Cold As Ice
Game: Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel DLC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided by publisher)
Just when I thought I was out, you drag me right back in. I reviewed Dark Souls 3 way back in April – you can read that here: http://nextgengamingblog.com/blog/dark-souls-3-review/. I gave it an 8.5/10, initially struggling with it pre day one patch where it had some glaring performance issues but, unlike most games I look at for review, it stuck with me for a long time. A looooong time. I physically had to tear myself away from it, in fact, after having spent many, many hours exploring its various nooks and crannies, starting different characters to try different builds and generally getting lost and, dare I say, a bit obsessed with From Software’s possibly final Souls game. But I was out, done, on to other things…
And then Ashes of Ariandel happened…
The Souls series is very hard to sell to people who haven’t played it or have been turned off by its reputation. I’d argue that a good Souls experience should provide four things; challenge, mystery, exploration and a sense of accomplishment. Ashes of Ariandel is almost the perfect distillation of these and is a great example of the “Greatest Hits” approach taken to the structure of the core Dark Souls 3.
From the get go, the Painted World of Ariandel (where this particular story is set) is dismal and oppressive. The DLC is accessed by finding a new NPC cowering near the Cleansing Chapel bonfire in the main game. Talking to him will eventually lead to the player being transported to Ariandel, waking up in a cave near another wretched soul. The world of Ariandel feels, initially, deceptively small. From the cave you find yourself in a foggy, snowy forest and from there… Well, Dark Souls players don’t like spoilers so I won’t get into that territory, but suffice it to say the opening couple of hours are some fairly punishing Dark Souls. Ashes of Ariandel does, however, eventually ease off on the player to provide an experience that refines and expands the Dark Souls formula. There are large, open areas with punishing challenges as well as twisting, labyrinthine areas that reward exploration and puzzles aplenty.
The enemies in Ariandel are also a step above the norm for Dark Souls; you’ll find more challenging packs of enemies rather than single foes and, where there are single foes, the challenge is significant, often requiring avoidance rather than conflict. It’s challenging but if feels balanced and fair unlike, say, the Hunters Nightmare from Bloodborne which was simply punishing considering how relatively early in the game the area became available. Add to this some excellent new weapons (a rapier/claw/throwing knife combo may just become my favourite weapon in the game) and items, Ashes of Ariandel becomes an essential experience for both veterans and those playing through the main game for the first time.
Despite a few references, the story of Ariandel largely to doesn’t interfere with that of the quest for the Lords of Cinder – in fact, an early NPC encourages you to abandon the Painted World and head back to Lothric to continue your quest. The world of Ariandel feels well developed and, given how the player discovers it, entrenched with its own history. It’s a world worth exploring and, given how the fast travel in Dark Souls 3 has made each discreet game area more accessible, one you’ll find yourself venturing back to time and again.
It would be easy to dismiss Ashes of Ariandel as just being more of the same. But, as a self contained world it refines the Dark Souls formula to such an extent that it almost supersedes the main game. Ariandel is the first of two add on areas FromSoftware are releasing and if the second can retain this quality of world building and story telling, Dark Souls 3 could easily form the perfect conclusion to what may be one of the greatest series in modern gaming.