Dark Souls III released in late March this year, and it was met with resounding praise. The game quickened its combat, and introduced us to some of the series’ best enemies. In fact, the only negative aspect of Dark Souls III was that From Software announced it would mark the end of the Souls franchise. However, From Software then announced 2 further pieces of DLC for the game – and us fans unanimously rejoiced.
Ashes of Ariandel is the first of those DLCs.
To access the new area, the painted world of Ariandel, you’ll need a high level, late-game character – for reference, I was roughly level 95. You’ll have to talk to the NPC genuflecting near the altar in the Cathedral of the Deep. Exhausting his dialogue will trigger a cutscene in which you’ll be transported to Ariandel, and from there you’ll begin the adventure. If you played the original Dark Souls, you should be getting a sense of Déjà vu here. If you take the time to explore Ariandel, you’ll find the usual obscure lore crossovers between it and the painted world of Ariamis (from the first game). There’s a definite connection, but I’ll leave you to discover the nuances for yourselves.
The world of Ariandel is simply breathtaking. I was spellbound when I began the DLC and I was spellbound when I finished. In contrast to the legions of cathedrals and dungeons in the vanilla game, Ariandel presents players with sweeping snow-covered environments, which are, in short, truly magnificent. While that’s not exactly unique in this universe – the Dark Souls worlds are notoriously gorgeous – something about this world felt particularly special. It may just be the beauty, but I felt that the usual sense of foreboding dread was missing from Ariandel. The world didn’t seem hostile (at least until I approached the Corvian settlement); I wasn’t expecting enemies to jump out from every nook and cranny.
But it was, and they did. And much like the world, those enemies were dazzling. The wolves and Millwood knights were particular standouts. These enemies seemed so at home in the frosty worlds – to the point that they drew Nordic comparisons. Sure, killing them was difficult. But their style and design was so perfect that encountering them was almost a pleasure. I also had to admire the pure repulsiveness of the bug fields. There are, of course, legions of other enemies just waiting to affect your demise. And, as with all enemies in Dark Souls, these new enemies have unique move sets and equipment.
But I couldn’t help but notice a change in combat style in this DLC. Firstly, it’s taken the fast paced combat of Dark Souls III and made it faster again – you’ll still be able to fat-roll your way through with a tank build, but you’ll probably have a hard time. What I noticed more than the pace change was the sheer amount of enemies. I’ve played Dark Souls games for years now, and I’ve become quite accustomed to the prospect of being outnumbered. But with the trees, knights and wolves, it felt more like I was being swarmed. Death is usually an indication of some mistake in the player’s style or navigation. It’s seldom a result of an unavoidable encounter with an innumerable group of enemies. You can wrap your head around getting swarmed, but it’s not as rewarding as learning an enemy’s mechanics. And some players may feel that this ‘cheapens’ the Dark Souls experience.
On the other side of the coin, the bosses are as Souls bosses usually are: ridiculous, and ridiculously rewarding. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Sister Friede is one of the franchise’s best boss fights. It’s lengthy and difficult, but it’s balanced to the point that it never feels unfair. It’s so engaging and well presented that, even in the face of death, it still feels fun. And while it might not reach the same heights as Ornstein and Smough, The Champion’s Gravetender & Gravetender Greatwolf fight is excellent in its own regard. In fact, it’s probably one of the better dual-boss battles the series has produced.
Sadly, these are the only two boss fights in the DLC because it’s short – almost unforgivably so. See, you pay for the DLC 20% of what you pay for the full game. But it includes just two new bosses, when the full game includes 19, and features just the one new location, when the full game features 12 (excluding smaller locations like the Cementry of Ash, Anor Londo, Consumed King’s Garden, Profaned Capital, etc). I did notice, however, that Ariandel was particularly ‘explorable’. It is densely packed with secrets and items; there are countless routes and hidden objects, more so, I feel, than in many of the areas from the original game.
Still, the price tag on Ashes of Ariandel is steep, particularly for the content – or lack thereof – that you receive. They say that quality outweighs quantity and Ashes of Ariandel is a testimony to that because I’m going to give it a good rating despite its length. The worlds are simply too beautiful and the bosses are too well executed to pass up.
If you’re a fan of the series, then Ashes of Ariandel is a must buy.