When it comes to DLC for a Dark Souls game, I’m personally hoping for a couple of key things: I want an environment that feels visually distinct from the main campaign, I want a different flow to the combat, I want unique enemy combat types and attack patterns as well as bosses that feel like a natural difficulty ramp from the main campaign.
Ashes of Ariandel seems to be successfully delivering on all these points, and I’m certainly excited for it to formally release.
The portion of the DLC we were able to preview this week in London took place in a snow and ice-covered rocky forest. The DLC’s demo area straddled a balance between open areas with multiple paths to explore, small confined routes with limited movement space, and wide linear paths where rough visibility and uneven terrain made it easy to be caught off guard. The mix of environment types, alongside the snow-white aesthetic and desolate design made this new are feel instantly distinct from any area in the main game.
The new zone is littered with a litany of new enemy types that made exploration tense and challenging. Trees came to life and grabbed me if in range, tough to distinguish from non-living trees due to the snow billowing in from all directions and obscuring the clarity of view. Wolves watched from the distance and drew my focus while the rest of their pack snuck up behind to pounce, never straying far from each other or missing an opportunity to strike swiftly from behind. Knights used my slowed movement speed in the snow to increase the efficiency of their lumbering and powerful combat styles. No matter the enemy, they felt tailored to create a palpable sense of tension and threat as progression was achieved.
The demo area, titled the Painted World of Ariandel, seems to be a unique painted world in the same vein as the Painted World of Ariamis from the original Dark Souls, but there was nothing in the demo to explicitly connect the two painted worlds together.
I bring up this comparison to the original Dark Souls in that several aspects of this DLC seem to be directly drawing inspiration from it. In particular, the giant wolf-like boss fought at the end of our demo session felt very similar to fighting Sif, the Great Grey Wolf in terms of his move-set. Where this boss fight differs is that it starts off as a human blade-wielding enemy who has to be fought while fending off a pack of smaller wolf enemies, then can be fought solo, and then has to be fought alongside this powerful and tough to survive giant wolf enemy. This combo boss certainly seemed most manageable by focusing on killing the human enemy quickly before the wolf has a chance to reach you, otherwise it is able to very effectively get behind you and attack in such a way that you cannot block it.
Apparently those hoping for a large laundry list of additional bosses to fight in Ashes of Ariandel may find themselves a little disappointed. The boss fight above which I beat today is only one of only two new boss fights in the DLC. While it was a polished and challenging fight, it did feel a little bit of a let down to realise it was half of the bosses in the DLC.
Overall, the content I was able to play through has reassured me that Ashes of Ariandel will be, for better or worse, a new slice of Dark Souls 3 content. It’s a couple of bosses, probably some new weapons and armour, and some new environments. What I played was incredibly solid, I just hope that the full experience both holds up and feels suitably substantial