Turns out the early meta for Shadow of the Erdtree is Absolutely Humongous Hammers

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
(Image credit: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco)

I'm going to tell you all a story with a moral, and it's a moral that will keep you alive when you get Shadow of the Erdtree for yourself later this month. Picture the scene: lucky enough to be given a preview of the upcoming Elden Ring DLC, I've spent the best part of an hour exploring the Belurat Castle Settlement, all decrepit ruins rising up to parapets made ragged by time and the elements. And I'm no friendly tourist, cheerfully going hand-to-hand with anything that gives me even the slightest side-eye – and I mean that literally. As I discussed in my love letter to Shadow of the Erdtree's new Martial Arts, my default introduction to any new form of life in Belurat is to punch it in the nose, and maybe give it a couple of kicks in the crotch if the chance arises. Sure, the individual strikes don't do much, but that isn't a problem when they're unleashed with the furious speed of an overly caffeinated woodpecker.

All this serves to give me a healthy confidence as I march up to the first fog wall, brushing blood and viscera off my smoking knuckles. I've barely used any other weapon so far, but why fix what ain't broke? In the courtyard past the golden mist, the Shadow of the Erdtree Divine Beast Dancing Lion lunges at me, a toothsome maw framed by twisted limbs and crackling lightning. Fearless, I lunge back – convinced to the marrow that victory would be mine!  


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Victory would not be mine 

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

(Image credit: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco)

Several minutes later, I was respawning at the Site of Grace outside the arena, convinced I could hear that stupid oversized muppet cackling at me through the fog. Needless to say that the whole thing was a fiasco – when your enemy spends half his time leaping into the air like the world's ugliest dolphin, and the other half summoning AOEs best measured with zip codes, you don't get many chances to start building combos on his skull. I'd barely whittled him down to his second phase, and following attempts didn't go much better.

Sharing the preview hall with a lot of other players, I snuck a glance at some nearby screens for inspiration. Quite a lot of us had gone to Belurat, and I quickly noticed that we could be divided into two brackets: those who had beaten the Dancing Lion, and those who weren't using colossal two-handed weapons that looked like cathedrals on sticks.

Trying to put the association out of my mind for fear I'd have to give up my precious palm strikes, I had a go at the other fortress in the starting region, the more lively Castle Ensis. This was concluded with a boss fight against Rellana, a silvery knight with two swords and all kinds of spells, and if anything, went even worse than the Dancing Lion. Rellana spent most of her time in the centre of an arcane maelstrom, smugly watching me from behind a wall of eldritch flame.

Thwarted, I shot another sneak peak at those nearby. Again, some players have achieved victory over Rellana - and they're all holding the kind of oversized weapons you could use to send a hippo into orbit.

Go big or go home! 

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

(Image credit: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco)

I couldn't ignore this pattern forever. I reluctantly switched to one of the new weapons, a two-handed katana longer than a Kojima cutscene, and went back to the Dancing Lion. This time the Divine Beast was cat food within a couple of attempts. And talking with my fellow players afterwards, we quickly realized why: considering how infrequently the two bosses are actually in melee range, you need to ensure you're doing the maximum damage in the brief opportunities that you have.

Obviously this proved less of an issue for ranged spellcasters and those I saw who were swinging around gross tonnage, but my frenzied slaps couldn't build up either the damage or stagger impact to have a solid effect. By the time I'd begun one of my combos, elemental shockwaves were forcing me to back away again – but those at neighboring tables were just jumping in and bringing down greatswords with enough force to leave a crater.

So that's the lesson to leave you ready for Shadow of the Erdtree - for those of you who are more martial than mage, be prepared to put down the swifter, slicker sabers, and try something a little more robust. Sometimes, war really is about whoever has the bigger stick.

The Elden Ring DLC Shadow of the Erdtree is the best thing it could possibly be: more Elden Ring, but way harder.

Joel Franey
Guides Writer

Joel Franey is a writer, journalist, podcaster and raconteur with a Masters from Sussex University, none of which has actually equipped him for anything in real life. As a result he chooses to spend most of his time playing video games, reading old books and ingesting chemically-risky levels of caffeine. He is a firm believer that the vast majority of games would be improved by adding a grappling hook, and if they already have one, they should probably add another just to be safe. You can find old work of his at USgamer, Gfinity, Eurogamer and more besides.