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Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree's most shocking moments come in an unexpected medium

In a game that leaves so much vague, these boxes are a narrative shotgun blast.

Shadow of the Erdtree official image
Image credit: From Software

Souls games are excellent at making you want to go forward, to explore that weird ruin and massive castle right in front of you. A lot of this comes down to framing, making it so the moment you step through a doorway a giant landmark is perfectly in view as the music kicks in. This is true for Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree too, with two exceptions. Any time the DLC popped up a text box, the game flipped it. It's one of the best uses of a simple notification I've seen in a video game in recent memory.

This will go into some spoilers, so warning for those who want to go into Shadow of the Erdtree totally blind. The first time this happens is likely when you first go to the Shadow Keep, the massive castle where Messmer resides. Journeying inside, you're prepped for a lengthy climb through this massive mega dungeon, packed full of enemies and secrets. But, just as you reach the elevator, you get a pop up. "Somewhere, a great rune has broken. And so too a powerful charm." This can also happen when you first reach Rauh Base, or pass Bonny Village, so it's targeted at players who are well into their adventure.

The moment you see this, your desire to march ahead immediately shifts into turning around. Miquella's charm, as you may have figured out by this point, has affected all of the companions you journeyed into the Land of Shadow with. Immediately you're inclined to travel back to all the crosses of Miquella, speaking to all the NPCs you've met. It's a sharp and slicing world state change, changing not only your priorities but the actions of your allies. With the spell of Miquella's kindness gone, the DLC gains a darker and more nefarious tone.

Halting momentum is hard, it's incredibly challenging to stop players from doing what they want to do. In Elden Ring, you're encouraged to roam free. You see that big mountain, go climb it! There may or may not be a boss at the top. The game does point you in a vague direction for major things, like the grace that'll guide you to the next main boss, or Ranni straight up telling you to go body Radahn. But, a full 180 degree spin? Now that's hard.

But it gets better, as the game uses text boxes one more time to devestating effect. When you enter the Abyssal Woods for the first time, Torrent automatically dismounts you, and can't be summoned while there. You get a brief but shocking explanation: "The spectral steed is frightened and cannot be summoned." This happens nowhere else in the game, ever. It does more to scare the player than any creepy soundtrack or grotesque enemy ever could.

Becuase Torrent is our boy! He's our pal! He's the closest thing to a companion you ever get. From the moment you first get his whistle, to the final boss of the game, he's there and happy to help. With the launch of the DLC you can even use him to fight the Elden Beast, a literal representation of Elden Ring's god almighty. If he doesn't want to step foot in the woods, then there's a good reason for it.

It goes a long way to help push just how nasty the frenzied flame is, moreso than any note or side quest ever could, and it adds an extra layer of sadness to the Frenzied Flame ending in the base game too if you chose to go in that direction. It is a masterclass in setting a tone, and slowing things down in a game that otherwise is more than happy to let you run fast and free.

This is just one small aspect to Shadow of the Erdtree's brilliance, and another step in FromSoftware's own march towards greater narrative heights. It's something that'll be stuck in my head for years, truly!

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