Emoting in front of the Scadutree in the DLC for Elden Ring.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Discussing the difficulty of Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is the real final boss

"Why do we fall, Sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up." - Alfred Pennyworth (I'm really stretching these now)

The discussions of the difficulty level of the DLC for Elden Ring have been quite the hot topic of late, and it's easy to see why.

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The DLC is hard, harder than the base game by a considerable margin, and at least to me, harder than anything else FromSoftware have ever released. But to be clear, this is not some 'git gud' piece. I am not here to tell anybody that I think the DLC is actually super easy and you suck for not being able to do it, because that's neither true nor fair.

What I do think though, is that the difficulty in the DLC is just fine the way it is.

Learning to walk again

Mid fight cutscene against Messmer in the DLC for Elden Ring.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

In the interest of total transparency, I have something to admit. Shortly after the DLC launched, I came up against Rellana. And I, in a moment of bitter frustration, thought the one thing I swore I never would.

'This is too hard.'

I have since shaken this near blasphemous thought, but the fact I ever had it at all has stuck with me during my many hours venturing through the Shadowed Lands. For the first time in a great many years, I thought something in a FromSoftware game was too hard. But then I realized... that was the same thought I had back during my first playthrough of Dark Souls. And the moment I realized that, the DLC began to click, and I stopped being frustrated and started falling head over heels in love with it again.

The moment I finally beat Rellana, I got the FromSoftware high. Not the high of beating Maliketh after a dozen or so attempts during my first playthrough of Elden Ring; not the high of prevailing against Pontiff Sulyvahn in Dark Souls 3... but the high of finally defeating the Asylum Demon as a wee 15 year old, fresh to the world I would become engrossed in for the next decade, the high I didn't even realize I'd been chasing for just as long.

If I were to sum up the DLC in a single word, it would be 'humbling'. I knew the DLC was set to follow the trend of previous DLCs FromSoftware had put out, I knew it would have a new scaling mechanic, and yet, I had the ego of someone with a new game +7 save. I really did go in thinking it wouldn't be as difficult for me, and I was wrong.

The difficulty in the DLC is fine; I just had to learn that it's okay to suck again.

This is nothing new

Another major realization I had during my time in Shadow of the Erdtree was that at its core, the DLC was no different than any other DLC FromSoftware had put out in the past. Every DLC for the Souls games had huge spikes in difficulty, specifically for the same reason Shadow of the Erdtree does; high level characters would have a lesser experience if they were simply able to steam roll through the content.

The reason I believe it's been such a shocking experience this time around is simply due to the fact that whilst you could complete Artorias of the Abyss in an evening or two, you can't do the same with Shadow of the Erdtree. (Unless you're exceedingly good of course.) Whilst a difficulty spike with a handful of new bosses and some smaller areas might be less of a shock to the system, when you're confronted by a game area just as large (and far more dense) than one of the major base game areas, that increased difficulty feels more punishing simply because you're in the experience for longer, and you're out there getting punished more.

But let's be real here, if Shadow of the Erdtree had just as much content as say, The Ringed City from Dark Souls 3, people would be rightfully furious. And speaking of The Ringed City...

The Ringed City was considered hard upon release, and maintains that status to this day. The frustration then surrounded the difficulty of regular mobs as opposed to just bosses—something we see reflected in Shadow of the Erdtree criticisms currently. There was also some strange new additions back in The Ringed City back in ye olde years of 2017, like the first dual boss with multiple phases. For Elden Ring players this isn't entirely new (think Godskin Duo), but once upon a time this was a new and not entirely welcome change.

But let's compare The Ringed City to the other DLC for Dark Souls 3 with Ashes of Ariandel. Ashes to this very day remains at overall 'Mixed' reviews on Steam, with people complaining of drab and frustrating content capped off by only one truly memorable boss. And once again we see many similarities in reported issues, with people often discussing the fact that the regular enemies you'll face are much too strong, and come in overwhelming numbers.

So if both DLCs had similar reported issues, how is it that The Ringed City is remembered in such high esteem compared to Ashes of Ariandel? Overall it simply comes down to the quality of the piece as a whole. The Ringed City is a remarkable capping off point to Dark Souls as a franchise, with some haunting insights into our future should our never ending struggle against the coming of the dark continue. Bosses such as Slave Knight Gael and Darkeater Midir offered up some incredible set pieces and challenging (but fair) fights, and some great new loot gave plenty of incentive to go exploring. The Ringed City has impact, whereas Ashes of Ariandel, despite offering one of the greatest boss fights in the franchise (i.e. Sister Friede and her very miffed Dad) didn't have that same stopping power.

Back when I first completed The Ring City (and was thoroughly humbled by Gael), I thought to myself 'Wait, wasn't there another piece of DLC?'. Turns out, I'd already done it; I'd beaten Ashes of Ariandel ages ago, I just hadn't even realized. Ashes of Ariandel had felt like any other gauntlet I'd been through so far, it was an area, and there were some bosses in it. It didn't feel like The Ringed City in the way that it felt like an expansion; it felt like it was always meant to be there.

Reading the comments of the post above, or any post of a similar nature will typically show you the same things. Some people agree; some people disagree; some people are angry; some people understand. And yet, people still loved The Ringed City, and it's still held in high regard to this day. They didn't love Ashes of Ariandel. The Ringed City, whilst difficult for some, had the overall quality to ensure it would be held in high regard all these years later. And despite the arguments and discussions, Shadow of the Erdtree will be the same. It has that same stopping power The Ringed City does, it feels expansive, impressive, and it's just beautiful. It's next to impossible not to recognize that this is just as much a victory for FromSoftware as Elden Ring itself was. But, with all this said, it's still okay to say...

To hell with Rellana

This DLC is outstanding in every way, it truly is. But as no one thing can be, it's simply not perfect. And to be quite frank, Rellana is a prime example of this. For context, Rellana isn't considered the hardest boss, but I personally found Rellana to be maybe just a teeny tiny bit... unfair.

I have since fought objectively more difficult bosses, Bayle being a prime example of a boss I spent far more time than I care to admit on, but for whatever reason, Rellana... got to me. With Bayle, I could recognize the 'me' issue (that issue being I've actually always sucked at every dragon fight in every FromSoftware game), but with Rellana I felt confused. I felt that despite my hard won victory against the previous major boss of the Divine Beast that I'd hit some kind of wall, that I was doing something wrong. I switched from my main stay of Eleonora's Poleblade to the new Light Greatsword Milady, to a full Greatsword, to daggers, to sword and board, and yet every time I tried something new I met the same problem.

Fighting Rellana in the DLC for Elden Ring.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

It felt like no matter when, no matter how, my attempts at attack were punished by a succinct third degree burning, or prompt slash with the longest Carian Greatsword attack I've ever seen. (Both of which you can see at 1:27 in the footage from Shirrako below.) I slowly got better at dodging the attacks coming my way, and I found brief moments in which I could get a swift slash in before being turned into teary atoms, but it took me a long time.

And just to stress this point again, I understand that it was ultimately a me issue, but whilst Messmer was hard, whilst Bayle was hard, I understood them. I understood my failings, my weaknesses, and what I could do differently to increase my chances, but I never really got that with Rellana. And whilst Rellana may be frustrating, at least to me, there's one thing that's even moreso.

Negativity rears its ugly head once more

Emoting in the final area of the DLC in Elden Ring.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

There is currently a fair bit of strife within the Elden Ring community in regards to the difficulty issue, with some saying it's simply too difficult to be enjoyed. This is, to those that say it, entirely true. If someone has stopped having fun playing a video game, they shouldn't have to play it.

FromSoftware games were built with the idea of community in mind. Messages, ghosts, blood pools, and summons are all tools to let you know that there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of Chosen Undead, Curse Bearers, Ashen Ones, Hunters, and Slayers of Demons out there ready to help you, uplift you, inform you there's (perhaps) a dog nearby, or confuse the Japanese player base by continually leaving 'Fort Night' in messages wherever possible.

Pointing fingers and laughing at those who have decided the DLC is too difficult for them to enjoy does nothing but jade them to a player base that at times can come together to do incredible things.

But in a similar vein, those who have decided such have to be able to differentiate between yelling at a game development company simply because they didn't enjoy a product, and understanding the merits such a fine piece of media holds. Critique is incredibly important, so whilst there has to be acceptance of said critique, there has to be effort to present it properly at the same time.

Basically, stop yelling at each other please; I don't like it.

If you've enjoyed this piece, and you're looking for some more Shadow of the Erdtree content from us here at Pro Game Guides, check out our piece on Why Miyazaki doesn't expect another hit like Elden Ring, or our Castle Ensis Walkthrough, home of Rellana herself.


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Author
Image of Connell Watson
Connell Watson
Hotline Miami understander, rat aficionado, lover of boomer shooters - Freelance Writer at ProGameGuides.

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Discussing the difficulty of Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is the real final boss

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