Elden Ring DLC Review Bombing Is The Latest Skirmish In A 10-Year-Old Debate Over Difficulty

Elden Ring DLC Review Bombing Is The Latest Skirmish In A 10-Year-Old Debate Over Difficulty

Despite warnings from reviewers and FromSoftware itself, fans are quickly finding out that Shadow of the Erdtree is extremely difficult. The expansion to 2022’s Elden Ring was released on June 21 and has gained a reputation for being tough, even for a FromSoftware game. This has led to the DLC’s review status on Steam dipping to “Mixed” after people began review-bombing the game over its difficulty.

Just a few days before Shadow of the Erdtree’s release, director Hidetaka Miyazaki discussed the challenge the expansion would pose for players. “We’ve kind of really pushed the envelope in terms of what we think can be withstood by the player,” Miyazaki told CNET in an interview. While the Soulslike genre has typically been synonymous with tough difficulty, some players think Shadow of the Erdtree may have gone too far.

“I’m here to play the game, not to be tormented by it,” wrote one Steam review. It’s a sentiment shared by many. Another reviewer said that FromSoftware has “lost the essence of what made their games fun—fairness.” They are referring to the idea that most Soulslikes give players the skills to overcome challenges, but claim Shadow of the Erdtree lacks that balance in combat encounters. The review-bombing and overall discussion of Shadow of the Erdtree’s difficulty has revived a conversation around Soulslikes as old as the games themselves: Are these games too difficult, or are people just too used to handholding in modern games to appreciate a real challenge?

Image: Bandai Namco

In opposition to the review bombers, and other players who are genuinely dissatisfied with the difficulty, some are saying that this is just how FromSoftware rolls. That is true, to an extent, as the studio has a track record of making DLC for its games that are harder than the base game. These expansions are meant as a higher challenge for those who have mastered what came before. This was also the case, for example, with Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters DLC (which, in my opinion, remains one of the most challenging experiences FromSoft has made). There is an element of “what did you expect?” from some, aimed at those complaining about the extreme difficulty.

However, the situation is a bit more complex than that. The discussion of FromSoftware difficulty has always had two sides to it. Many people often think of the “Git Gud” crowd, who don’t want to have nuanced discussions and think players complaining just need to be better. But on the other side, there are valid criticisms of FromSoftware’s difficulty, especially with respect to the lack of accessibility options. This has continued to be a pain point, as it means these games are less available to all players. Furthermore, FromSoftware’s design ethos often demands a high level of perfection, while the games themselves are filled with imperfect designs (such as wonky camera controls) that cause unintended friction the player must also surmount.

There is yet another layer to the conversation around Shadow of the Erdtree. Elden Ring is arguably the most accessible (and therefore most played by newcomers) game FromSoft has designed to date. The open world is a big reason for that, as players who encounter a challenge they can’t defeat can just go somewhere else. That more accessible design and the popularity it gained created a community of players who have never played a Soulslike before, and are now excitedly diving into Shadow of the Erdtree only to discover FromSoft DLC is hard as hell.

Image: Bandai Namco

This difficulty shock is likely to cause an uproar in disappointment at the perception of an extremely unfair challenge. With so much discussion going on, even Elden Ring publisher Bandai Namco weighed in. “This is a suggestion to level up your Scadutree Blessing,” the company posted on X (formerly Twitter), to urge those complaining about the difficulty to use the expansion’s new upgrade material. This highlights another fact of FromSoftware: The developer (almost) always gives players a way to tackle new challenges.

So is Shadow of the Erdtree too hard? Well, it’s complicated. It is definitely harder than Elden Ring, but there are also ways to deal with the greater challenge. If you are having a hard time with any of the new bosses, take your time, take a break, and you really should collect as many Scadutree Fragments as you can.

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