They say it's possible to have too much of a good thing, but nobody knew of Elden Ring when they coined the phrase all those centuries ago. An outstanding winner of copious Game of the Year accolades, the experience remains relevant to this day — and that's even without this month's huge Shadow of the Erdtree DLC beckoning veterans back to The Lands Between. Ahead of release, Bandai Namco kindly invited us to Paris to play the opening three hours of the expansion. In motion, within the first area alone, it's the most comprehensive extension of a game FromSoftware has ever created.

Having selected from one of three different classes (a warrior, knight, or sorcerer at level 150), we entered The Land of Shadow via a new portal in Mohgwyn Palace, accessed by interacting with Miquella's hand sticking out of the cocoon in the back. From there, the task was simple: Bandai Namco allowed us exactly three hours to freely explore the opening area of the DLC, taking in its core story path, optional areas, and new features and mechanics. It's more Elden Ring on the face of it, but dig a little deeper and you shall find things to differentiate Shadow of the Erdtree from the base game.

The initial landmass upon entering The Land of Shadow puts even the gloomiest places across the original experience to shame. Presumably once a proud land, it's now overcome with rot and ruin. Set under the cover of night, this is an overwhelmingly dark place that feels purposefully desolate. Its fields feature few enemies, with only a few patrolling demons and gargoyles choosing to attack. It's a setting not even your rivals wish to inhabit, with magical gravestones and mass hangings taking their place off in the distance.

Enemy density increases as you approach the region’s landmarks, though, as new legacy dungeons and other optional locations provide excellent distractions to the mainline pursuit of Miquella. With new bosses at the end of every one — we only managed to overcome one of the three big fights encountered in the preview session — the labyrinthine routes to those arenas and beyond remain just as gripping as they are in the base game. One boss wore a lion's face yet was anything but one elsewhere, another worked with a greatsword and flaming arrows to cover both close and long-range fights, and a third was the twin sister of a familiar face.

If you're jumping into Shadow of the Erdtree after a long break, these boss battles may prove to be a bit of a brick wall, as you work to regain the muscle memory lost in the two years following the base game's release. However, Shadow of the Erdtree offers its own helping hand via a brand new mechanic called the Scadutree Blessing. By collecting specific items across The Land of Shadow, you can take them back to a Site of Grace and upgrade your ability to deal and negate damage, and also enhance your Spirit Ashes. These enhancements are only active when you're in the DLC; they don't apply if you return to the original game.

It was impossible to tell just how much of an effect the blessings had during our hands on session, but it's an interesting addition that's going to benefit both new players and returning professionals. Another new feature we didn't have enough time to work out is the presence of new golden crosses both in the game world and on your map. The associated description said they were meant to mark Miquella's footprints, and the three we found were next to Sites of Grace. It seems like there's something to them, but exposure in the opening area alone wasn't enough to understand their use.

There were then new Ashes of War to discover, more items with unique uses, extra talismans to equip, and variants of known consumables that allow you to use them much faster in the heat of battle. FromSoftware has already promised 10 major boss encounters and 100 new weapons across eight bonus categories, so our three hours with the DLC really were just scratching the surface.

They were enough at least to prove that Shadow of the Erdtree is mostly more of a very good thing with a few new ideas sprinkled in. The expansion is almost certainly holding its biggest secrets close to its chest, but in terms of how you play and interact with it, this is more Elden Ring. Leaning into all the greatest aspects of the base game, The Land of Shadow invites another brutally gripping experience with industry-leading art direction, tense combat, and the greatest sense of exploration. In its opening hours, Shadow of the Erdtree emulates the base Elden Ring undertaking — that's no bad thing when, to this day, it remains genre-defining.

Not So Holy: Playing Elden Ring in a Church

There cannot have been many other preview events with a bigger contrast between the venue and the game in question than playing Elden Ring in a Paris church. The setting, named Village Reille, has likely never before so proudly displayed the statue of a demon, in a physical recreation of Messmer the Impaler upon its altar.

Then, from its balcony and the ceiling, promotional drapes bearing the Elden Ring branding were hung, sometimes close to the stained glass windows depicting religious events. Along the centre were two rows of stations with the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC installed, complete with keyboard and mouse, and Xbox and PS5 controller options. A stunning place to briefly play an extension of one of the best PS5 games around, Bandai Namco clearly knows how to pick them.

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree releases for PS5, PS4 on 21st June 2024. Will you be returning to the game and then venturing out to The Land of Shadow? Let us know in the comments below.