Take a trip to the Painted World, as the Dark Souls 3 DLC, “Ashes of Ariandel,” enchants you with a wintery (warrior) wonderland.
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Traditionally, a “Souls” experience is complete enough as a base game, with DLC expanding the understanding of that game’s lore and depth to gameplay mechanics. “Artorias of the Abyss” completely changed the dynamics of Dark Souls PvP, while the “Crown” series brought justice to the full story of Dark Souls 2. With the first Dark Souls 3 DLC, “Ashes of Ariandel,” players are in for a display of all the cool things you will do in PvP packaged in a painfully brief adventure.
A man is seen praying to a merciful goddess of the Forlorn, who then notices you are an Ashen one. Upon a request to touch the rotted remains of the painting of Ariandel, you are then transported to the wintery Painted World of Ariandel, home to many foul beasts, ungodly fighters, and enchanted nature.
Overall, what you see from the world design of “Ashes of Ariandel” is not spectacular, or unexpected. There’s nothing about the in-game universe that has you question what you have just seen; in fact, some of the greatest scripted tricks from Dark Souls 3 are replicated to get the player character from Point A to Point B.
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Throughout my time with this DLC, I often found myself recognizing similarities of Dark Souls past. The series has drawn upon the notion of a winter location before and has extracted all the good gameplay ideas already, making most attempts to have the upper-hand on the player fall flat. Having enemies lie in wait in plain sight, obscuring vision with harsh snow, placing archers on a tower that you’re trying to reach, invisible enemies showing their location based on footprints; Dark Souls 3 players have been trained to expect the unexpected based on pre-existing experiences.
Because of this, some of the genuinely interesting new developments that arise out of “Ashes of Ariandel” fall flat. Some of the enemy designs, including the Forlorn Knights and the living tree mages, both tell part of a story and showcase new combat mechanics. Yet, they are muted by familiar landscapes and uninspired progression tricks. This content challenged me, but that rewarding euphoria that comes afterward wasn’t as strong.
If anything, take solace in the fact that Dark Souls 3 DLC, “Ashes of Ariandel,” brings a focus devoted to new weapon and armor designs, inherently impacting the future of the game’s player versus player combat. There are more than a dozen new weapons, five sets of armor, four spells and several shields and items, with the move sets of weapons and armor aimed to make the player do the cool things they see enemies and bosses do.
The weaving web of pathways the player can explore, including hidden shortcuts and traversal up and down across several planes, make the in-between moments enjoyable.
We have hammers that quake the earth, spears you can chuck from a distance, talons that resemble werewolf claw attacks from Bloodborne, bows that draw energy from the planet’s core, and so much more coming to Dark Souls 3. More importantly, we have a new PvP arena, titled the Hollow Arena, which pits players against each other in free-for-all and team-based deathmatches.
This arena is perfect for dedicated duels and brawlers, albeit forcing what comes naturally to Dark Souls 3 online players who dictate the battle zones by themselves. Furthermore, due to the energetic move sets created by these new weapons, I’m sure players will find the arena a fun way to test out entirely new builds and character loadouts while minimizing load-in times.
However, what I ultimately learned to be the secret success that saves the “Ashes of Ariandel” adventure is the progression design of the world’s layout. While encounters are predictable and expected, the weaving web of pathways the player can explore, including hidden shortcuts and traversal up and down across several planes, make the in-between moments enjoyable.
Much of what makes the story of Dark Souls 3 (and other titles in the franchise) enjoyable is the journey towards the final destination, and the visual storytelling of this journey is the saving grace for “Ashes of Ariandel.” Subtle environmental clues and changes in colorization help inform the player as much about the lore behind this DLC as the characters involved in the dialogue, and how From Software paired this with the sound design (ranging from sickening to energetic, back to downright haunting) works wonderfully.
Despite my concerns, I still enjoyed my time with “Ashes of Ariandel,” As many flaws as I found in its execution, it’s more disappointing than egregiously awful, not meeting the exceptional standards that the base game and previous DLC set pieces have created. I’m more of a PvE kind of player, and this Dark Souls 3 content is more about extending the life of one of the best games 2016 has produced so far through PvP combat.
That said, some mobs of enemies did provide the “OH S—” moments I was looking forward to, including a pack of wolves and their undying pack mentality in their offense. They presented a new challenge in the way they approached combatting the player, especially in their relentlessness. I just wish that more of this DLC would present new experiences for the player. Perhaps we will see the other shoe drop in early 2017, as the next batch of Dark Souls 3 content is scheduled to drop.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.