Shadow Of The Erdtree Transcends All Boundaries Of Open-World And Level Design

Watch in amazement as you relish in the thrill of discovery.

Story Highlights

  • Shadow of the Erdtree features a downright insane level of world design and sense of discovery.
  • With creative dungeons and the kind of connectivity you’ve never seen before, it’s a true marvel.
  • The map can’t even begin to cover all the stuff you’ll find once you go on an exploration journey.

The much-awaited Shadow of the Erdtree DLC of the legendary Elden Ring is finally here, and I’m having an absolute blast playing through this monstrous expansion. It makes me question it all over again. Does FromSoftware even have any equal? The more I progress, the more unlikely it seems.

From the bone-crushing difficulty to the amount of content that even puts many full games to shame, life is too brief to list everything good about Shadow of the Erdtree. But I have to start somewhere. And so I shall, starting with the world design.

Fair warning. There WILL be spoilers ahead relating to the many locations in Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree.

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The Unreal Sense Of Discovery And Connectivity

Words can’t describe my relish and amazement as I went through this expansion, but I’ll try to pen it down anyway, starting with just how beautifully the whole thing is arranged, and the majestic picture it forms when you connect the dots.

Let me just say that Shadow of the Erdtree surpassed my wildest expectations regarding world design and the overwhelming pleasure of discovery. Considering the base game, I was expecting a strong exploration incentive and ample reward, but this goes way beyond that.

Who could’ve imagined the tiny little hole I discovered near Moorth Ruins would take me back to an undiscovered part of the Shadow Keep, leading to three different locations on the map? One little secret and it opens a Pandora’s Box. Going through the Shadow Keep, I could never have guessed that this hidden ladder I stumbled upon would take me to the underbelly of the Shadow Realm and eventually to the Cerulean Coast.

The sense of discovery is mind-boggling | Source: eXputer
The sense of discovery is mind-boggling | Source: eXputer

The way each location masterfully connects to the previous area surpasses even Dark Souls 1’s connectivity. And how the smallest of things take you to unforeseen locations on the map, it’s a feeling so sublime you think you’ve stumbled upon some arcane secret no one has found before.

I ******* love SotE’s map.
byu/Inadover inEldenring

The Map Won’t Help You One Bit

Here’s another interesting thing I’ve noticed in the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC. The map this time around is a lot more layered than it looks at first glance. It’s purposefully designed to be misleading, tricking you into believing this 2D surface is all there is, all the while hiding so much stuff you will never find unless you go on a manual, blind search. It’s a clever ploy, but one that works brilliantly.

When I reached the Cerulean Coast for the first time and picked up the map, I saw the huge Dragon carcass and thought “This is my next stop.” However, for the life of me, I couldn’t find the way up there. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the way to the Jagged Peak that I noticed I’d made it to the Dragon corpse, and to my immense bewilderment, a whole new area laid bare. It was downright insane.

Shadow of the Erdtree Progression Route
byu/BestRemusInMyHouse inEldenring

Similarly, traveling along the edge of the Cerulean Coast, never in a million years did I think a complete underwater area was hidden there in the guise of a mini-dungeon, one that featured a nasty Remembrance boss and a full questline. I don’t know how Miyazaki does this.

Beyond the map's limits | Source: eXputer
Beyond the map’s limits | Source: eXputer

More on the “don’t trust the map, there’s more here than meets the eye,” be extra careful as you decide to step into the Ancient Ruins of Rauh. The structure here is so messed up you’ll be lost in 5 seconds flat. Using the map, yet retaining the mind-boggling sense of discovery is FromSoftware at its peak.

Ancient Ruins of Rauh is amazing!
byu/Alert_Purple3305 inEldenring

The Majestic Level Design

Once you’re done bowing to the open world’s grandeur, it’s time to visit the legacy dungeons and watch in awe as FromSoftware crushes your perception of what’s possible once again. While all of the “big areas” feature a brilliant level design, there’s nothing quite like Shadow Keep and its surroundings in probably FromSoftware’s entire arsenal.

Is Shadow Keep the greatest dungeon / level design in FromSoftware history?
by inEldenring

From the “a little too warm welcome” to the castle outskirts finally opening into the Specimen Storeroom, this entire dungeon is one massive flex of FromSoftware’s unrivaled capabilities. Shadow Keep serves as a central point for the entire DLC, as countless pathways emerge from this one point. The way to the Ancient Ruins of Rauh, the hidden pathway to the base of the Scadutree hiding a feint-y surprise, the path to the lush green Hinterland, and the scary Commander, the list goes on.

Shadow Keep, the pinnacle of level design | Source: eXputer
Shadow Keep, the pinnacle of level design | Source: eXputer

As you explore the Shadow Keep, you’ll find just how convoluted of a mess it can get. With intertwining pathways, tough foes lining your road, the need for platforming through certain sections, the confusing climb through the never-ending tower, and of course, all the secret paths and branching ways you can discover, it’s a true marvel of level design.

I know its been said a bunch of times, but Shadow Keep is sick with its rewards for exploration
byu/Paperchampion23 inEldenring

Stray From The Main Path

I believe I’ve already established it strongly, but there’s so much in Shadow of the Erdtree you’ll never get to see until you put on your adventuring boots, throw away the map, and have no fear of getting lost. 

You gotta check.
byu/Thopterthallid inEldenring

FromSoftware has crafted something beyond the realm of possibility here, and it’ll be a damn shame if you don’t get to witness it all. For starters, never stick to the main path. Look in places you’d never think of looking. You’ll find that the DLC is a lot more ingenious in its design and approach than you expected.

If you go straight to Castle Ensis as the map and the Graces dictate, there’s no problem with that, but go roundabout a little, and you’ll find a spirit spring that lets you skip the entire area. Crazy, right? That’s just the beginning of the crazy. You’ll find Mausoleums, mini-dungeons, shortcuts, bizarre hidden paths, optional bosses, and even side-quests never found on the main path.

You can skip Rellana! There’s 2 spirit springs that takes you right to the second area,
byu/BoopNotFound inEldenring

I Tip My Hat, FromSoftware

With Shadow of the Erdtree, FromSoftware has proved once again that nothing can reach its level. I was expecting a killer DLC considering the developer’s pristine track record of mind-blowing expansions, but this one was way off the charts, at least in level design, exploration incentive, and world discovery.

And with this, we reach the end of the Elden Ring saga. Now that was one hell of a way glorious way to go. Of course, it’s not going anywhere and will continue to amaze players all over the globe, but this was a journey I’ll never forget in a lifetime. You have my eternal gratitude, FromSoftware.

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Hanzala is a dedicated writer who expresses his views as opinion pieces at eXputer. He's always been fascinated by gaming and has been an avid consumer of many different genres for over a decade. His passion for games has him eager to encounter the latest RPGs and actively look for new Soulslike to challenge. He puts forth his experience and knowledge of gaming into captivating opinion pieces.

Experience: 8+ months || Education: Bachelors in Chemistry.

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