There’s no polite way of putting this: I want the upcoming Elden Ring DLC to absolutely ruin me. I’m talking no-holds-barred, brutal stuff. I want to see clips of folks slamming controllers for years to come. This should happen, not just because of my own sick masochistic desire to get dommed by a digital diety with a fresh orchestral boss track, but because Elden Ring has always had a difficulty problem. And Shadow Of The Erdtree may be the solution.
What do I mean when I say Elden Ring has a difficulty problem? Well, the game is easy! Not when compared to other video games in other genres – it is still a FromSoftware game, after all. But when you line Elden Ring up to its other fantasy action-RPGs siblings, you’ll find it’s quite tame in comparison.
For many longtime Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro fans, this was a slight problem when the game came out. Now, it’s had a lot of its holes patched since 2022, and many of the more absurdly powerful tools for Tarnished – like the Mimic Tear – have been rightly nerfed, but the lack of difficulty still persists. This is because it doesn’t stem from individual enemy power, it stems from a lack of linearity. As you can freely venture across the vast open world Lands Between freely, the game cannot predict what busted spells and weapons you have on you, nor what level you will be for its smorgasbord of encounters. As such, those who seek to drink deeply from Elden Ring’s well of caves and tombs will find themselves beefier than a porterhouse steak.
This makes Elden Ring a wonderful game to replay, and more accessible to a wider collection of players than prior FromSoft games. This was ultimately a good thing, and probably outweighs the desires of a subset of fiendish difficulty goblins to get smashed around like they did by Ornstein and Smough back in 2011. After all, these folks can always try spinning a digital wheel to make their own fun through challenge runs. Allowing room for players to grow above bosses in intended strength has also avoided a problem that many players faced in Sekiro. A frankly masterful spin on the usual formula, the fact that both paths ended with big daddy Isshin left many scared. Even today, filtered Sekiro players can feel the ghostly touch of his gun on the back of their necks.
But this approach also sucked the life out of what would otherwise have been challenging side bosses in Elden Ring. Mogh, Lord of Blood is not nearly as scary as his introduction would imply, and the imposing Fortissax isn’t a big deal either. Malenia is the only exception – an optional boss that was an all-too-brief taste of that now-classic Soulslike death spiral. A single shot of espresso in a coffee shop filled with overly sweet caramel lattes. What magic a Dark Lurker equivalent could work here, in this setup.
I want more of that Orphan of Kos juice, Slave Knight Gael levels of frustration. I want Elden Ring to throw Sister Friede at me again, but with four phases this time. The start of the DLC should act as a starting point for suffering. Do not enter ye who have not cleared the Haligtree. Thankfully, there’s historical precedent of FromSoftware taking this exact approach and saving its grossest challenges for DLC content. You’re not expected to take on Artorias in Dark Souls 1 until you’re at least level 60 and upwards, and future DLCs would lock access to newer content behind certain items or bosses, thereby ensuring a certain level or power or skill before you take them on.
I can only hope Elden Ring has a similar approach. Many out there have reasoned that the figure present in the Shadow of the Erdtree keyart is Miquella. If so, slapping the DLC start point after Mohg should act as a good enough filter for those who aren’t geared up enough. From there, encounters can be designed with the assumption that a player has a solid build figured out, upgraded weapons, some spells (maybe, if you’re fancy), and a hulking spirit summon at their disposal. What devilish designs could be concocted with that level of player power in mind? It’s genuinely exciting to me.
Perhaps these are the ravings of someone caught up in nostalgia, a sickness many an old Souls fan suffers from. But I don’t reckon I’m alone on this one – and taking a look online shows over a year’s worth of similar opinions from other like-minded freaks. Elden Ring is excellent for many reasons, but one of the more important ones is that there is such a sheer level of freedom at your fingertips. It encourages creating these absurdly powerful characters and builds.
If we’re more headstrong than ever before, is it so wrong to wish for bigger walls to bash our heads against?