Dark Souls III : Ashes of Ariandel
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Following the release of Dark Souls III, creator Hidetaka Miyazaki stated that he’s finished creating Dark Souls titles. With the two planned DLC expansions being the final pieces of DS content overseen by its legendary creator, what can we expect from the Ashen One’s swan song? Ashes of Ariandel, the first of these expansions, releases with a certain level of expectation. The previous DLC released by From Software was Bloodborne’s Old Hunters, a very impressive extension showing just how committed From is to producing great DLC. In truth each previous DLC expansion in the Souls series, from Oolacile to the 3 Kings expansions, has been of a very high standard; always expanding the lore and adding in new spells and weapons. Ashes of Ariandel is a solid expansion but also a safe one, delivering more great Souls content with few standout moments.
Ashes of Ariandel takes place in the painted world of Ariandel. Compared to the other DLC expansions in the series it’s fairly easy to access this world. Simply speaking to Slave Knight Gael, who’s situated next to the “Cleansing Chapel Bonfire” which is in the Cathedral of the Deep, will initiate a cutscene and transport you straight in. Ariandel is a snow covered environment sharing many similarities with the painted world of Ariamis from the first Dark Souls. The environment is filled with the usual beasties and baddies, with a giant wolf being of particular nuisance. If you’re coming back to Dark Souls III after a short absence you’ll quickly be beaten to a pulp by everything you come across. As per usual it takes a couple of deaths just to get back into the swing of things, and most of the enemies in this painted world are formidable. The theme inside this area is of Forlorn wanderers; knights and warriors who have lost their impetus, travelling into the painted world to be forgotten. You’ll come across the Milkwood Knights, a band of Viking-like warriors who prove to be very challenging indeed. Adventuring on you’ll find a number of areas to explore. The Corvian settlement is filled with decrepit, bird headed beings; who pose little threat and die from one swipe of your weapon. In contrast the Corvian Knights that patrol the town are extremely dangerous, reducing your health bar to zero before you’ve had a chance to think. The environment is at first confusing and seems disjointed, but as is the case with every area of the Souls series, once you’ve found your way around there are many shortcuts and paths that connect to previous areas.
There are two bosses to tackle in this expansion and both have certain unique elements that make the battles interesting, however they don’t really offer enough to make them particularly memorable. One requires you to fight a warrior with a special short sword and circular shield combo. Once the warrior’s health is reduced by half, the giant wolf mentioned earlier drops in to say hello and makes the fight a lot more difficult. Defeat this boss and you’ll receive the sword and shield as a reward. The final boss without spoiling anything is of particular note as it’s a three-tier boss fight, a first for the series...and good luck with that one.
The weapons, armour sets and spells that you can unlock by playing through this expansion all add some new abilities and tactics to the PVP element of Dark Souls III, which brings us to the extra segment that's packaged inside this DLC content: an expanded PVP system. After defeating the Champions Gravetender boss (Sword and Shield/Giant Wolf) you’ll receive the “Champions Bones” which can be used at the main bonfire in the Firelink Shrine to access a matchmaking system for PVP matches. This system allows you to take part in 1 on 1, up to five player skirmishes where everyone fights everyone, and team based battles of up to 3 on 3. It’s usually a completely chaotic affair with attacks and weapons flying all over the place. This is certainly a place for the hardcore PVPers to culminate builds and tactically try out combinations with their pals, but it does have some issues and feels a bit unpolished. One of the startling problems is that Covenant colours are used even when fighting in teams. This makes it very difficult to identify who is in your team and who is not. If you’re a warrior of sunlight and so is the opposing team they’ll have the same hue and colouring as you, making it very difficult to identify your opponent. A simple blue and red hue on both teams would have been a far better way to differentiate players. While this PVP mode is a welcome inclusion, it’s very simple and after completing matches there are no rewards or bonuses for taking part. No special items, no souls, nothing. It’s a little anticlimactic and disappointing.
Ashes of Ariandel is welcome additional content for any Dark Souls fan. It adds an interesting new area with intriguing lore, some decent bosses and a varied range of armour, weapons and magic. With the extra addition of a more in-depth PVP matchmaking system, there’s a certain amount of longevity added with this DLC, but it remains to be seen whether this system will replace the “fight clubs” that have become a staple with the PVP crowd. Most duellers will still spend most of their time in the popular PVP spots of the main game, and create special fighting scenarios simply by gesturing and throwing down prism stones. Who needs a sophisticated matchmaking system when you have the honour of battle?