Hello Dark Souls my old friend…
Dark Souls 2’s Crown of the Sunken King was the last piece of Souls DLC I had played. Its characters, location and story were all interesting additions to the game, but it had a boss fight that was so absolutely soul destroying I put the game down and refused to play anymore of the DLC.
Dark Souls is about learning the patterns of enemies and how to counter them, essentially teaching you how to beat it, but due to the randomness of the enemy types Elana the Squalid Queen summoned against you, the fight relied on an element of chance and my feelings about the additional DLC for Dark Souls 2 were tainted.
I had decided I was not going to partake in the Dark Souls 3 expansions either. The core game was so good, and I didn’t want to risk purchasing extra content that I might not end up enjoying. That decision was before I played Dark Souls 3. I enjoyed its tale of despair so much that I let myself hope again…
Being the only reviewer at Clever Game Pun who openly “enjoys” the Dark Souls series, I was tasked with reviewing the game’s first piece of DLC: The Ashes of Ariandel. After how much I enjoyed the core game, I I jumped at the chance to explore more of its world, or at least a painted world that exists within it.
Like Ariamis in Dark Souls, Ariandel is a painting that you can be teleported into, revealing another place for you to explore and new enemies to fight. The Painted World is accessible via new NPC Uncle Gael, who can be found seemingly praying at the Cleansing Chapel in Cathedral of the Deep.
There are a few other requirements, like having the Small Doll in your inventory and all the doors open that lead to the bonfire, but you should have already met those requirements if you want to travel to Ariandel as a late game character or NG+ character (around level 80 or higher is recommended to tackle the DLC).
I used my NG+ character at level 123 and came across the odd challenge, but nothing that made my palms sweat like the first play through of a Souls game can do.
The very trees themselves threaten you in Ariandel. Some of their cries seem like pleas for help, but their intention is for anything but.
Beware of the pack’s howl, lest you encounter more than you bargained for.
Ariandel is a cold place, but beautiful in its own way. The beauty is soon forgotten as you start to encounter (and learn to counter) the new enemies located within the painting. Knights, wolves, Vikings, even some of the trees themselves bar the path that eventually leads to the Ariandel Chapel, where the story, or what is easily decipherable of it, starts to reveal itself.
While most of Ariandel’s enemies don’t really change the existing Dark Souls mold too much, I still found them interesting and fun enough to fight and learn the techniques of. The giant Vikings and later, blow flies, threw some new or revamped tricks my way and I loved the movement and attacks of the wolves, even if they do drop after only a couple of hits.
One actually threw itself at me shoulder first from the side in an attempt to stagger me while the rest of the pack circled waiting for their moment to strike.
This has always being the way with Dark Souls though, a hard and forboding surface, but for those willing to pay some attention and look closer, a much deeper and rewarding experience begins to reveal itself.
You begin to discover that all is not as it should be in Ariandel and not everyone wants you there.
A cycle of all consuming fire and rebirth from the ashes has been interrupted by a powerful figure that has made the painting their home. This goes against the wishes of many of the inhabitants as the land slowly begins to wither and rot, and they with it. But a tale tells of another visitor that will cleanse the decay with fire and some believe this to be you.
Despite its cold exterior, at its heart Ariandel is a land festering with decay.
Dark Souls has never being an easy game to get into story wise, a lot of its lore is found written in the description of its items and in deciphering the cryptic dialogue of its characters, but I picked up on at least the general gist of Ashes of Ariandel’s story with ease.
After completing the DLC I was curious enough to look up lore videos on Ashes’ and my interest has since increased. Re-watching cut scenes and dialogue segments has broadened my understanding of the story considerably and revealed several links to the first game that I’d almost completely forgotten about. Not least of all, those in the design of Ariandel itself.
I never trust these long rope bridges. More often than not, they’ll let you down.
Ariandel harkens back to Dark Souls in several ways. One of which is shortcuts like this tree trunk that can be felled so it’s easier going when you return to an area.
Overall, Dark Souls 3 felt more like the first game than DS2, and Ashes’ continues the trend. Things such as travelling into a painted world, shortcuts that help you speed past areas that you’ve already travelled through and several nods to previous games characters and events are all very welcome.
Keeping your eyes peeled for hidden doors (Thank the gods of gaming they got rid of the lockstones from 2) and ways to descend further down into the painting will reveal new encounters. A makeshift ladder leads to an optional boss fight and gives you the items you require to unlock the all new, Undead Matches.
Undead Matches is a dedicated PvP mode that once unlocked, is accessible via the Firelink Shrine bonfire. PvP isn’t a new thing in Dark Souls but having a menu option to access it, and match options is. Modes include Duel– 1v1. Brawl which is open combat of 2, 4 or 6 players and Versus which is team based 2v2 and 3v3 matches.
I’ve only managed to play one match of 2v2 Versus, and while it took longer than a usual MP game would take to connect, it was pretty standard for a Souls game and in all honesty better than I expected considering the usual issues there can be with the summoning and the invasion of other players.
All up, while a bit chaotic, I had some fun with it. Hit detection seemed better than usual, possibly due to not having to keep track of NPC’s as well as player movements, and the players I was with practiced correct etiquette, even if it was only at the end of the match.
I’ll have to spend more time with it to see if it’s for me, and I can see there needing to be some tweaking done, perhaps with some sort of reward system. But I have little doubt that at least a subset of the Souls community will find Undead Matches scratching an itch they’ve had with Dark Souls 3 since story completion.
For the most part I enjoyed my time spent in the painted world of Ariandel. I would have liked to have been a bit more challenged on the overall, I casually finished it in about six hours which sounds short, but that’s the entirety of a bad CoD campaign and this is just DLC.
The boss fights were great! The first of the final boss’ three (yes three) forms was an absolute joy to master. After that I summoned some help for the other two forms and we kicked ass, which may be frowned upon by some Souls players, but if it saves me from putting my Elite controller through my 1080p LED, then I’m cool with that.
I wish there’d been a more direct link to DS3’s story, but after watching some lore videos on the subject I’ve being made aware of several things that I’d overlooked and I now have some high hopes for the next and final Dark Souls DLC. I’m beginning to believe that Ashes of Ariandel is an important bridge story to an event that may bring closure to the entire series beyond what DS3’s ending did. But that’s just a theory at this point.
If you enjoyed Dark Souls 3 I definitely recommend Ashes of Ariandel. It’s not Artorias of the Abyss, the greatest piece of Dark Souls DLC ever, but it is more Souls with new weapons, spells, enemies, and locations to explore. And for those of us that love it, more Souls is rarely a bad thing.
A review code for Ashes of Ariandel was provided by Bandai Namco Australia.