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Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Score: 80%
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: FromSoftware
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 6 (Online)
Genre: RPG/Action/Online

Introduction:

Does one ever really need a reason to return to a Souls game? FromSoftwareís relatively young yet hugely successful action role-playing series delivers on just about every gameplay-related front, but its success goes beyond that. There are people who canít stop playing these games for the reason that itís simply a macabre delight to exist in the worlds that the developers have created. The Souls games deliver, above all else, a sense of place; so much to the point where the act of exploration is the heart of each and every installment. Additionally, each one up to this point (Demonís Souls excluded) has featured some sort of expansion that has deepened both the world and the overall experience. From Artorias of the Abyss to Scholar of the First Sin to even Bloodborne: The Old Hunters, FromSoftware has made a series of measured extensions and improvements to their core games. And so it is with Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel, which makes up for its lack of length with an infusion of satisfying content.

Canvas of Madness:

Take a high-level character to the Cathedral of the Deep, and head for the bonfire. Youíll end up meeting a new NPC, who is, in essence the gatekeeper for the start of this downloadable expansion: the Painted World of Ariandel. Take a few steps into the icy maelstrom, and you wonít be surprised to learn exactly how harsh this place is. Bear in mind, this is the Souls series. Itís a mournful, bleak world at its happiest; every visible silver lining is most likely a death trap.

Another continued trend in Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel is deliberately obtuse storytelling. Itís forgivable in that the narrative has always been buried under the surface, in the developerís worldbuilding. The stories are there, for those who know where to look. However, if youíre looking for anything resembling a coherent context for all the exploration, dying, hunting, dying, looting, and dying, youíre looking in the wrong place.

Depending on your skill level, Ashes of Ariandel runs between short and very short. Granted, your skill level has to be relatively high to get to the Painted World, much less to make anything resembling progress. But when itís on, it is on. Enemy encounters and often sadistic level design work in tandem to really saturate the entire experience with a pervasive sense of dread. Without spoiling anything, one memorable sequence had me feeling a bit like the game warden from Jurassic Park. The film version, not the bookÖ


Light at the End:

If youíve stuck with the Souls series since Demonís Souls made its splash back in 2009, youíve probably wished for something a bit more structured as far as the multiplayer goes. While itís certainly gotten no shortage of acclaim for its unorthodox, progressive cooperative/competitive multiplayer design, there are those who would like a more traditional implementation. Well, if you count yourself among their ranks, Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel is for you. But, as with all things in this series, you must earn it. By that, I mean you must defeat an optional boss and seek out a special item. Par for the graveyard, ahem, course.

Undead Matches are strangely evocative of the competitive multiplayer of perhaps the greatest Star Wars action game ever made, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Itís a venue for that very special breed of combat to the death, only you donít have to first invade someone or be invaded yourself. There are special limitations on variables such as time and estus. You can participate in engagements with up to five other players in one-on-ones, two-on-twos, and even three-on-threes. And just to make things extra interesting, six people can engage in a brutal free-for-all. Thereís an interesting ebb and flow to multiplayer combat in Souls games, and seeing the player count rise often guarantees something special.


Conclusion:

Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel is a fine expansion to a fine game. However, its slightness is a bit of an issue. While the quality of the content on hand is hardly a matter of dispute, the quantity might make some players retroactively balk at the $14.99 price tag. Again, this may also simply be emblematic of the fact that the Souls games are just so good that every little bit we get is tantamount to viciously teasing our collective appetite. Itís got my recommendation, but just know that youíre going to wish there was more.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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