From Software’s Dark Souls series will always stand as one of the biggest enigmas for me personally. These are games I’ve loved and hated in equal measure. Oftentimes, the hate wouldn’t overcome me – the definition of insanity simply rang true and encouraged me to do something I would find more fun than continuously being bad at hack and slash. However, I always liked coming back and entering these worlds, fearful but still optimistic that some innate ability had unlocked along the way. Such was the case with Dark Souls 3, though by that point the formula seemed to be wearing a little thin. Not fixing what’s not broken, more of the same good stuff, you’ve heard it all before and for the combat, boss battles, exploration and world design, Dark Souls 3 did more than enough to warrant a recommendation.
"The land itself is amazing to behold with its stark white fields. Such spectacles like a single tower adorning a ruined landscape will strike you immediately."
Now we have Ashes of Ariandel, the first DLC “expansion” for the game that takes players to a painted world. This isn’t Ariamis from Dark Souls but ironically, it’s very similar in feel. Ariandel is a snowy wasteland with sheets of ice and snow adorning every corner, the environment crumbling away and threatening to take you down as you navigate dense forests and a disturbing settlement. But it doesn’t feel like a whole new setting or “world” to explore like Dark Souls 2 DLC packs did. If anything, it feels Ariamis with its side route-like nature except, well, Ariamis didn’t cost you any money.
Ashes of Ariandel is a pretty straightforward DLC all the same. Head to the Cathedral of the Deep to speak Gael, the Slave Knight, enough times to receive a painting which takes you to Ariandel. The land itself is amazing to behold with its stark white fields. Such spectacles like a single tower adorning a ruined landscape will strike you immediately. Subsequent locations with overwhelming tree roots and blizzards look similarly breathtaking. However, since From Software has already visited this kind of setting before, Ariandel doesn’t feel completely outlandish or unique. It’s certainly more beautiful than Ariamis but the mystique that accompanied that Dark Souls area isn’t quite there.
That being said, the diversity in the landscapes are fairly nice and there’s plenty to see whether you’re descending into the Crypt of Bugs, traversing up a mountain or roaming through fields battling foes. In true Dark Souls fashion, there are long ways to traverse with ambushes aplenty while shortcuts abound to make things easier. There are plenty of bonfires though even if you have to get the lay of the land to realize just how close they are to each other.
"Most of the insanity takes place in the Brawl as you can have 2v2 battles, 3v3 battles or go all out with six player, free for all melees."
For some reason, areas never really felt as fully fleshed out as they could have been. Again, if this were a setting within the base game, it would make sense. For a paid expansion, it’s expected that From Software would go the extra mile or two especially when you consider the excellent work done on, say, Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters (which was five dollars extra but come on).
There are new threats to combat here and they make no bones about their difficulty. Being just barely near the end-game requirement, the battles with the Millwood Knights can be harrowing. Their over-sized weapons are more than enough to knock you around and inflict significant damage. These same Knights can attack with Greatbows and exploding arrows. That’s not even accounting for the wolves who can multiply their numbers rapidly with a few howls. Combat is certainly an act of survival in Ariandel. The boss fights are certainly challenging though I’m not sure they really warrant the price of admission on their own. At the very least they’ll provide enough incentive for veterans to try new things and the various new weapons, armour sets and spells certainly assist in that endeavour.
After defeating a certain optional boss, you’ll be able to take part in PvP via the Hollow Arena and it’s pretty obvious that this is the appeal of Ashes of Ariandel. The arena is a first for the series since it confines the action into one stable, unchanged location (in this case, the Kiln of Flame). Spawn camping isn’t possible, matchmaking with passwords is allowed and there’s matchmaking for traditional battles. Two types of battles can be partaken of, namely Duel and Brawl. The former is a single death to a finish fight while the latter is about who can rack up the most kills by the end of the match. Most of the insanity takes place in the Brawl as you can have 2v2 battles, 3v3 battles or go all out with six player, free for all melees.
"At this point, it’s very “meh” for me – revisiting the story missions wouldn’t rank higher than replaying the main campaign though the tale told is pretty good…"
The design of the Kiln is enough to facilitate all kinds of fighting styles and it’s fun to have conditions like limited Estus flask uses influencing the outcome. Battles devolve into brutal melees all the same and it’s insanely fun (though you might want to actually try and win since badges are earned for success). Granted, the Hollow Arena could stand to be expanded upon more in the future – with more modifiers, modes and maps – but in addition to standard Dark Souls 3 PvP, this is as good a start as any.
Otherwise, Ashes of Ariandel is hard to recommend to all but the hardest of the hardcore Dark Souls 3 fan and that too if they’re also big on PvP. Even if you take your time with the new story missions and explore the environments thoroughly, you’re still looking at roughly four to five hours of playtime. The fact that you need to beat an optional boss to unlock PvP is also a little strange. I get the incentive but why not unlock it from the beginning for PvP players when it’s clearly the most substantial part of the experience?
Ashes of Ariandel isn’t bad at all. I just wish there was more of it and judging by how much could have been achieved, whether in adding new mechanics or opening up the beautiful looking environments all the more, it certainly doesn’t seem unreasonable given the price. At this point, it’s very “meh” for me – revisiting the story missions wouldn’t rank higher than replaying the main campaign though the tale told is pretty good – but if you’re really starved for Dark Souls 3 content, then it’s worth a look. Everyone else who enjoyed the base game and skipped PvP entirely might want to think long and hard about it though.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Beautiful looking environments with plenty of variety. Difficult combatants with interesting mechanics. Boss battles are handled fairly well. PvP arena is tons of fun and introduces some new twists to the formula. New weapons and armour are fun to use.
Fairly short, especially when some areas could have been expanded way more. Not much by way of new mechanics in the PvE missions. Having to defeat optional boss for PvP is an odd choice. Without PvP arena, ranks slightly above a location from the base game.
Dark Souls 3's Ashes of Ariandel DLC is an odd little piece of content...and little is the operative word. It's fun while it lasts, PvP receives some pretty cool new additions and the environments are gorgeous. Nonetheless, From Software is capable of so much more. This ranks slightly above acceptable.
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