Don't make my mistake by starting Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree with your cheesy, OP NG+ build

A mounted warrior fleeing fire and rocks
(Image credit: FromSoftware)

In anticipation of Shadow of the Erdtree's launch, I got heavily into Elden Ring once again this year. I finished my original playthrough with a powerful spellsword build (except when I had to defeat Malenia, where I cheesed it with a bleed boy), but for NG+ I wanted to try something different—after all, I'd barely touched my hoard of larval tears. Specifically, I wanted something unstoppable. Something that would make every boss keel over instantly. The inverse of the usual FromSoftware experience, basically. 

Naturally, I joined the ranks of the Blasphemous Blade club. For the uninitiated, this disgusting greatsword can be earned by defeating Rykard, Lord of Blasphemy, the boss of Volcano Manor. Like a lot of Elden Ring's optional bosses, he's a bit of a tricky bastard, but sweating through this fight is a small price to pay for Elden Ring's most OP weapon. 

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

You can't really go wrong with a greatsword in Elden Ring, but what makes the Blasphemous Blade special is its unique skill: Taker's Flames. Oh boy. Greatswords already have a helluva reach, but thanks to Taker's Flames the Blasphemous Blade becomes an unstoppable mid-range weapon. The skill sees you lift the sword aloft, charge it up, and then bring it down, where it shoots out a flaming explosion that annihilates everything in its path. It's apocalyptically powerful. 

Taker's Flames scales with faith and spits out fire damage, so if you've got a decent faith stat and you aren't fighting anything with lots of fire resistance, it's done for. Everything that isn't a boss will go down in one hit. Most bosses don't fare much better, especially if you've paired it with the appropriate talismans. When I tangoed with Radahn again, which initially took many, many attempts, he went down in a few hits. Glorious. 

Taker's Flames isn't all about the damage, though. It also heals 150HP, on top of 10% of your max HP. And it does stance damage, so if a boss survives, there's a good chance they're going to fall on their backside, giving you plenty of time to use the skill again, or simply go in with some regular-but-still-very-powerful attacks. Even when you're not using Taker's Flames, you'll be healed whenever an enemy dies while you're holding the sword. 

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

There are a lot of ways to build a character around Blasphemous Blade. You can go tanky and wield a shield in your off-hand, pair it with the Sword of Milos so you can recover FP with every kill (very handy, given how much FP you'll be using thanks to Taker's Flames), or focus on fire damage with an assortment of fire-based incantations. It's good to have some back-ups for when you need to fight an someone like Mohg, Lord of Blood, though, who doesn't give a shit about fire. 

I started to miss that feeling you get at the start of a new FromSoftware game.

Speaking of Mohg, when I fought him just before jumping into Erdree—defeating him is the last step you need to complete before starting the DLC—I did think "OK, maybe I'm not too overpowered". But the moment I stepped into the Lands of Shadow, I was back on my bullshit. Now, it's worth noting that Erdtree is still a change of pace. Enemies seem more nimble and aggressive, and more reactive, too. Most of them won't just stand there and let you set them alight. Rude, I know! But ultimately the sheer power of my build—even without hunting down lots of scadutree fragments, which is how you grow in power in the DLC, in tandem with spending runes—overwhelmed most of my foes.

Things were certainly not as simple as my encounters in Elden Ring; I had to work harder for my kills, and the further in I got, the more bosses were able to shrug off my cheesy tactics. But outside of the boss fights, I was just skipping around the Lands of Shadow, hitting L2. On the plus side, this does mean that you probably don't need to worry about Erdtree being too hard just because you're on an NG+ save, but I started to miss that feeling you get at the start of a new FromSoftware game, when you're still learning how everything works, how different enemies attack, and knowing that literally anything here might kill you if you take your eye off the ball.

Fresh start 

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

So I decided to make a change. I'd collected quite a few of the new Erdtree weapons, but what I really wanted was to try the Dryleaf Arts—the new martial arts weapon, which isn't actually a weapon at all. You're completely unarmed. It seemed like the polar opposite of my cheesy Blasphemous Blade strength/faith build. No healing safety net, no range, no insta-kill button. 

Friends, I got slaughtered. Enemies that once disintegrated at the mere sight of me were giving me an outrageous spanking as I found myself in the middle of a scrum furiously punching them. It. Was. Wonderful. The joy! I absolutely sucked again! 

Dryleaf Arts scales with dexterity, so I completely overhauled my build, so it wasn't just a new weapon I had to contend with. After many, many hours of Erdtree, I'd finally begun my voyage of self discovery as I tried to learn how to play again, all while being bullied by every grotesque creature in the Lands of Shadow.

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

I should note that Dryleaf Arts is actually very, very good. It's unlike anything else I've used not just in Elden Ring but any FromSoftware game. Jumping into a throng of enemies with a flying kick is honestly the coolest way to start a fight, and the attack animations for all your fist strikes are just sublime. Since I had plenty of points to spend, my very high dexterity stat meant that I was doing a very respectable amount of damage, too. After being this slow juggernaut for so long, playing as an acrobatic, blisteringly fast character was a real breath of fresh air, allowing me to cut through said air with the fatal speed of a lightning bolt.

It's so easy to get overwhelmed when you need to be within slapping distance of your foes at all times.

But god was I vulnerable. It's so easy to get overwhelmed when you need to be within slapping distance of your foes at all times. Especially when you're not encased in heavy armour. I initially opted for the Ronin set from the base game, largely for the drip, but I've swapped it out for the Dryleaf outfit, which means I've shed a lot of pounds. I'm living that terrifying light weight life now, baby. Slippery as a frog, and just as easy to squash. So, yeah, I'm dying a lot more. Often to the DLC's most pathetic enemies. It just takes one silly mistake. It's like exploring Limgrave for the first time again—petrifying and exciting in equal measure.

Because Dryleaf Arts is a new weapon, there are no build ideas out there. And while that will change soon after launch, trying something new is still going to force you to experiment. What talismans pair best? What incantations help make the most out of it? Should you go for intelligence or faith, or just focus exclusively on dexterity? Sharing ideas like this is all part of the experience, but at the same time there's something wonderful about just figuring shit out yourself, and the launch of this DLC is a rare opportunity to get to do this without the temptation to just follow a bunch of guides.

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

I opted for a dexterity/faith mix, because I'm pretty comfortable with the latter and it plays into the fantasy of being a murderous monk. I'm starting to suspect that I should have pumped it all into dexterity though, since I only really use Golden Vow. I've also added the new infinite throwing dagger into the mix, though I'm less sure about that one. The range isn't great, and I'd rather just start every fight with my flying kick. 

So I'm still getting to grips with my build, and I confess I still whip out a Nagakiba with Bloodflame when things get too hairy—especially in boss fights. I'll probably burn another larval tear before the week is out. But at least I feel like I'm actually engaging with Erdtree in a way that I wasn't before. My NG+ build was a safety net. And I have a feeling that a lot of you will be starting your Erdtree adventure with even more powerful builds. I mean, most of my Blasphemous Blade build can be made in your first playthrough. I felt like dual-wielding it was just a bit too extra. 

With that in mind, I'm not just saying you should just dump your NG+ build—if you're still on your first playthrough but you've found your groove with a god-killing loadout, drop that as well. FromSoftware games are journeys, and you should start the journey as a pathetic, maidenless loser. And you're probably going to be starting with a bunch of advantages you wouldn't get when you kick off a normal FromSoftware adventure anyway, given that the prerequisites to enter the DLC will require all but the very skilled to be at a fairly high level and most likely at endgame. Upgraded flasks, loads of smithing stones, more consumables than you'll ever need—you've gotta find some way to reintroduce a bit of discomfort. 

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Or maybe you don't! There's certainly no rule that says you can't enter the Lands of Shadow wearing shades and flicking cigarettes into the eyes of gods. It's a novelty, for sure, and there's something to be said about embarking on a new FromSoftware gauntlet as an unstoppable titan. And you'll still find challenges. Like I said, even my stalwart Blasphemous Blade badass was starting to falter a bit just before I mixed things up. The team is definitely trying to push us out of our comfort zone. 

There are a lot of very cool new weapons and potential builds to discover in the Lands of Shadow, though, and if you don't try at least a few of them, I think you'll end up kicking yourself. When you really should be kicking bosses. While leaping through the air.  

Fraser Brown
Online Editor

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long or talking about his dog.