All of you probably played games that simultaneously feel fresh and innovative, but also oddly familiar. Games like those usually borrow some key elements from the greatest hits in the genre and wrap them up in the new grove, making the product that feels like home, but in place other than home. Ashen is such a game, with the core mechanics of Dark Souls embedded in the gameplay system, but also having enough personality and individuality not to be called a mere clone.
The central motif of this game is an old story about the conflict between the light and the darkness. Ashen is the name of the God, a shiny, radiant bird which brought light to the world. Years before the beginning of the game Ashen disappeared and took the light with it, sending the world into the great darkness. Your goal is to restore the world into a normal image of life. You will do that by exploring environments, meeting people, and doing your best to make Ashen return.
The world you’re trying to restore is presented as tastefully minimalistic, and once you start to restore its former beauty, you start to realize the merits of this kind of presentation. The simplified graphics provide some very effective atmospheric effects which add to the ubiquitous feeling of anxiety which looms over the player all the time.
Following the steps of a significant number of games belonging to this developing subgenre, Ashen’s gameplay boldly obtains the core elements of Dark Souls’ combat system. In addition to the fact that it is strict and orderly, it utilizes similar controls for light and heavy attacks, and those attacks, together with evade rolls that keep your butt out of the bind, deplete stamina from your meter. The combat is focused on close attacks with one-handed or two-handed weapons. Each move can make a difference between life and death unless you take a sip from your Crimson Gourd, which is Ashen’s equivalent of Estus Flask. Similar to the Dark Souls, when you die you lose all of your Scoria, Ashen’s soul currency. If you manage to get to your dying spot before dying again, you can retrieve all of your precious currency. By the way, do you remember the relief you felt when you saw the bonfire in Dark Souls? This game has ritual stones which you can use for saving the game and fast travel.
Regardless of the obvious influence of Dark Souls, this game never feels like a shameless copy of that game. It does have plenty of elements which are directly taken from the from software game, but Ashen steps out from its shadow and goes its own way, adding enough of its own elements and creating the completely distinct identity. The most prominent and visible distinction from its role model Ashen shows in the department of the graphics. We already mentioned that Ashen leans toward minimalistic expression and cartoonish art style. The result is a beautiful open world which compels people to explore the diverse and dangerous areas. The great motivation for the further exploration of the game is not only acquiring new weapons and items but also to see everything that beautiful world has to offer.
The Eternal conflict light and darkness is quite apparent in the way the world is designed because your quests will send you to the quite different locations, starting from idyllic planes and meadows to the total nightmarish caves where the only light sources your lantern, and you can hear screeches of all those creatures around you waiting to bite and claw the life out of you.
You can check your progress at your camp, called Vagrant’s Rest. While you progress the story it will grow from mere tents to the complete urban community with buildings, infrastructure, and a bunch of people you can recruit or trade with.
The NPCs can help you in your journey by fighting alongside you, but sometimes they are replaced by real people, which makes his game a co-op multiplayer too. Without any form of communication, it is pretty hard to tell which of your helpers is CPU and which is human. Only on some occasions, it will be obvious that your sidekick is human controlled. Having an ally by your side makes this game easier than Dark Souls, but it doesn’t mean this game is easy. If you don’t have a good plan of attack and if you don’t use your stamina sparsely you will lose your life, and more importantly, your Scoria very quickly.
Ashen elevates itself above the usual Dark Souls clone, thanks to the beautiful landscapes, dangerous dungeons, strategic combat, and great progression system. Add to that an open world which works perfectly, and the cooperative component and you will get the game which stands its ground quite well.