Who needs a face, really.
Standing by the Ashen booth and eagerly awaiting my demo session, I overheard a lot of passerby commentary. More than once I heard the phrase: “Dark Souls with pretty graphics”. Now, I’m not going to deny that Ashen draws clear inspiration from the deliberate, stamina-based action that Dark Souls has claimed its identity as, but I believe this new title by Aurora44 possesses much more than what initially meets the eye.
As anyone that listens to the podcast may know, I’ve never been particularly fond of the Dark Souls franchise. Whether it be the combat, setting, or environmental storytelling, no individual element of the series could get me to play more than 6-hours, and even then I had to enlist friends to help me discover some sense of enjoyment.
It’s not that I don’t like a challenge, in fact, I LOVE boss-rush games, it’s that there was never anything in Dark Souls that pulled me towards the finish line; there was no incentive. For some people it’s the combat, for others it’s the storytelling, and there are millions of people that are in it for EVERYTHING, but not me.
Insert Ashen, a game that on the face of it, looks like ‘Dark Souls with pretty graphics,’ but may actually possess enough RPG systems, architecturally stunning landscapes, good coop experiences, and a narrative throughline to pull me to the end.
So what is Ashen? Well, it’s an open-world passive multiplayer RPG. Players create their faceless character and set out on a journey to protect a magical ‘godlike’ bird of light from the evil tendrils of the world’s first civilization, who seek to bring about eternal darkness. Along the way, players will meet up with new followers who will accompany them in their quest.
However, if everything works accordingly, those companions won’t be NPCs, rather, they will be randomly dropped in players from around the world who are progressing at the same point in time. Think Journey. Although it is possible to play with your friends, the impression I received was that to do so is not Aurora44’s objective, and it will be slightly harder to set up in order to persuade players otherwise.
Giving my critique on the game is difficult because I fundamentally don’t really enjoy the slow, deliberate style of combat. However, from my 30-minute demo, I was given a glimpse into the actual scale of Ashen, and was shown enough of the things that I DO love about RPGs sprinkled throughout.
Let’s start with the obvious: the graphics. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the flat, polygonal look is really nailing it in Ashen, but what I wasn’t expecting was the actual environmental design within the world. When I was shown a later zone, I was absolutely floored by the unique layout of the ancient city, let alone its combination with the game’s aesthetic. Side note: I was told there won’t ever be faces, but honestly I think that’d look quite strange anyway.
Then there’s all the RPG mechanics. I was surprised to learn that within Ashen, there is what promises to be a fairly deep armour and weapon upgrade system, tied into an ever-expanding base-camp which slowly develops over the course of the game as you befriend new companions. Tier sets, shields and spears can be bought from vendors or found throughout the world, while weapons can be upgraded with the in-game currency ‘Scoria’. Combine the promise of ‘numbers getting higher’, cool looking armour, different play styles, a gripping story and set of side-quests, well… you’ve successfully piqued my interest.
Whether or not Ashen delivers on what it’s promising remains to be seen, however, if you’re a fan of open-world RPGs I would keep my eye on it, especially if you enjoy the methodical pace of Dark Souls combat.
Ashen will be releasing by the end of 2018.