The release of ‘Ashes of Ariandel’, Dark Souls III’s new DLC, is like Christmas coming early for me. Seriously, even this long after release I still can’t get enough of the game and despite having only recently ploughed through the whole thing all over again, I’ve been eagerly anticipating more punishing action.
Much like the other DLC that has come to the series, it’s not entirely obvious how to begin your adventure through Ariandel. Whilst a bit of investigation might better suit Dark Souls III players, I took the easy route and Googled how to start it. I know, I know, I should uncover it all myself, but I just wanted to jump straight into the beautiful ‘Painted World of Ariandel’ – a location that might feel a little familiar to those who explored the ‘Painted World of Ariamis’ in the original Dark Souls. Whilst there are certainly a plethora of similarities between the two locales, Ariandel offers something completely fresh and new for Dark Souls III players that’s quite unlike anything they would’ve seen in the base game.
The new setting looks beautifully haunting, with pure white snowy cliff tops joined by a mysterious Resident Evil 4-esque village as well as a huge gothic Church. Whilst everything around you is surrounded by a snowy mist to begin with, it’s not long before you’re taking in the stunning sights with Dark Souls III’s trademark vistas giving off the grand sense of scale that has constantly been a spectacle across the series. Everything really looks phenomenal.
The snowy setting manages to add a more dangerous feel to everything too, whether it be scaling the cliff edges of a mountain or crossing a perilous rope bridge that feels like it could fall apart at anytime thanks to the gusts of wind blowing past you and the wooden boards creaking below you. ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ really does a great job of creating an ominous atmosphere, an impressive feat given how enchanting it is to look at.
The DLC brings with it new enemies that fit in perfectly with the locale. Whilst venturing across the snowy fields I was given a shock when one of the trees unexpectedly grabbed out at me with its branches and pulled me in, unleashing a frozen mist that dished out ‘frostbite’ damage. Enemies are typically obvious in the game, but when there are so many harmless trees around you don’t expect one to reach out and pull you in. I quickly noticed that there were other trees that’d launch bolts of fire at me too, so I learned to be wary of my surroundings and to smash all trees apart. Take that Mother Nature, you frightening beast.
There are wolves that are out for your blood too, coming in varying sizes that represent different strengths. Whilst they don’t pose too much of a threat when alone, a pack of them together can quickly see your life dwindle away. I was impressed with how well they fit in with the snowy mountainous region and I actually had a feeling of empathy when taking them out, especially since wolves are common-place in snowy mountains in real-life. I’m used to taking out seemingly randomly placed enemies in Dark Souls games, but there was something fitting about their presence here.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Dark Souls game without some real monstrosities too. ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ delivers with its mixture of blade-throwing, fire-spitting, claw-bearing, soul-smashing enemies that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, each enemy demanding you learn all-new attack patterns if you’re going to have a chance at surviving. There wasn’t a single enemy that didn’t impress me and it shows a continued trend with the Dark Souls series providing some of the best enemies in video games.
My favourite aspect of the Dark Souls series has always been the showdowns with bosses and thankfully ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ provides two great encounters that live up to the series’ name. I don’t really want to spoil too much here, but one of them is an incredibly tricky encounter that’ll fool you into thinking your victorious only to launch one more nasty surprise at you. It was certainly one of the most satisfying bosses I’ve took out in the series, even if it did take close to two hours to actually beat. The other boss was pretty easy, though I was playing through with a level 100+ character. Whilst neither boss provided the massive scale we’ve seen on other occasions throughout the series, they both still provided enough surprises to make sure they were memorable encounters.
Admittedly outside of the boss encounters there wasn’t a huge challenge to be found in ‘Ashes of Ariandel’. After playing the series for such a long time I consider myself to be pretty good at the game, but the fact I only died a handful of times whilst working through the main location was pretty surprising. The gameplay has always lent itself well to perseverance and time-taking, though in honesty there isn’t a whole lot here that’ll surprise you or that you wouldn’t have seen before – I never felt unprepared for any mob of enemies. There was also an abundance of shortcuts and bonfires to take advantage of, so the feeling of risk was alleviated by the fact that a re-fill of my estus flask was never too far away. It’s not necessarily a bad thing since I still had a lot of fun playing through it, but I’ve certainly tackled deadlier locations in the base game.
‘Ashes of Ariandel’ brings with it an extended emphasis on competitive multiplayer combat, offering an arena that allows you to take down your fellow Dark Souls players in online combat. There’s a surprising amount of variety too, with the game offering standard one on one combat as well as team modes that see multiple combatants take each other on. It does take a simple approach with a lack of a multiplayer HUD to really see what’s going on, but somehow that seems to fit the whole mysterious mantra of the Dark Souls world a lot more. It all adds to the longevity of the experience though and it’s pretty addictive to take down other players, something that added an air of unpredictability to combat that’s often missing with AI foes.
Outside of the multiplayer facet of the game, ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ wasn’t too bulky in content. It took me just under two hours to work through the lush environment, with my overall playtime only really being extended by the fact it took so long to take down the main boss. I’m sure there are still a few secrets I’ve yet to uncover, but it shouldn’t take experienced Dark Souls III players too long to work through everything ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ has to offer.
There’s also the returning issue of the game’s controls going… well… out of control on the Playstation 4 version of the game. It was an issue that crept up with Dark Souls III’s release, though it hasn’t been fixed in the months since. On two occasions during my time with ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ my character ran aimlessly without me controlling it, with every attempt I made to fix it with the analogue stick being met with a delayed reaction. In a game that requires perfect precision it led to two frustrating deaths that were never my own fault. Given the short length of the DLC, the fact that it happened twice was a bit of a pain. I don’t know if other players have experienced the same issues or even if it crops up at all on other platforms, but the bug’s return was certainly an unwelcome one for me.
I had high expectations for ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ and I’m glad to see that they’ve been met exceptionally, even if I would’ve perhaps liked a bit more content to get through. Perhaps my previous experience with Dark Souls III meant I was able to finish it all a little too quickly, or maybe I’m just being greedy – either way, it’s got me incredibly excited for the next DLC expansion for the game.
With the enjoyable single player experience and the plethora of multiplayer options on offer, ‘Ashes of Ariandel’ is definitely worth a purchase. It bears the merits of the fantastic aesthetic and gameplay design we’re used to with the Dark Souls series and is a worthy expansion to the great experience Dark Souls III already provides.
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 25/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC