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Elden Ring DLC Preview: Tough Bosses, New Weapons and More Mystery

At a preview event, we got hands-on time with the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC ahead of its June 21 release.

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise Smartphones | Smartwatches | Tablets | Telecom industry | Mobile semiconductors | Mobile gaming
Sean Booker Video Producer
As a Video Producer at CNET, Sean has worked on more videos than he can count. He covers video games and video game hardware along with the occasional electric bike. He covers games both on and off camera, through livestreams, press events, and podcasts.
Expertise Video Games | E-Bikes
David Lumb
Sean Booker
10 min read
A woman stands with a sword as a mounted knight with a mace bears down on her.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is the game's first expansion, due out June 21.

FromSoftware

Touch a withered arm spilling from a massive fleshy egg and be transported to a field of golden chaff, lined with ethereal tombstones. Ahead are spirits and blade-wielding guard birds crouched on crumbling stone, volcanic tombs and crowded ruins, a massive walking bonfire, and in the distance, a castle.

These are the opening moments of Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, the long-awaited DLC coming out two years after the epic original Elden Ring release in 2022. At a preview event in Los Angeles, I got three hours to dip my toes into the beginning of the new expansion alongside CNET video producer Sean Booker and pitted my skills against all that waits in the lands beyond the Lands Between.

Elden Ring, the apex of legendary studio FromSoftware's tough-yet-engaging Dark Souls/Bloodborne series of games, blew everyone away when it came out in 2022. While other AAA games surpass it in cutting-edge graphics, the rest of Elden Ring is a case in hyperbole, with astoundingly tight combat, an extensive soundtrack of beautiful music, nearly 480 weapons and spells and such an expansive world map filled with bosses and dungeons that playthroughs can easily last over a hundred hours. 

FromSoftware's reputation raised expectations for Shadow of the Erdtree when it was confirmed in February 2023, and players have wondered what it would bring -- and more importantly, whether it would hold up to the example set by the base Elden Ring. For a $40 expansion, players are expecting a lot. 

I won't beat around the bush: Shadow of the Erdtree meets the high bar set by Elden Ring, or at least that's what I could tell from my limited time playing in what seemed like the first area of the DLC. The sampling of new weapons and skills I got to try were thrilling and promised a plethora of new playstyles. Considering we'll be able to take the more than 100 new weapons and eight new weapon categories back into the main game, the combinations are dizzying.

Watch this: Elden Ring DLC Preview: Tough Bosses, New Weapons and More Mystery

Readers will have to wait until the DLC comes out on June 21 to see all that content in action, as FromSoftware conservatively declined to let us take screenshots or record our playthroughs. The studio wants players to experience this firsthand, so you'll have to rely on our accounts and the screenshots and footage that FromSoftware provided us with.

As would be expected for a follow-up to Elden Ring's sparse story pieced together through lore snippets, I didn't learn much about the plot in my short span of play. As lore divers suspected, the DLC is accessed through the Mohgwyn Palace -- specifically by touching a withered arm spilling out of a giant fleshy egg. You'll need to defeat the late-game boss Mohg first, which acts as a sort of gatekeeper to ensure the player is properly leveled (level 120 to 150 is the sweet spot for the DLC, I was told), though you'll technically also have to defeat the comparatively early-game boss Radahn, too.

Once players touch the arm, they'll be transported to the Land of Shadow where the DLC takes place. 

A mounted warrior readies a spear to attack a winged enemy.
FromSoftware

My first steps in the Land of Shadow 

At the Los Angeles preview event, I sat down at my station flanked by players from other media outlets — most of whom, I noticed as the three-hour window wore on, were more skilled than me. I'll be frank: I'm not a great Elden Ring player, and I learned that others had a much easier time clashing with bosses than I did.

But I leaned into the part of Elden Ring I enjoyed more than the tough boss fights: exploring the strange, haunted and rich landscape. FromSoftware said the area of the DLC is larger than Limgrave, the starting zone in the original game. Since we were told not to roam beyond a specific border as part of the preview, I couldn't even tell how far it extended.

What I did see of the Shadow of the Erdtree area is a lot of familiar landscapes with sweeping fields, crumbling ruins, deep caves and cramped castles. But the more I played, the more differences unfolded: I skirted a shallow lake with a dragon to find a cave, Belurat Gaol, whose entrance was strewn with iron cages. Inside, I descended to find moaning prisoners and a trapped spirit begging not to be put in the jar -- "Please, anything but a jar!" -- only to wander a jar-filled maze ambushed by blood-bloated humanoids spearing me with their innards. Classic FromSoftware weirdness. 

At the end of the cave, I faced a comically short swordsman -- judge him by his size, I did, and got walloped a few times by his hop-around slashing style. But I beat him with one of the new weapon types, the oxymoronic light greatsword, which uses more quick slashes and flourishes than poise-killing smacks. This made the fight feel more like a Jedi duel, especially with the sword's lunging skill. Once beaten, the swordsman became a summonable ash of war.

Previewers were provided a set of fully upgraded weapons and ashes to try out, including among the latter a fireball-spewing death emu (Gravebird), a small version of those creepy Carian hand enemies and a girthy knight with a massive mace (Black Night Commander Andrews). I could also craft a new kind of throwable -- a hefty cracked pot capable of making huge fire pots, which took me a couple seconds to heave above my head and hurl at enemies for a big area of effect.

A knight uses a bladed shield to slash at an enemy.

The dueling shield pictured here is one of eight new weapon categories in Shadow of the Erdtree.

FromSoftware

The dozen-plus weapons FromSoftware provided were a delightful mix. In addition to the light greatsword, I tried out a two-bladed battle axe that you could throw a short distance with R2 (no ammo necessary), a throwing dagger I liked using in my off-hand to finish low-health enemies, and a dueling shield with spiked ends that could attack between guarding. Other promising weapons included a backhand blade that turned me into a spinning terror of quick attacks, a heavy katana with a stance-based skill for iaido-like weighted strikes and a beast claw with a pounce-attack skill. But I expect it's the martial arts fists that will most captivate daredevil players eager to get uncomfortably close to enemies with quick strikes and a whirlwind kick skill.

None of these new weapons fit the dexterity and intelligence spellblade playstyle I prefer to use in Elden Ring, and the handful of new spells I saw in the preview felt underwhelming. A new "nail" family of spells has damaging bolts shooting out in angles at the enemy, but their delayed trajectory changes meant I missed enemies as often as I hit. A gravity bomb did impressive damage but took so long to detonate that enemies often just walked past it without ill effect. 

I made do with the light greatsword and a massive hammer (unga bunga squad, unite), but didn't make much progress in Castle Ensis, the midscale dungeon that held one of the preview's big bosses -- a nasty two-sword wielder I saw other players fighting. I'll turn it over to my colleague Sean Booker, a probably better Elden Ring player who tangled with both of the preview's bosses in the short three hours we had to play.

A sorcerer in the foreground summons a flaming ball exploding in front of a tall troll enemy.
FromSoftware

How are the DLC's bosses, according to Sean?

During the three-hour session, I took on two different bosses in the DLC. The first, Divine Beast Dancing Lion, is a large foe that wields the power of the elements, requiring a fair bit of strategy. Don't let its large size fool you: like many of Elden Ring's towering foes, their size doesn't slow them down, as players will immediately have to deal with its onslaught of repeated charges and body slams. 

If that wasn't bad enough, the beast will often ignite its body in flames before leaping toward you, something that quickly rendered my flaming sword (a flame version of the flamberge) pointless. The beast often hurls its body toward you in a lengthy combo, which isn't easy to dodge due to the creature's large size. That means maintaining distance is key, especially when it follows up that combo with a large sweeping lighting attack that strikes down from above. I felt like I spent more of my time running away and rolling around than I did actually attacking. 

Luckily, one of the nonplayer characters located just outside of the dungeon can be summoned to assist you, and I was more than thankful for it. If you and your partner manage to close the gap and ready an attack, the beast can counter by launching itself into the air and blowing a freezing storm down below it in your direction. You'll be rewarded with this lion's head, which can be worn as a hat, once you defeat it. But the sheer size and weight of the accessory may not be worth the defense increase.

The second boss, the Twin Moon Knight, was much more difficult, causing me to spend close to an hour fighting it before ultimately having to hang my controller up as our preview time had elapsed. This large knight attacks with such speed and ferocity that you'll immediately be thankful you were able to summon two NPCs to help with the fight. Even with that combined power, and the Spirit Ash I conjured, we still couldn't defeat them. 

This knight wields two large swords and dishes out some very long combos. And in typical Elden Ring fashion, when the boss's health reaches below half, its two weapons upgrade into a blade of fire while the other turns into something akin to a lightsaber. Both carve up wide swaths of the battlefield, with the fiery blade igniting a large portion of it, forcing you to steer clear of the enemy and wait for the flames to die down. The lightsaber can extend across the arena and will sweep the floor several times before giving you an opening to attack. 

If these dual combos were the extent of the danger, then I'm confident I could have left that preview with two bosses under my belt. But the Moon Knight has another trick that consistently bested me; it can transform into multiple icy orbs that will crash down on the battlefield. There are three crashes in total, each causing more damage and frostbite than the previous. The final blow easily took out around 75% of my health bar and would often end the fight for me. I'm looking forward to the full DLC experience so that I can get another shot and redeem myself.

A massive horn-helmeted enemy with a big sword stands menacingly in front of a dark tower.

Shadow of the Erdtree has 10 new major bosses, with other minor ones at the end of smaller dungeons.

FromSoftware

Hast thou gotten good for the DLC?

The expected level range of 120 to 150 for the DLC is wide, but don't worry if you're on the lower end of the scale. FromSoftware added a mini-leveling mechanic that only applies within the Land of Shadow area called, intriguingly enough, Shadowtree Blessings. 

Like Golden Seeds and Sacred Tears, players can pick up two kinds of key items in their travels that they can apply at any Site of Grace. The Scadutree Fragment boosts your ability to deal and negate damage, while the Revered Spirit Ash Blessing boosts spirit ash summons and spectral steed (Torrent) abilities.

For the preview, FromSoftware provided us with preset builds set to level 150 with nonunique weapons scaled up to maximum +25 upgrades -- and the DLC still felt difficult. I personally lost to bosses and subbosses about as often as I did playing the base game. These new Shadowtree Blessings almost seem required to make any real headway.

I will couch that by saying I was less effective without weapons that fit nicely into the spellblade fighting style I'm used to, but that didn't stop others at the preview from dominating with the new weapons. That tells me some of the new weapons will be intuitively picked up for other players, especially those who tried out all corners of Elden Ring's arsenal and crafted their own builds. Previewers also only had access to a starting set of armor and whatever they could pick up on the way.

In other words, while we had some advantages with fully upgraded weapons, players with their tried-and-true kits should be better suited to tackling Shadow of the Erdtree than we were. 

Read more: Elden Ring Smithing Stones: How to Find Every Bell Bearing

A person stands in darkness amid a massive candle-lit altar.

Shadow of the Erdtree comes out June 21 for $40.

FromSoftware

What's waiting in the Shadow of the Erdtree

With over a hundred new weapons, 10 bosses, additional spells and novel ashes of war, players have a lot in store for them when Shadow of the Erdtree launches on June 21. From our preview, the extra content will please players who've dived into the Lands Between over and over again since the game came out two years ago.

There's still plenty we don't know about what's coming in the DLC, especially around its story. We know it'll center around the Miquella, one of the semidivine family of beings with Marika, Radagon, Godwyn and others. In the lore, Miquella failed to cure his sister Malenia of the Scarlet Rot and left his body to travel to the Land of Shadow, where the players will go in the DLC to follow him. 

In typical Elden Ring fashion, the few story hints I got in the first hours of the DLC were parceled out in bits and pieces of conversations and item descriptions. I went to a crossroads marked by a bright gold circular cross, where an NPC told me that the Erdtree (the massive, hallowed glowing tree in Elden Ring) is their people's enemy, long betrayed. Later in Castle Ensis, I found a note left by Knight Leda saying Miquella is bound for the tower of shadow, and that to reach him I must head to the High Bridge of Shadow Keep. Hints, teases, mysteries.

I only had a few hours in the Shadow of the Erdtree, and when I peeked at the screens of other previewers, they were all at different parts of the DLC -- a lava dungeon, on the bluffs filled with lightning-summoning rams, fighting the twin-sword boss with several summons, or elsewhere. I'm eager to get the full DLC and play it my way: Slowly sniffing around every corner from the deepest dungeon to the highest cliffs, discovering secret lairs to muscle past tough bosses and unraveling the mystery in the next chapter of Elden Ring.

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