Ashen brings to life a world beset by darkness in a Souls-like action role-playing game set in a low fantasy universe.
Developed by A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive, Ashen uses the Unreal Engine to bring out a fairly robust system of combat and progression through a world that has lost its primary god: the Ashen. The game tells its story through non-player characters, an open-world rife for exploration using a third-person view.
The graphics of the game are used to great effect with a water-color cel-shaded effect designed to bring out shape and texture from every zone. Although the environments themselves are somewhat muted, every one tells a story that features a central theme.
For example, players may find themselves in dark icy caves filled with shadow and light, or traverse a windy desert replete with crumbling buildings, or find themselves in a sprawling city set at the base of a magnificent Arabian castle that reaches into the clouds.
Combat is Souls-like but sometimes the co-op AI might just be another player
Combat in Ashen is an experience similar to Dark Souls. Fighting monsters in the open world is a slow-burn, methodical process using single-hand or dual-handed weapons at melee range. In fact, the same buttons are used for triggering light and heavy attacks, which depend heavily on a stamina meter. Players will also need to dodge certain attacks to retain their health.
Every fight against every monster can be a learning experience and ambushes are common. As a result, players are rewarded for careful movement through the environment and vigilance.
The game only has five straight-up boss fights, but all of them possess the epic quality similar to those in Souls. Boss fights are plotting, challenging, and call upon the player to learn the boss’s patterns and weaknesses in order to beat them using careful timing and positioning. The fights are equally punishing to players who learn quickly enough.
Although players are accompanied everywhere in the game by an AI companion, this character may sometimes be a player. It is possible for a player to take over the coop companion at any save point – but because the game lacks any text, voice chat or emotes, it’s difficult to tell that the companion is a real player until they do something out of the ordinary.
An atmospheric ride through a beautiful world in need of restoration
Ashen is an example of a Souls-like game done right. It keeps much of the challenge and atmospheric effects of the Souls games and provides its own spin on what makes them challenging and interesting. The exploration gameplay combined with building a base and restoring a world thrust into darkness provides the progression players need to feel like they’re getting something done.
The game maintains a high standard of play and combines a challenge for careful gameplay with an odd cooperative concept that makes each playthrough interesting and potentially new.
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