How Shadow of the Erdtree tries to match the spectacle of Elden Ring, plus thoughts on Alan Wake II: Night Springs, the Audio-Technica ATH-S300BT and more.

Ambitious. Grand. Epic. Deadly. Magnificent. Those are just some of the words I used to describe Elden Ring when it first launched in 2022, and I wouldn’t take back a single one. It’s a game of monumental influence that has seen countless developers and studios try to clone its success to this day.

But just when you thought the absolute madmen at FromSoftware could do no more, now we have Shadow of the Erdtree and oh boy it’s good to return to the Lands Between.

Not to be confused with some inconsequential bit of DLC, Shadow of the Erdtree is meaty and intense, with a minimum hour count of at least 15. It’s truly batty how content-rich this add-on is, and how much love clearly continues to be poured into the whole experience – easily justifying the $59.95 asking price.

The environmental design is the perfect example of this, with plenty of new locations to explore with a surprising level of variety. But you’ll likely be too nervous to even notice, because FromSoftware has also gone ahead and also made the whole package tough as nails (again), no matter how much time you’ve sunk into the base game and no matter who you’re dueling.

To help level the playing field, Shadow of the Erdtree introduces both Scadutree Fragments and Revered Ash Fragments – new collectibles that increase your strength and resistance, and can help prevent countless hours of grinding. And take my word for it, you’re going to want to collect as many of both as you can because Shadow of the Erdtree’s mini-bosses and main bosses pack a mean wallop. It can often feel more difficult than the core game (especially if your muscle memory has faltered over the last two years), but FromSoftware has tried to help out by increasing the potency of the two fragments since release.

No matter how you choose to battle through Shadow of the Erdtree’s vast range of deadly foes, there’s still that immense feeling of satisfaction once you do. That, much like Elden Ring itself, is what makes this expansion so special. It might feel a little familiar, but Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is expertly crafted and well worth your attention.

Love Gaming?

Get the latest Gaming news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more

Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree is out now for PS5 and PS4, Xbox Series X/S and XBO, and PC.

Also out now…

Alan Wake II: Night Springs ( PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC)

If you thought Alan Wake II was some off the wall fun, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve played through this delightfully fun Night Springs DLC. With 3 chapters all under an hour in length, it’s a brief journey that focuses on some of Remedy’s big stars in its connected universe.

As a result, you’ll be partaking in rescue missions with Rose Marigold or shifting realities with the real-life version of actor Shawn Ashmore. To say too much more than that takes away from the charm of what Remedy is crafting with Night Springs, but if you’re a fan of the developer’s signature quirk, it’s hard to imagine you’ll be disappointed.

Gameplay ranges from shootouts to puzzle solving, and while nothing drastically reinvents the wheel it was honestly just fun to be back in this bizarre universe, even though Jesse Faden’s involvement is sadly without her supernatural abilities. That aside, all three chapters do well to match Alan Wake II’s strong writing and even stronger visuals, especially given how much flexibility these new segments allow for.

Fans of the game may lament the surprisingly short nature of the release, but there is more to come, so hopefully Remedy is only getting warmed up.

#Blud (Switch, PS4, XBO, PC)

If you’re a fan of early 2000s Cartoon Network shows, there’s a good chance you’ll be drawn to #Blud. This action adventure title embraces that classic visual style with abandon and even on the Switch it looked an absolute treat.

You control Becky Brewster, a young girl whose first day at a new school takes a hard pivot when a bunch of vampires end up on the scene and she realises she’s a modern-day Buffy.

Things start off a bit slow, but before long you’re wrapped up in a slightly bloodier spin on the basic Zelda formula, as you run around environments and do away with baddies via magical skills or your trusty hockey stick. There’s a good amount of humour at play in #Blud, especially via the involvement of social media (which also smartly integrates itself your mission progress) and the experience never feels like it outstays its welcome.

Combat also gradually escalates in challenge so enemies don’t always feel like a pushover, although it can get repetitive at times and the dodge range and efficiency didn’t always feel great and would lead to my occasional wipe out from a surrounding of grunts. That said, bosses are always ludicrously wonderful spectacles.

If you’re after a vibrant vampiric adventure, #Blud might be right up your alley.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble (Switch)

The Monkey Ball series has been a bit hit and miss over the last few years, but Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble thankfully sees things return to more stable footing.

It all starts with nailing the basics, and Banana Rumble controls a dream. Tilting the world to suit your path is as joyfully chaotic as it has always been and this iteration does well to toss in just the right amount of obstacles. There is a story about a Legendary Banana, but you likely won’t pay it much attention (at least I didn’t).

What’s more, the controversial jump action has been given the boot and replaced with a new spin dash. Acting similar to a Sonic-style dash, the new move stores a charge then quickly fires you in the direction of your choosing. This quick change of pace allows you to make quick pivots, avoid falling off ledges and more. Unlike the jump, the dash feels right at home here and allowed me to make some truly chaotic moves for the ultimate speed run.

For all its positives, Banana Rumble’s biggest downside is its multiplayer. The mode substantially impacts the game’s performance and frame rate, meaning playing with friends isn’t as fun as it should be, but if you’re playing solo Banana Rumble is still a perfect excuse to go monkeying around.

Audio-Technica ATH-S300BT

While there’s certainly no shortage of quality over-ear headphones (especially as new competitors like Sonos enter the scene), finding a pair that doesn’t break the bank is a whole other story. Cue Audio-Technica’s ATH-S300BT – an attempt at delivering all the bells and whistles you might hope for while still sticking to a budget price of $249. The good news is that it mostly does a bloody good job.

Straight out of the box, the ATH-S300BT certainly doesn’t look budget. Available in both black and beige, there’s a simplistic style here that borrows some of Audio-Technica’s typical design language of its more popular ATH-M50xBT2 while still embracing its own street/lifestyle vibe.

That means the headset seamlessly blended into both casual and work attire and was can easily be worn out and about town. There’s also a light quasi-galactic-inspired speckle on the plastic housing the earcup, and although I was unsure about it at first, I quite warmed up to the unique, subtle inclusion.

On the noggin the ATH-S300BT is a pretty darn comfy unit. The ear cups are well-padded with faux-leather, preventing my ears from touching any internal drivers, and there’s a small cushioned strip at the top of the headband as well. Personally, I would have preferred that strip be a little longer because I did find my head sometimes rubbing on some of the headband’s plastic, but I understand it was likely a cost-cutting decision.

Speaking of plastic, it’s the dominant material in the ATH-S300BT. It’s used for almost the whole construction outside of the extension arms, but although that move certainly feels les premium than something like the Sonos Ace, AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5, the unit still feels sturdy. Plus, it’s worth remembering those competitors are $300 – $400 more expensive.

If you carry that train of thought through the performance of the ATH-S300BT as well, you’ll likely be pretty happy. The sound audio performance from my tests were pretty solid, with a respectable bass and strong soundstage. My one gripe is that the clarity of tracks felt a little muted, but I’m hoping that future compatibility with Audio-Technica’s mobile app might allow for some helpful fine-tuning to fix that. Meanwhile both the transparency and noise cancellation do well for their price point, but obviously can’t compare to the powerhouse performances of both Sonos Ace and AirPods Max.

What it can sing from the rooftops though is device’s truly bonkers battery life – a whopping 90 hours. What’s more a quick 3 minute charge will net you 2.5 hours, which is truly exceptional. During weeks of testing I barely needed to reach for the charging cable, so if you want a reliable daily driver, the ATH-S300BT might be the headset for you.

And that’s exactly what Audio-Technica seems to have crafted here. The ATH-S300BT is a reliable, cost-effective unit that can easily earn a valuable spot in your backpack.

The Audio-Technica ATH-S300BT is available now for $249 from JB Hi-Fi.

For more on this topic, follow the Gaming Observer.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine