In Praise of Shadow? (Erdtree First Impressions)

I had planned to have a post entitled In Praise of Shadow, a treatise on my incredible experience with Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree. However, I must lament I have a few issues with the DLC. Having embarked on my DLC quest as a NG+4 Faith Build, I found the bosses incredibly unfair and unbalanced. I’ve never thought the difficulty of Elden Ring was the main draw. In fact, I find it to be the most gimmicky element of Soulsborne games. The level design, the sparsely told story, the horror fantasy art, the impeccable music and soundscape were all far more intriguing to me. And the thing about making difficult games is that it takes a sort of precision. The hit boxes, the animations, the timing has to be perfect (or near perfect).

There’s no hope for my first character. I’ve had to start the game over without the NG+4 difficulty bump. There’s a bit too much darkness in Elden Ring and not enough light, not enough appreciation of its wholly unique level design and perfectly executed horror fantasy aesthetic from both a narrative and artistic perspective. It insists upon itself needlessly.

I am the hard game, it screams.

Yes, yes, we get that, but there’s so much more to the series than its enforced masochism. Don’t get me wrong, I love the difficulty in Elden Ring. In all the Soulslike games. Every victory feels earned. But when enemy design is lacking or hit boxes are comical, it takes away from the other, arguably more important elements.

When Demon Souls came out, easy games were an epidemic. But they were part of a larger problem within the industry. A problem of churning out uninspired games made by overworked developers. It eschewed tabletop gaming in favor of the mass market action game where you simply had to mash A or B at the right time to finish the game. That is not the environment we live in anymore. Demon Souls and its progeny were sorely needed. They proved there was an appetite for difficult games.

In this way, I fear FromSoft games will become… dated. They are refusing to change or innovate in some self-conscious fever “Am I really still the hardest game there is? I must be harder.”

Difficulty for the sake of it is not intriguing, it’s insulting. Especially given it’s not the aughties anymore. It’s not a defining feature of a video game. It doesn’t make you stand out. Even Legend of Zelda stopped being so frustratingly easy since Demon Souls arrived on the scene.

All I can do is hope some future patches balance the game a bit more by the time I beat the base game. While I think Shadow of the Erdtree is a beautiful game with some of the most inventive boss designs in recent memory, I fear the From Software is starting to live in its own shadow. I hope to be proven wrong as time presses on.


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