Look, I don’t want to compare games to Dark Souls. Quite frankly it’s trite, played out, and it makes me look lazy. Unfortunately for both you and me, Ashen doesn’t care about that at all. Ashen is basically Light Souls; it takes everything that Dark Souls does, but instead of bringing about an age of darkness, you are trying to restore the light. This isn’t where the similarities end.
The controls are exactly the same, the combat is exactly the same, the currency system is exactly the same. There aren’t bonfires, but there are way-stones which function in the exact same way. It isn’t that these things being the same is bad – Dark Souls is beloved for a reason – it’s just a bit too familiar sometimes and it feels like there could have been a few more innovations. Everything works well, it is a fun game to play, and the combat does feel very much like Dark Souls, as opposed to the less satisfying Lords of the Fallen.
The art style is very different though. There are no faces to be found here, and instead everyone is a blank slate defined by their clothing, their weapons, and whether or not they attack you. It helps to make the game stand out in a sea of games with faces. That was a bit too facetious, but I do genuinely like the art direction in this game. It plays around with light and dark wonderfully which really makes the whole world feel a bit more alive.
The sound design is just as pleasing, with swells and falls in the music that help create an incredibly immersive world in which you can lose yourself. The combat sound heavy and meaningful, each strike making a satisfying clunk to signal a good hit. On the whole, the aesthetics of the game certainly pull it away from the Souls comparison, which is essential given how prolific those games are.
Journeying to protect the Ashen – a giant god bird – is a pleasure thanks to the places you find yourself, not necessarily because of the mechanics that take you there. As you trek through the open plains, hike up mountains, and go spelunking into caves and dungeons, you’ll get a feel for the strange world in which you find yourself. Where Ashen really excels is in its world building. The subtle story-telling throughout each environment really does sell the world to you and the opening area in particular has a wonderful moment of dark to light that sells the mythos of the world gloriously.
I like Ashen, it’s a good game, it would just be nice to see it building upon the foundation of its muse rather than almost copying and pasting it. The world of Ashen is its biggest attraction, the lore is deeply entrenched and really pulls everything together into something that is worth playing through. That being said, if you have played Dark Souls and don’t want to replay Dark Souls, then you aren’t going to get on with this. It is an odd one as I am a huge fan of this style of game, but we need games that build a more exciting game on top of the ideas that have been put down. It isn’t enough to be the same but with a different look. Ashen is good, but nothing revolutionary.
Version tested: PC – Also available for Xbox One