Dark Souls 3 was easily one of my most anticipated releases of this year and I was not disappointed with it. The game offered the best elements from Dark Souls 1 and 2, while also throwing in inspiration from Bloodborne. Bosses were challenging but not insurmountable, art style was super and the music was expertly written. When I caught wind that the game was receiving its first DLC, I couldn’t help but be excited. FromSoftware have a good track record with expansions. Their first ever expansion, Artorias of the Abyss, was an incredible piece of content with some of the most challenging bosses the series has seen. While Dark Souls 2 was a major step back in terms of design, the 3 expansions definitely felt more deserving of the Souls name than the base game ever did. Bloodborne had what I would say was the best expansion FromSoftware have ever produced. The Old Hunters was an immaculate expansion which offered bosses even more challenging than Artorias of the Abyss had. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but feel sorely disappointed at what Dark Souls 3’s first expansion, Ashes of Ariandel, really was.
Ashes of Ariandel is the first of two expansions that Dark Souls 3 will be receiving. It is set in the Painted World of Ariandel. The world is cold and desolate and the fire keeping it alive is fading. To avoid spoilers, I won’t detail much about the story, but I will explain how you access this expansion. Firstly, you need to have beaten the Deacons of Deep boss fight and acquired the Small Doll. Once you have done this return to the Cleansing Chapel bonfire at the Cathedral of the Deep. You will see a figure knelt down near the bonfire. Exhaust his dialogue and you will eventually be transported to the Painted World of Ariandel. From here you are left to your own devices.
In terms of visuals, Ashes of Ariandel definitely makes great use of particle effects, lighting and just all round great visuals. If there is one thing that Dark Souls is known for, it would be how FromSoftware creatively craft memorable environment and incredible skyboxes. This is no different. The closest comparison I would give it would be the Crown of the Ivory King DLC from Dark Souls 2. But even then, it’s still quite different. There are new enemies for you to combat, whilst some may feel familiar, others will feel different. Movesets can often be varied. Terrain can be treacherous, especially when there are enemies whose sole purpose is to launch off the side of a cliff. Level design in general seems to have taken a bit of a step back, with it having more of a linear feel to it. It honestly feels like this was rushed. Did the B-team potentially spearhead this? Because that is exactly what it feels like. It’s not terrible, but it is definitely not up to the standard that FromSoftware’s A-team usually uphold to.
But let’s be real, you’re not here to read about the enemies. You’re here you read about the bosses that Dark Souls is notorious for. Unfortunately, there are only two bosses in Ashes of Ariandel, one of which is optional and quite easy to miss. So if you lack a thirst for exploration, you’ll find that you probably will face just one boss. Mind you, the boss fight can go for a bit of a stretch, that doesn’t excuse the fact that this expansion is disappointingly short. Even the Dark Souls 2 expansions were longer, and they were still pretty nominal. The entire DLC itself took me around 6 hours to complete and I was playing on NG+5, meaning that the game was supposed to be a brick wall at this point. It is definitely recommended that you’ve at least defeated all the Lords of Cinder, but there is nothing stopping you from going at it under levelled.
Music, audio design and atmosphere are definitely the highlights of this expansion. Music is well written, epic moments are intensified by dense orchestra and moments which have a more melancholy feel to
them are aided by sombre tones. Enemy wolves howl in pain, humanoids scream as they die, giants grunt as they swing their massive weaponry towards your face, fire crackles as it burns. Wind rushes by, whistling as the desolated and frigid environment works against you. This is probably Ashes of Ariandel’s strongest facet and definitely deserves the Souls name it works off. Unfortunately this isn’t a saving grace for the fact that it doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed-out expansion but more of a teaser.
Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel is a massive step down to the original game. The expansion at best feels more like a teaser at what FromSoftware can add to the game instead of a fully fleshed out addition to the game. While it still has the basic solid combat that Souls fans know and love, the fact that there are next to no bosses and the level design is similar to that of Dark Souls 2 really hampers on what could have been an impressive piece of content. The only real positive aspects are the new area itself, the visuals and the audio (including music, sound effects etc).
Reviewed on PS4