The Pitch

It’s hard to overstate the impact and influence that Atlas’ Demon Souls and Dark Souls have had on the wider gaming space in recent years.

Seemingly-overnight, Hidetaka Miyazaki’s take on the action RPG has gone from cult classic to meteoric mainstream hit. And the rise of this action-RPG subgenre has inspired no shortage of pretenders, imitators and tributes.

There’s been Nioh, Lords of the Fallen, The Surge, Darksiders 3 and plenty others. Like the above,  Ashen takes place in a dark fantasy setting and features slower, more-deliberate combat. But like last year’s Dead Cells, A44’s Ashen leverages its sense of aesthetic flair towards accessibility – bringing people into the genre.

Right down to its foundations, Ashen is a game that rewards thoughtful play and punishes unnecessary risk-taking. Yet, it also subverts the formula through accessible design choices and a more-optimistic tone.

Most impressive of all, Ashen distills the Dark Souls experience into a game that you could recommend to just about anyone.

High Scoria

As you’d expect, the setup here is vague but tantalising.

You create and take on the role of a nameless warrior in a fantasy world that’s survived through a cataclysmic age of darkness and come out the other end. The world is perched on the precipice of renewal within a larger cosmic cycle of death, rebirth, good and evil.

But before that happens, someone has to go out and vanquish the remnants of the darkness that’s scouring the land. That’s where you come in. You’re also tasked with awakening the Ashen: a godlike bird whose vitality shapes the status quo of the world’s cosmic order.

As for how you achieve that task, there are threee things you’ll be doing in Ashen. Exploring areas, fighting enemies and collecting Scoria. For those familiar with the genre, Scoria is pretty much Ashen’s take on souls as a currency. They’re the game’s principle resource and your progression through the game is very much paced around your ability to invest Scoria into improving your character with equipment upgrades and the more-passive talisman system.

If you’ve played one of these games before, you know the deal. Die, and you’ll lose your souls. Fight your way back to the spot where you died – and you’ll reclaim them.

And the world of Ashen has this clean and picturesque quality that ensures this is never a chore. It’s a sharp contrast to the ruined landscapes of fare like Bloodbourne and striking in its own right.

At times,  it feels like there’s not a single area in the game where you can let the camera settle and bask in the scenery.  For as dangerous as some of the enemies in the game are, the sense of place makes Ashen a delight to inhabit and explore.

Polish isn’t everything in game design – but there’s a lot of it here.

What’s more, developer A44 have done a tremendous job of filling each environment in the game with secrets to discover. Every part of the broader picture feels considered and deliberate. Over and over again, the game incentivized using the camera to eke out every little discovery on the map.

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