Before we get in to this review, I must warn you that this review contains minor spoilers for DARK SOULS III and major spoilers for DARK SOULS III: Ashes of Ariandel.
DARK SOULS III is one of the few triple-A games I enjoyed this year. It’s got its problems and is undoubtedly a weak Souls game for long-time fans of the series who like to invest in the fantastically unique PVP elements of the series and even though the game relies on fanservice and flashiness more than depth; it’s still an enjoyable experience, especially for casual players who aren’t keen on sinking hours on end into a Souls game. The game’s PVE is phenomenal and pays homage to the most popular game in the series, DARK SOULS. Despite being the second entry in this series, it was this game that made Souls the behemoth it is today; with its brilliant game design forming a whole new genre of ‘’Soulslike’’ games. Although the game certainly isn’t a cake-walk, it’s fairly easy in comparison to other entries in the series and is slightly mechanically similar to Bloodborne. There are quite a few bosses such as Pontiff Sulyvahn that are notorious for their difficulty but are also considered by many to be up there with the best bosses in the entire series. As usual, the level-design and music are top notch and no less than what is expected from the Souls series. However, the game does have a lot of faults as I have mentioned previously, the invading system has been dumbed down; with hosts being able to call as many phantoms as they want, invading phantoms having their resources cut down; adding even more difficulty to the already unfair fight between invaders and hosts, build diversity falls short with only a select few weapons being the obvious pick as they’re a lot more powerful than the rest of the arsenal available to you in DARK SOULS III.
Undoubtedly, one of the reasons I was very excited for this DLC was the promise of improvements to the PVP with the inclusion of a new PVP arena when the DLC was first announced. The DLC area can be accessed by making your way to the Cleansing Chapel and talking to an NPC there who will give you a scrap of a painting, transporting you to the Painted World of Ariandel. Long-time fans of the series will be taken back as this new area they’ve been given to explore is a little similar to DARK SOULS’ Painted World of Ariamis, which was my personal favorite are a in the game. Making your way throw a wasteland of snow, you combat a few new enemies which include brutes that hurl spears and unleash devastating attacks as well as spellcasters that can control flames. You find yourself in a heated battle with a giant wolf, surrounded by smaller wolves that are simply re-skinned versions of the dogs in the base game. This wolf is a fairly easy fight and disappears when you bring its health bar to around 50%. There are a few paths that the player can take from here and we meet a few NPC’s in a nearby cathedral, both of which you will fight as you progress through the DLC, and one of which is the DLC’s main boss.
You can choose to rush your way through the DLC or access the optional boss, the Champion’s Gravetender, that you’re going to have to beat to unlock the PVP. This boss brings out the absolute worst in game design and I’d say is an homage to how terrible a lot of DARK SOULS II’s bosses were because it’s nothing more than an NPC, three wolves and the same giant wolf that we fought near the beginning, the Champion’s Greatwolf, with the exact same moveset we faced in the first fight. Like any other bad Souls bossfight, the only redeemable quality was the flawless background music. After beating this boss, you acquire the Champion’s Bones, which you can use to access the new PvP exclusive area, the Hollow Arena. There are two game-modes, Duel and Brawl. Duel is a one-on-one to the death in which Estus is not allowed but a limited amount of Ashen Estus can be consumed. There are multiple ways to play Brawl, team-based 2v2 or 3v3 or free-for-alls with 4 or 6 players.
Onto the best part of this DLC, the final boss. You face Sister Freide, one of the NPC’s you meet in the aforementioned cathedral. The fight’s first phase is fairly easy and is reminiscent of Bloodborne’s Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower. In the second phase, you face off against Freide once again, this time she is assisted by her father, Lord Ariandel. They both share the same health-bar and this fight is a little more challenging, it is very reminiscent of Ornstein and Smough, one of the most notoriously difficult and enjoyable boss fights of all time, as players need to manage their estus while dodging two very fast and furious enemies. After the second phase is defeated and the stellar music shifts one last time, you face off against a much stronger Friede who’s attacks hit harder and faster as well as projectile-based magic attacks. This boss is admittedly one of the best fights in the game, if not the best. Although I wouldn’t say that this fight makes the very steep price of $15 for this otherwise lackluster DLC completely worth it, casual players who want to step back in to the world of DARK SOULS III as well as veterans who want to get back into the game’s PVP might want to pick up Ashes of Ariandel.
DARK SOULS III: Ashes of Ariandel is now available on PC, PS4 and XBOX One and is also included in the game’s Season Pass.
Review Score: 6/10