community sentiment on effective weapons, tried out a few options to see if I liked how they felt, and finally respecced to effectively wield the Bloodhound's Fang.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I tracked down Mohg to unlock the DLC and beat him in about 10 attempts. I understand Mohg to be regarded as one of the more challenging fights in the game, and here I was with a brand-new build and questionable Elden Ring skills that were now two years rusty. Dumb luck, surely. I already knew Shadow of the Erdtree was going to be way harder than base Elden Ring thanks to Austin's hands-on preview, so there was no way my luck would last.

Then the DLC launch finally came, and after a good dozen hours exploring the Land of Shadow I've found it pretty smooth sailing. Granted, I still have a lot left to do, but fighting bosses like the Dancing Lion and optional foes like the Death Knight, well… I wouldn't say they're easy, but I haven't been spending hours stuck on these foes the way I was in the base game. My one big roadblock was the Blackgaol Knight, who I encountered before I found any Scadutree Fragments and stubbornly kept fighting because nearly a full level's worth of Runes were stuck in his arena after my first death. I shouted a few profanities at the TV, but I eventually learned the timings and got the fight done. 

Elden Ring DLC Shadow of the Erdtree

(Image credit: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco)

That's why it's been so weird for me to see Shadow of the Erdtree's difficulty become such a talking point. Beyond the bosses, I've died maybe a half-dozen times exploring dungeons and the overworld, and even my time in the increasingly infamous Fog Rift Catacombs filled me with only that jovial sort of despair FromSoftware's biggest fans tend to enjoy. I'm not here to claim I'm some kind of Elden Ring savant - idiot or otherwise - but it keeps feeling utterly bizarre that I'm having such a smooth time in the DLC when the base game gave me fits.

Thinking through all this, I've now been increasingly worried that my first build was just straight-up bad. Is that why I burned out so hard on Elden Ring the first time around? Did I sabotage my own experience by dedicating myself to a 'cheesy' build that ultimately wasn't very effective? Have I spent two years thinking Elden Ring is a bit overrated purely because I undercut my own enjoyment of it? Maybe I'll once again experience burnout before I hit the end of Shadow of the Erdtree, but for now the DLC is reminding me about everything I ever enjoyed about FromSoftware games, and I'm still eager to delve deeper. Thanks, Bloodhound's Fang. You might've just saved Elden Ring for me.

Want to know where to find Martial Arts in Shadow of the Erdtree? You can see our guide at that link.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.