What Do We Really Want From Elden Ring‘s DLC?

Games Features elden ring
What Do We Really Want From Elden Ring‘s DLC?

As Elden Ring celebrated its first anniversary at the end of February, I found myself thinking about which memories from the game’s launch still lingered most in the year since. There were, of course, the obvious ones—getting my ass handed to me by the Tree Sentinel immediately after the tutorial, taking an elevator deep below Limgrave and being greeted by the gorgeously starry Siofra River, no one having any idea how to progress Kenneth Haight’s quest for weeks.

But there were also the moments that felt like personal adventuring feats. Like many friends, I quickly found that the first weeks I put into Elden Ring were drastically different from anyone else’s. I’d stumbled onto entirely dissimilar dungeons and NPCs tucked within labyrinthine settings, developed a playstyle that matched the hybrid spell’n’slash combat flow I enjoyed most, and even found my struggles and triumphs with bosses vastly unique from the experiences that littered my Twitter feed. (I downed Rennala on my first try; condolences to friends who can’t relate.) In its earliest days of release, when every player was discovering the game’s vast nooks and crannies for themselves and reporting their findings back to friends, Elden Ring felt like the platonic ideal of a water cooler gaming experience—a game where you could both boast about your accomplishments and enrich your grasp of the world by learning how others approached it.

I found myself reflecting on these indelible moments with the announcement of an upcoming expansion called “Shadow of the Erdtree”. While fan speculation for this DLC has been rabid since the game’s launch, it has often dwelled on some of the obvious current gaps in Elden Ring—a conspicuously inaccessible area in the world map, and demigod Miquella’s relative in-game absence despite frequent mentions. At this point, those elements have become all but foregone conclusions. Rather than dwelling on the obvious, what I’ve found myself wondering most is how this DLC will satisfyingly add to the game’s feel.

A FromSoftware game is nothing without the atmosphere it cultivates. Beyond the Soulsborne games’ reputation for difficulty and boss design, what tends to stick long after the controller has been set down are the impressions each title evokes—be that the stories of fate and recursion that define the Dark Souls series, or the gothic/cosmic horror of Bloodborne. At FromSoft’s best, the DLC add-ons can flesh out the imprints these games leave on us. Take, for example, “The Old Hunters” in Bloodborne. Widely singled out for how its side-story adds vital dimension to the lore surrounding Hunters and the Great One Kos, it remains a gold standard for how these expansions can use the base game’s negative space to their advantage, compiling missing elements into an experience that can both recontextualize the main storyline and stand on its own.

There’s a case to be made that FromSoft would be playing to their strengths in taking a similar approach to “Shadow of the Erdtree.” In a story whose demigods form the backbone of the player’s understanding of The Lands Between, Miquella’s absence from the main game sticks out, one of the few genuinely unresolved stories in an otherwise neat narrative. With this in mind, the narrative breadcrumbs surrounding Miquella—who seems to appear in the artwork accompanying the expansion’s announcement—seem to be exactly the kind of essential worldbuilding that made expansions like “The Old Hunters” so stellar.

But Elden Ring’s nature as the first fully open world Soulslike game makes this attempt at drawing 1:1 comparisons somewhat slippery. One of the game’s greatest merits is how it twists FromSoft’s knack for piecemeal storytelling around its looser structure, its lack of traditional quest markers leaving the player to juggle threads of intrigue and chase the prospect of progression wherever its siren song calls to them. I’m reminded of Jason Schreier’s pre-launch recommendation of playing Elden Ring with a journal to keep note of every shred of information the game dangles in front of the player—something I did in my first weeks of play, when I let the natural immersion of the game lead the way. When the game is at its most open, it feels as much of an experience guided by individualized adventuring instinct as it is the player’s own wonderment. Even if the newest area of Elden Ring is a separate locale unto itself, why sacrifice the magic its freest spaces hold?

I often also think about the splendor and awe that washed over me in places that best embodied this approach to open world gameplay. Navigating the winding, multi-tiered city of Leyndell as I climbed closer and closer to the glow of the Erdtree felt like ascending into the game’s proverbial heavens. Despite dreading the rotting dangers Caelid posed and running like a coward past its grotesque creatures, I can’t deny that the setting was unforgettable in its terrors unlike any other section of the game. Perhaps if this new DLC area strikes a grandiosity or balefulness all its own, it’ll leave a similar mark.

Most of all, though, I hope “Shadow of the Erdtree” lives up to one especially significant expectation: recapturing the ephemeral energy that united every Elden Ring player on launch. Cliché as it may be, seeing friend after friend discuss areas not many others had found yet never got old. These tales were some of the closest times I’ve ever felt like a game was a living world of its own, its bounds seemingly unchartable, stretching far beyond the main threads of its story. Like the love-’em-or-hate-’em messages scattered throughout its game world, the communal discovery and subsequent discussion of Elden Ring in those early days were arguably just as vital to the experience as the gameplay itself, encouraging players to embrace the spontaneity its world invited and spread word of the exploits that resulted.

I can only speak for myself, but I know I want nothing more than for “Shadow of the Erdtree” to give Elden Ring its second wind as a commanding, serene, and jaw-dropping “event game” on a scale rarely felt, even among its AAA peers. I yearn for a return to the days where my Twitter feed was nothing but wildly distinct, excited anecdotes from friends, and I’d kill to be able to once again exchange notes about the Lands Between with my girlfriend as we had greatly varying playthroughs. In my most obsessive days with Elden Ring, I was even so immersed in the world that I found the game dominating my dreams, my thoughts subconsciously conjuring secret bosses hidden deep within Limgrave—ones not even data-miners discovered. Ideally, I would hope moments of this expansion would be as quietly sublime as Siofra River spilling out into the Ancestor Spirit boss fight, or as unexpected as Fia’s quest culminating in a fight with the awe-inspiring Lichdragon Fortissax, or as capable of inducing Herculean pride as the hard-won victories over the massive demigod Radahn or the seemingly insurmountable Malenia. Above all, I hope this new section gives me more reasons to stop, breathe, and take in everything around me. As long as Elden Ring’s DLC lingers that gracefully, it should fit into the game just beautifully.

Natalie Marlin is a freelance music and film writer based in Minneapolis who has contributed to sites such as Stereogum, Little White Lies and Bitch Media, and previously wrote as a staff writer at Allston Pudding. She also regularly appears on the Indieheads Podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @NataliesNotInIt.

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