I write this review a couple of days after the reveal of ‘The Ringed City’, the second DLC. I have played through Ashes multiple times, on different NG cycles and with a variety of weapons. This will be a full review, so major spoilers follow.
Ashes of Ariandel came as a surprise to many. The DKS3 community was expecting something regarding the base game’s newly added lore – Angels, Londor, The Profaned Flame and The Deep. All dangling threads that needed tied. Yet that is not the Miyazaki way, and instead we got a call back to DKS1’s Ariamis. Or at least we first believed that. The DLC does more for the lore than people may believe.
The story is as so: The Painted World, once Ariamis, now Ariandel has it’s own cycle, much like the outside world. It has fallen to rot, and the cycle cannot be continued. Meanwhile the Ashen One encounters an aged undead by the name of Gael, who tells us we are the second ash, and the one to restore Ariandel. Our character reaches out to the scrap of painting Gael has given us, and off we go to the Painted World.
The Painted World itself has changed since we last saw it in the original Dark Souls, now under the name of Ariandel. While the original painted world had the player cross a rickety bridge into the courtyard, this DLC starts the player in the snowfields behind. The cathedral has also changed, and there is also additional stuff under the bridge. While it may seem like a lot to explore, the area’s themselves are short, but varied enough to keep the place interesting.
The DLC brings back the crow like corvians from the original, with a new design. The originals are now armoured upin really cool armour (Which the player can’t obtain???). Additionally there is the viking like Milwood Knights, the tall lanky ganking Farron Followers 9Who seem to take inspiration from the DKS2 method of overwhelming the player) and Wolves with new AI – They have a cool and unique mechanic (At least in terms of Dark Souls AI), in which they wait until a pack forms before attacking. While annoying to play against, a cool mechanic nonetheless
As for bosses, the bread and butter of the Souls games. The bosses in the DLC are always better than the base game, so how do the bosses add up in Ashes? Well they’re a mixed bag. The main boss is nothing short of fantastic, and the other one is genuinely shit. Starting of with the optinal boss, the ‘Champion’s Gravetender’. It’s an NPC fight, which are never good. He doesn’t even have any cool armour – He wears the dark mask and the chain armour. Like what. What. How did this pass quality control at From??. While he has a minor saving grace b using one of the DLC’s cool new weapons, the Valorheart, it’s not enough to excuse him. At half health, the boss calls for help, in the form of the ‘Champion’s Greatwolf’. Wait, he looks familiar doesn’t he? He does, that’s because he’s the same miniboss type enemy you have already fought three(!) times throughout the DLC already. He doesn’t even bring any new moves with him. It’s honestly pathetic.
Thankfully, the DLC’s main boss is more than enough to make up for it. Sister Friede. The elusive eldest sister of the Sable Church, and the other ashen one that Gael alluded to. She is the one causing the painting to rot, by whispering lies into Father Ariandel, who is presumably the leader of the Corvians. When the player tries to interact with Ariandel, Friede comes to teach us a lesson. Not only does she have lore significance, she’s also a pretty fun boss. Her fight harkens back to both Bloodborne’s Lady Maria and DKS1’s Priscilla – Wielding a scythe and disappearing in a cloud of frost. The first phase can be difficult but nothing out of the ordinary for long term fans. Note that I say Phase 1, that’s important because this is the first ever Soulsborne boss to have three distinctive phases that require different health bars. The second phase is From’s obvious callback to Ornstein and Smough; Seeing Friede’s deceased corpse sends Ariandel into a frenzy, where he revives her. This is honestly the easiest of the three phases as both bosses share the same health pool, yet the two bosses play very differently. Whereas Ornstein and Smough’s movesets complimented each other, Friede and Ariandel seem to stay distant, with Ariandel chasing you and Friede resorting to ranged attacks
I feel as if Phase 3 requires it’s own paragraph. After Ariandel teleports away, he narrates the scene. As Friede rises again, this time with a torrent of black flame, Ariandel states (In an incredible scottish accent, mind you): ‘When the Ashes are two, a flame alighteth. Thou art ash, and fire befits thee, of course’. While i’m not entirely sure of the lore implications of this, what I do know is that Friede goes into hyper mode, and this is where the the Lady Maria parallels really shine. The boss is tense and fun, and exhilarating to boot. Some people may not like how this is an endurance boss battle – basically three bosses in a row without pause.
At the back of the arena stands a mysterious statue of a snake woman… What could it mean?
The DLC’s other big mystery is The Painter, which some fans have nicknamed Aria. She seems to have connections to the mysterious undead Gael (She calls him ‘Uncle’, in Japanese I’m pretty sure it was a type of respected elderly figure). She wishes to paint a new world, which is why she was imprisoned. At the end of the DLC, she tells us her intention to paint a new world. With Gaels supposed involvement in the second DLC, maybe we’ll see more of Aria?
The DLC is perhaps a little short for it’s own good, and with one boss being fantastic but the other shit, it’s a hard sell. However if you want more Dark Souls, this it. Just don’t expect anything super special
IF I HAD TO GIVE IT A RATING: 6.5/10