Shadow Of The Erdtree isn't "too hard" – Elden Ring just made us too comfortable

Elden Ring combat
(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree is incredibly tough. Fighting Messmer is the closest I've ever come to chucking a controller – I settled for giving it a meek little squeeze – and if you get me started on Promised Consort Radahn, I'll probably cry. Usually, these complaints about a FromSoftware game's difficulty are met with an obtuse chorus of "git gud", an age-old adage that suggests you either change, or leave. This time around, though, even that's being drowned out by a louder talking point: is Shadow of the Erdtree too hard?

It's a question that's been doing circles since release. Waves of decked-out level 180+ FromSoftware fans rocked up to the Shadow of the Erdtree Divine Beast Dancing Lion, the expansion's first main boss, and were collectively sent packing to the nearest Site of Grace. Shadow of the Erdtree's Blackgaol Knight, an early optional enemy who haunts a dingy mausoleum, quickly gained a reputation for taking no prisoners. And these were just the beginning. Since then, complaints have rolled in that bosses are unbalanced, their attacks are too hard to dodge, and even basic fodder are capable of dispatching unwary Tarnished. 


Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree screenshot

(Image credit: FromSoftware)
FromSoftware with love

Shadow of the Erdtree

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree review: "It's almost getting boring praising FromSoftware every time"

This all stems from a twofold issue. The first element is that yes, the Realm of Shadow is a far nastier neighborhood than The Lands Between. There are few bosses in the base game capable of punishing your mistakes and mistimed flask-guzzles so brutally, and the few that did – I'm looking at you, Malenia – stood out for their excessive violence. In Shadow of the Erdtree, enemies are generally far quicker to exploit your openings, while attack patterns are too unpredictable to simply spam-roll away from – the classic delayed sword swing is a nasty trick that FromSoftware took a particular shine to in Elden Ring, but here it's amped up entirely. Surviving the second phase of Shadow of the Erdtree's final boss requires a level of timing better suited to rhythm games, while beefy dragon Bayle uses terrifying area of effect attacks pulled straight from Monster Hunter's playbook. There is no shame in struggling against these bosses, or being unable to kill them, because they are so damn tough.

But if this expansion had launched instead of Elden Ring, immediately following Dark Souls 3 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I suspect we wouldn't be finding its difficulty so jarring. With Elden Ring, we were given numerous optional features that softened the game up for anyone who preferred to play that way. On top of the usual summons, Spirit Ashes allowed us to bring in an NPC companion to help in boss fights – and unlike multiplayer summons in other FromSoftware games, using them didn't give bosses a hefty health boost. Elden Ring's open-world design meant that if you were ever stuck, there were plenty of alternate approaches – you could go away and level up through numerous optional areas, or scamper off like a squirrel to forage for flask-buffing Golden Seeds, before trying again. 

As a long-time FromSoftware fan, I think these changes have been fantastic. They allowed more people than ever to jump in, which has made Elden Ring the studio's most successful title to date. Letting more people enjoy something is – and always will be – a good thing, and all of this has been implemented in a way that wasn't forced upon existing fans. But after two years of getting increasingly comfortable with these options, it inevitably came as a shock to find that Shadow of the Erdtree can't be blitzed through with the exact same tactics. 

Go forth and conquer

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree screenshot

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Surviving the second phase of Shadow of the Erdtree's final boss requires a level of timing better suited to rhythm games.

Despite being open-world, experienced FromSoftware players could follow a linear path through The Lands Between and still have a fair chance at beating each boss while under-leveled. Now, exploration is near-mandatory. Our level alone is no longer enough, and powerful Scadutree Fragments – hidden across so many out-of-the-way corners of the world – are the only way of reliably buffing your damage and resistance high enough to survive attacks that will otherwise one-shot you. We'll probably see Shadow of the Erdtree's difficulty discourse die down as more people realise how crucial they are, but I didn't realize their importance until an entire evening spent stuck on Messmer. 

Like a rat in front of a mouse trap, I can't resist a bit of cheese – and after already dying tens of times, I whipped out the +10 Mimic I'd promised to avoid using through the expansion. It did nothing. I managed to beat him hours later, but it wasn't until after that I realised how much the rules of this game have changed. The tools we've grown used to stomping our way through everything are no longer as powerful, and even the all-powerful Mimic needs buffed with collectable Revered Spirit Ash to survive. I suspect that long-term FromSoftware fans like myself, set in our linear boss-hunting ways after years of Dark Souls, have felt this whiplash the most. 

But that's all to say that no, Shadow of the Erdtree isn't too hard. These approaches may not be as effective, but the Scadutree Fragments and Revered Spirit Ashes in their place are just as capable of balancing the odds. They force us to think about our journey differently, but the result is still the same: go ahead and sniff out a few Scadutree upgrades before trying the boss you're stuck on, and I promise you'll feel the difference. Better yet, if you're loving the difficulty this brings, you don't even need to engage with the feature! As with Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree can be as challenging as you want it to be. 

Whether or not Shadow of the Erdtree is too tough for you personally is another question. Again, these bosses are really hard – that alone won't suit everyone's taste, and finding something too hard for you to enjoy is perfectly valid. My own experience has been a rollercoaster, and I was starting to sour on constant deaths before adopting the fundamentally different approach that this expansion demands. I still have a long way to go before gitting-gud, but I've been having a lot more fun since realising that there are plenty of ways to help me reach that fabled state. 

Check out these games like Elden Ring if you're hungry for more punishing action-RPGs.

Features Editor

Andy Brown is the Features Editor of Gamesradar+, and joined the site in June 2024. Before arriving here, Andy earned a degree in Journalism and wrote about games and music at NME, all while trying (and failing) to hide a crippling obsession with strategy games. When he’s not bossing soldiers around in Total War, Andy can usually be found cleaning up after his chaotic husky Teemo, lost in a massive RPG, or diving into the latest soulslike – and writing about it for your amusement.