Earlier this year, I talked about all of the neat things that Dark Souls 3 had to offer. With the end in sight, I had high hopes for the DLC slated to release. That DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, is finally here
. It’s hard to say exactly what I was looking for in Ashes of Ariandel. On one hand, I really wanted the beginning of an epic send off for my favorite franchise of all time, but in another sense I just wanted more of Dark Souls 3, which is exactly what this is. The end result, Ashes of Ariandel, both fulfills and denies my desires.
People often talk about passionate fans giving their favorite games passes on their faults, and sometimes it can be true. But often, there are times when passionate fans are even more critical on their favorite subjects because they feel well equipped to do so. This is how I feel when it comes to Dark Souls. Criticizing Dark Souls is something I do, because I love it. In numerous ways, the Dark Souls franchise changed my life, including the way that I look at the world. For something so near and dear to me, to drop the ball in the ways that Ashes of Ariandel does, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
I know, this makes it sounds like I’m going to jump into six paragraphs about how Ashes of Ariandel is junk, but it’s not. It’s a fairly adequate edition to the Dark Souls legacy, but there’s just something missing when it comes to this new expansion. While Ashes of Ariandel gives some backstory to some of the big players within Dark Souls 3, it still feels disjointed from the main narrative and ends up feeling a bit like throwaway. Ashes of Ariandel also feels like a rehash of both Darks Souls and Bloodborne DLC, with many landscapes feeling shockingly reminiscent of the Old Hunters DLC within Bloodborne. Ashes of Ariandel feels light on content, even while playing through on a under-leveled character. While the suggested level range hits in the 70 to 90 range, I was only 45. Even while exploring just about every nook and cranny I could, I blazed through everything that the DLC had to offer in about three or so hours.
I love Dark Souls 3, and the cohesion it brought to the franchise. It was, in a lot of ways, a “greatest hits” of Dark Souls, and a nice bow to place over the entire mythos. It shows us the very end of a cycle, and what happened to Lordran and its inhabitants however many eons ago that was. We saw some major Dark Souls characters return, and Ashes of Ariandel doesn’t really add anything to to that aspect. Sure, it does show us where Pontiff came from, who in truth is a large part of why Lothric is in the state it is, but even those threads can’t bind Ashes of Ariandel successfully into the grand scheme of Dark Souls lore.
Design is a huge reason Dark Souls is so popular. Hidetaka Miyazaki is an absolute mastermind when it comes to level design, with both Dark Souls and Bloodborne arguably sitting among the best of the best. When I think of the best Dark Souls expansion, I think of Artorias of the Abyss, a winding, deep dive into increasingly haunting areas of Oolacile. Unfortunately, Ariandel is fairly straightforward. While this is similar to the overall approach of Dark Souls 3, in the sense that it’s more streamlined than any of its predecessors, it is still a huge bummer. Dark Souls expansions have always added new elements and shocking revelations, but Ashes of Ariandel doesn’t really offer anything like that. Ariandel feels like a place I’ve already been, never like anything new and exciting. Ariandel feels familiar, plain and simple. While some signs point to this being an earlier state of Ariamis, with some not so subtle similarities, it’s possible, but still disappointing. But even then, Artorias of the Abyss retread Darkroot Garden in a super interesting and nuanced way by turning back time to an era where Darkroot Garden was the Oolacile Township.
Ashes of Ariandel is pretty barren when it comes to content. Also, while having hoped for a bit more of a challenge, I was let down. Most of the new expansion is a breeze, even with my previously mentioned low level character. I never struggled until I met Freide and her father, who, together, make up the final fight. While this fight was sort of neat, it felt like a huge difficulty spike in a way that wasn’t satisfying. I’m a huge fan of the boss rush format, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it in this instance. Even beyond that, Ashes of Ariandel felt like it was lacking some fanfare, some enthusiasm, or anything really. The expansion just ends. You kill the final boss, and then you walk out. No cutscene, basically no dialogue, nada, nil, zilch. One of the sisters will give you a moment of her time to thank you for your service, while letting you know that she will indeed finish her painting of a new world -second DLC incoming?- but other than that, not much. While Dark Souls 3 already has an extensive armory, there are new weapons and armor sets to collect. The weapons are far more interesting than the armor, particularly the onyx blade which harkens back to the deacons candlestick, but in greatsword form, but that’s alright. The spells are neat but magic is still pretty weak in Dark Souls 3, like that boomerang spell everyone was hype about? Meh.
One of the saving graces for Ashes of Ariandel is the addition of the Undead Arena. This is a place for 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or 4-6 player free-for-all matches. I’m a big fan of PvP in Dark Souls, and I think that I still have photos of my Dark Souls character holding over 1,000,000 souls from PvP. PvP in Dark Souls 3 is still so good, and having a dedicated arena to duke it out with other unkindled ones is a total blast. Taking the total anarchy that is invasions and turning it into a closed off arena, with limited estus, lets people who don’t enjoy invading engage in multiplayer when they want to. Not when they are forced to fight. I do, however, wish that there was a reward system involved with the arena.
When it comes to Ashes of Ariandel, I’m unfortunately left a bit hollow. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe I was looking at Artorias of the Abyss a bit too much heading into this new expansion. Despite my gripes, I still loved returning to new content within Dark Souls 3, even if that content was a bit shallow. The Undead Arena is an excellent addition to the already fantastic Dark Souls 3 multiplayer suite, but the meat of Ashes of Ariandel is a bit undercooked.