Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel - Deep Look

Ashes to Ashes
by Michael A Cunningham

Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Platform: PS4
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 10.25.2016
"Some enticing new areas to explore, but overall lacking depth."
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   I just recently caught up on Dark Souls III after a false start on it when it launched. Thankfully, this late start meant that when it hit I was ready to dive straight into the first DLC: Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel. There are some tough areas in the later half of the main game, and the new areas of Ariandel fit right in line with those challenging locales. That is once you find out where to go to start this DLC, which is an adventure of its own without outside help.

   My favorite part of playing Souls games is exploring the highly detailed worlds, hunting down every shortcut, and finding all the new items. This new DLC nails that right on the head with each new area being a fun challenge to explore, some more frustrating than others. While never labyrinthian, the lovely, snowy areas of Ariandel twist around on each other like an original Dark Souls level. That said, there are still quite a few bonfires to find to make things more manageable. There's also a good deal of new equipment to be found here, so there are lots of new loadouts to try for most builds.

   Much of the DLC's challenge comes from the new enemies. Patrols of Follower Knights can be found early on, using a variety of weapons to team up and make things difficult, and shortly after that, packs of wolves that work together and stalk you. Those are just a few of the early foes, but some of the others found towards the middle sections of the DLC are even tougher and will easily murder you if you're not careful, especially the Millwood Knights. There's a good balance for the most part, though there are some sections that I found it easier to just run through and avoid the mobs.

   I wish I could say something meaningful about the story here, but Dark Souls III already falls short in that area for me. I enjoyed my playthrough of the main game, but really didn't get a good grasp for what was really going on in the world. Ashes of Ariandel does little to flesh out the plot of the main game and not much more to explain what's going on within the DLC itself. Thankfully, it's still fun to just play if you can ignore that aspect, but it is a noticeable disconnect.

   As for the new bosses, they hit both ends of the spectrum. The optional boss you encounter was pretty easy, and I beat it solo on my second try. The only things that make this even remotely challening are the camera and the environment, as things fly around so fast it can make your head spin. The biggest challenge in this DLC, and even topping the Nameless King in the main game for me, is the main boss of Ariandel. There's so much to this fight that it's hard to talk about in detail without spoiling it. Despite my curses to the contrary and general dislike of this fight, I still feel like it's something special that I wouldn't want to ruin for anyone. It's From Software trolling at its finest and quite a challenge.

   One last piece of new content from this DLC is the addition of the new PvP arena accessible from the Firelink Shrine bonfire after beating the optional boss. Here, players can choose to join a duel where you cannot use Estus or select to do a brawl, which can be team-based or a free-for-all. I had the most fun with the free-for-all, as it was entertaining to go up against five other random people with no risk. Currently there is only one map, very few options outside of what mode you want to play, and it gives no stats outside of who has the most wins. It's all pretty barebones, but it works and was mostly fun when there was no lag or weird hitbox issues. I'd love to see more done with this, though.

   Overall, the Ashes of Ariandel DLC was fairly enjoyable to play, but lacked any real depth. One super easy boss and another super painful one made it less enticing to return to for co-op after completing it. That said, it was three or four hours of time well spent, if just for the fun of exploring a new, large snow covered area. Once that part was over, there was just little reason to go back for more. For those craving more Souls to dive into, this will fill that void for a little while. Just expect to be left wanting more.

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