Latest posts by Stephen Welsh (see all)
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Disclosure: the author received a review code for this content from Bandai Namco Europe
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4 (review platform)
Has it really already been half a year since Dark Souls III came out? FromSoftware’s RPG finale still stands as a contender for the best game of 2016, with my 9/10 review calling it yet another achievement in the dark fantasy series. Prior to release, fans knew the game would be receiving two expansion packs as part of a season pass later down the line. So is the first add-on: Ashes of Ariandel worth the wait, and worth the price? I’m not so sure…
To access this new adventure, the player has to reach the Cathedral of the Deep; a rather early area in the game as you don’t even need to have fought the Abyss Watchers yet to access it. A word of warning however: this expansion probably shouldn’t be attempted until your character has reached Lothric Castle in the late hours of the main game. It’s an exceptionally brutal challenge even to someone on their second playthrough of the game, so you’ll need to be as prepared as you can be like in the end-game areas. With the DLC installed, a new character will be waiting at the cathedral bonfire. Holding out a small scrap of canvas, he invites you to The Painted World of Ariandel – a frozen mountain home to giant wolves and living trees.
I consider there to be 6 areas to Ariandel. The first is your starting point: a snowy forest teeming with the aforementioned creatures trying to kill you. After introducing yourself to the wolf pack, you’ll likely come across a ruined tower inhabited by the giant and powerful Millwood Knights. Whether you obtain their loot or not, your next stop is one of two locations. First of these is a cathedral across an old rope bridge. You’ll meet one of the few friendly NPCs in this adventure here, but won’t need to come here at all until the end of your quest. The other mountain path takes you to the Corvian Settlement: a small frosty village inhabited by sickly and violent bird people. Your journey then takes you up a harsh mountain area, before coming back around to the basement of the cathedral. As well as the tower ruins, there’s an icy ravine near the cathedral that’s a completely optional area. There we have it: the whole world of Ariandel in a single paragraph.
It’ll take about 3 hours to make your way around it the first time. It’s a small region that does pack on a large amount of tough but fair enemies, but the journey moves so quickly simply because there’s only one boss battle to be fought on this quest. There is an optional battle in the icy depths, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The climactic boss encounter compensates for the overall lack of boss fights by having 3 whole forms in a row. If that sounds rough, it’s because it is. The summon-able NPC won’t even arrive until the second form to assist you, so if you’re having trouble with the boss from the very start, you should consider summoning other players to get as much help as you need. It feels like this lengthy encounter was intended to truly be one of the most difficult fights in the Dark Souls series, and it certainly succeeds there. Your foe devastates life bars with dances of stylishly animated scythe attacks, and will turn invisible regularly. That’s just the first form. The third form is where thing grow torturous, as the enemy attacks grow insanely powerful to compliment a health bar that takes forever to go down. If you’re into this series just to find more and more hard as hell bosses, then Ariandel is the place to go.
Disappointingly; perhaps even devastatingly – your efforts don’t result in much reward. There’s not even a cutscene or monologue present to congratulate you on completing the Ashes of Ariandel quest. 2 NPCs get a few new lines of dialogue, but aside from a soul to transpose an impressive scythe weapon, the game provides you with next to nothing to suggest you’ve even achieved anything. Such a lack of satisfaction doesn’t sit well when it’s what you’re left with at the end of a £12 add-on. There’s at least a few more things left to discuss.
The bonus boss is… mediocre. It’s just a regular human avatar with a new weapon, calling in assistance from a pack of wolves and a giant Greatwolf that you likely will have already fought twice in Ariandel before fighting this boss version. The arena looks somewhat impressive, but the challenge is underwhelming. You’re at least rewarded with his weapon Valorheart: a sword paired with a lion shield to bash at opponents. The only other weapon drop of note is the Crow Quills, which let your character quickly strike with a rapier and follow it up by throwing special knives out. It’s a satisfying new piece of gear, and lets you emulate the immensely stylish and intimidating enemies found in the Corvian Settlement. Sorry to be so reductive now, but the rest of the new loot isn’t all that exciting. There’s a cool white discus miracle that looks fun, but the rest of the magic consists of a few mundane ice sorceries, while the only new ring to find is for a minor boost in frost resistance. The armor sets aren’t particularly interesting to look at either .
The last notable addition for Ashes of Ariandel is the new Player-versus-Player mode called “Undead Match.” This lets you duel another online player in a sealed-off Kiln of Flame arena. In addition to this, the Undead Match has several varieties of “Brawl” mode, where players compete in timed arena combat to see who can rack up the most kills. You can do it with 2 players, 6 players, or have at it with co-op teams, but there’s not much to it all aside from fighting other players in a single small arena without much in the way of noticeable rewards. It’ll pleasure some Souls fans for sure, but I personally got bored after 20 minutes (and I really can’t care enough to git gud for this mode).
More content for the excellent Dark Souls III is certainly welcome, but what Ashes of Ariandel offers leaves a lot to be desired. While its enemy design is top-notch with a unique touch of the grotesque, the world inside the painting isn’t exactly teeming with things to discover – lasting about as long as an average Souls region. The implementation of bosses is particularly questionable this time, with general pacing boiling down to 3 hours of exploration, with one more hour spent on numerous attempts at an agonisingly drawn-out boss battle. The additions of a few unique weapons and multiplayer fighting modes still don’t make this package worth the asking price. Ariandel is a fine new level to add on to the game, but the content is just missing enough value and craft that I can’t really recommend you buy this DLC. Perhaps the next expansion will fare better, but Ashes of Ariandel makes for a disappointing first half of the Dark Souls III season pass.