Dark Souls has become formulaic. An exciting, familiar routine of dread and difficulty, but a routine nonetheless. That’s not a criticism. Bonfires, weak and strong attacks, rolling, backstabbing, shortcuts – these are all things that we as Dark Souls players have loved so much they are now being almost directly facsimiled into other games. But it does point out that the series, after so many games, has perhaps worn out its novelty. Like an uncle who pulls a coin out of your ear at every single Christmas dinner, it is exciting now for the nostalgia that lingers, not for the freshness of the experience.
But what am I talking about? Ashes of Ariandel is the first of two planned downloadable content packs for Dark Souls 3, and the two are said to be linked. Set in the Painted World of Ariandel – a white wonderland of mystery and pain, it is a relatively short experience (set aside one or two sittings to see everything) with one main boss and one optional one. There are a range of new weapons and outfits, but I never really felt the need to swap anything around.
The DLC environment features more open areas than the largely linear main game. Though these areas give the illusion of being open, with wide expanses for you to explore, what you quickly realise however is that they are deceptive, as they are for the most part linearly connected to each other. Once I figured this out, I felt a bit disappointed, especially with the relatively large number of bonfires, cutbacks and shortcuts you can unlock to make reaching each connecting corridor much easier. What appears to be a real challenge at the start is, in the end, not much different from the rest of the series. The DLC was an opportunity to push the boundaries and give the more dedicated players a chance to really stretch themselves, yet From Software largely let this slip by in this release.
Besides the main story, there’s a new dedicated PvP arena for those who have missed that functionality from previous entries in the series – though PvP was never really my cup of tea. Although there’s only one arena at present, the game seems to indicate more may be added as time goes by. The inclusion of a PvP arena may be enough for some to make this an instant purchase, though From Software will have to maintain a close eye on the evolving meta to make this viable over the long term.
In the end more Dark Souls is never a bad thing. It is still a beautiful, foreboding world full of well thought-out places and challenging enemies. The gigantic vikings especially were a test of skill and patience. Yet I cannot help but feel a little let down by Ashes of Ariandel. Where Dark Souls II’s DLC explored new and delightful worlds and mechanics, this DLC simply follows patterns that we as players are well (perhaps overly) accustomed to. This isn’t bad per se, but it isn’t hard to imagine that it could have been more
If you loved and played Dark Souls 3, then Ashes of Ariandel is more of the same, and is an essential pick up. If you were perhaps a bit bored or put off by the main game, then this DLC unfortunately has almost nothing new to offer you to convince you to get into the series.
Dark Souls is an equation that we know so well now that we often know the answers before fulling reading the question. Ashes of Ariandel then is some more rote learning, more pages in the textbook to memories. I hope that the next, and last DLC experiments more, takes more risks. It would be a pity for Dark Souls to end on a similar, unsatisfying note.
Released: October 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows 7 higher)
Genre: Action, RPG
Developer: From Software