FromSoftware has finally announced the first DLC expansion for Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree.
While we only know that the new expansion is officially being developed, FromSoftware has a history of releasing substantial expansions that are rich with both new areas and bosses as well as new story content. They are often essentially mini sequels to the base game that usually finish the game’s story and hide the true ending.
With this in mind, we ranked all the past FromSoftware DLC for Dark Souls and Bloodborne and revisited the expansions from a studio that has arguably done DLC better than anyone else. Check below for our ranked list of FromSoftware DLC.
Spoilers for Dark Souls and Bloodborne DLC below.
7-6) Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Old Iron King and Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Sunken King
As a Dark Souls 2 apologist, my main criticism with the Dark Souls sequel comes down to balance issues. While Dark Souls 2 would end up pioneering some of the open-world elements of the game that we’ll see later on in Elden Ring (Dark Souls 2 co-director Yui Tanimura will go on to co-direct Elden Ring alongside Hidetaka Miyazaki), Dark Souls 2 also felt bewilderingly difficult in a way that was neither fun nor particularly rewarding.
The DLC for Dark Souls 2 suffers from the same problem, and in fact adds some of the most frustrating areas in the entire Dark Souls series, that are as tedious as they are narratively fascinating. Whether it’s Shulva, an underground city built to worship a poisonous dragon, but also features incredibly annoying platforming and hidden switches. To Brume Tower, a beautiful fortress guarded by several gameplay-modifying enemies called Ashen Idols.
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While I personally preferred the darker aesthetics of Sunken King, which takes place in a series of Mesoamerican-inspired pyramids in a sprawling underground kingdom, both DLC seem to take the most joy in seeing just how aggravating a Souls area can be.
Along with the Crown of the Ivory King, Crown of the Sunken King and Crown of the Old Iron King make up the Lost Crown Trilogy for Dark Souls 2, and the first two DLC are placed at the bottom of the rankings for the same reason as why Dark Souls 2 is often remembered less fondly than the other two games in the trilogy.
5) Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel
The first of two Dark Souls 3 DLC, Ashes of Ariandel revisits the concept of painted worlds first introduced in Dark Souls 1.
While The Ringed City sets the stage for the final act of the Dark Souls trilogy, the initial DLC takes place in a relatively small and sparse world. The Snowfield area is simply a large open field populated by tough warrior enemies, and while it’s gorgeous, feels largely optional, Though does feature a great twist on a fan-favorite boss fight from Dark Souls 1.
The real heart of the DLC doesn’t appear until you meet Sir Vilhelm and Sister Friede at the Cathedral. FromSoftware seems to make up for the DLC’s lack of enemy variety by putting an exciting, three-phase boss battle within the chapel walls. The only other area is a PvP arena behind a very cool boss fight, set in an area that almost feels like an homage to the final fight in Metal Gear Solid 3.
One note, when players finally face Sir Vilhelm, he delivers a blistering meta critique at the player accusing the player of needing to “unearth every secret” even if it ends up destroying the world. The idea that the inhabitants of the Dark Souls world knows that progressing through the game means only certain doom for both the world and its residents appears to be the main theme of both Dark Souls 3 DLC, and a wonderful bit of meta storytelling.
4) Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Ivory King
The final DLC in the Dark Souls 2 DLC trilogy stands apart from the previous two in terms of both what it adds to the Dark Souls story and having an amazing final boss fight.
Whereas the Sunken King and Old Iron King DLC employed new mechanics to primarily up the difficulty, the Ivory King DLC feels like a fully-fleshed location thanks to the frozen kingdom of Eleum Loyce.
From the moment you step foot into Eleum Loyce, every challenge keeping you from progressing is tied to the tragic story of Alsanna and the Burnt Ivory King. Its main gameplay twist, which involves rescuing several imprisoned knights of Eleum Loyce, builds towards one of the most unique boss fights in the series which takes the concept of fighting multiple bosses at once and flips it on its head so that the player employs a small army to take on the main enemy.
While they rank bottom of our list, the Lost Crown Trilogy was still an ambitious series of DLC that added a proper narrative thread that bridges the events between Dark Souls 1 and 2. Manus, the main boss of the first Dark Souls DLC, casts a large shadow over the events of Dark Souls 2 and its expansions. While the disjointed nature of Dark Souls 2 ultimately backfires, the idea that the Dark Souls universe is comprised of countless kingdoms and cultures, across so many different eras and time is probably Dark Souls 2’s greatest contribution to the series as a whole.
3) Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City
Dark Souls 3 is on a mission to put an end to the events that started in the first game. The second DLC, The Ringed City is meant to serve as the penultimate chapter of the Dark Souls trilogy, with the player venturing into the Ringed City, the kingdom of the Pygmy Lords first revealed in Dark Souls 1.
The Ringed City ranks up there with some of the best cities introduced in the Souls series. The walls of the kingdom can be seen caving in on themselves as if being sucked into a vortex, possibly a reference to Junji Ito’s tragic town in Uzumaki.
The enemies that roam the city are both dynamic to fight against and striking in their design, such as the angels of death literally guarding the skies and raining down hellfire, or the Judicators who summon the spirits of armies to defend the city. Then, when the player finally travels deeper into its walls and past time and space itself, they’ll face off against one of the best sword-to-sword enemies in the game that is both a remix of one of Dark Souls’ best DLC bosses, Artorias of the Abyss.
The real gems hidden in The Ringed City DLC are how it converges the longstanding storylines of the Dark Souls series. There’re factions that cling to the cult of Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, and like in the Ashes of Ariandel, The Ringed City is home to one of the game’s great NPCs who will put the player on trial for all their ambitions. As a bookend to the series, The Ringed City is a triumph and as narratively straightforward as you can get in the Dark Souls series.
2) Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss
The first DLC released in the Souls series, Artorias of the Abyss would introduce the template for all Souls DLC. When FromSoftware integrated the DLC content directly into the base game, adding a hidden portal that players need to find in order to even access the DLC, it opened up a world of possibilities for the Souls franchise. Suddenly each new Dark Souls game was hiding a pathway to some potential new area and questlines that would be introduced later via an expansion DLC.
Everything else, like a difficult doorkeeper boss, dedicated PvP area, would go on to become FromSoftware staples. And of course one of the best (and most tragic) boss fights in the entire series is tucked away in the expansion. Crucially, the new area of Oolacile also introduced Manus, Father of the Abyss, whose influence would extend through the series all the way to Dark Souls 3.
With Artorias of the Abyss, FromSoftware showed that it wasn’t just releasing DLC to extend the shelf life of its games. The DLC expansions in Dark Souls are transformative, finishing crucial storylines while also flexing the studio’s world-building muscles. The boss fights are also almost always some of the best in the series or at the very least the most difficult.
1) Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
In the Cathedral Ward, past the gravestones, an eldritch abomination will transport you to The Hunter’s Nightmare, an epitome of FromSoftware’s ambitious achievement that is Bloodborne.
The Old Hunters DLC is a perfect, three-part play that takes the Hunter through a true, Lovecraftian nightmare that becomes more sinister the deeper players go. The Hunter’s Nightmare begins as if it were just another new Ward to explore. But once players get past Ludwig, they’ll find Bloodborne’s darkest secrets hidden away in the Old Hunters DLC.
The Astral Tower, a research facility used for human experimentation, is one of the most disturbing sources of lore FromSoftware has ever created, culminating in a boss fight against the truly unforgettable Lady Maria. A duel-style boss that FromSoftware truly loves to add to its DLC expansions.
Once Hunters get past her, FromSoftware puts to rest any question that it’s a Lovecraftian horror game by directly adapting Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth.’ The fishing village from Lovecraft’s famous novella is recreated here. Wading through the oppressive fog and rain, the mazelike village, with the terrifying moon hanging low, too low, overhead, the Fishing Hamlet is a little nightmare made real.
The Old Hunters DLC takes Bloodborne and distills it into its most perfect form. Even if only The Old Hunters DLC was released, Bloodborne would still be considered a masterpiece, but because — like all FromSoftware DLC — it builds on top of such a solid foundation, it completes a game that was already firing on all cylinders and shows that when FromSoftware releases and expansion, it’s not optional content but essential.
We’ll have to wait and see what FromSoftware does with the Shadow of the Erdtree DLC, but with such a rich pedigree of expansions already under its belt, the bar is certainly high for the first Elden Ring expansion.
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Matt T.M. Kim is IGN's Senior Features Editor. You can reach him @lawoftd.