Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel DLC Review

By Marc Hollinshead,
Whether you're a fan of the games or not, we are all well aware that Dark Souls is loved by many. The base games provide an enticing challenge for all who delve into them and they have been praised because of their punishing nature. However, it could be argued that each of the previous games' DLCs were even tougher than the titles to which they're tied, including Bloodborne, and so it is clear that the series has a high standard when it comes to downloadable content. Dark Souls III has just recently been given its first of two DLC expansions, "Ashes of Ariandel", and with the knowledge of previous DLCs in mind, has this latest foray into the series managed to leave the quality of extra content untarnished?

Welcome to the Painted World of AriandelWelcome to the Painted World of Ariandel

"Ashes of Ariandel" presents a brand new location to Dark Souls III. The Painted World of Ariandel is swathed in a blanket of snow that helps to bring the visual brilliance of the game back to the forefront of players' minds. The effects that the climate shows off are nothing short of beautiful, so as you explore more of the new area, your eyes will certainly be in for a treat. Fortunately, the area isn't all just snow and the DLC does have a few surprises in store when exploring, so you shouldn't worry too much about a lack of creativity.

Despite this, the new zone shares a blatant resemblance both in style and in name to the Painted World of Ariamis from Dark Souls. One might think that the developers have run out of steam and are desperately trying to recycle old areas with a new coat of paint, but what Dark Souls has always done so well is tell enthralling and tragic stories for those who search for them. The new lore implications of the Painted World of Ariandel are intriguing to say the least, and the connection it has to the rest of the Dark Souls universe may have you wondering whether the developers have in fact created another painted world for a reason.

Dark Souls sure loves its bugsDark Souls sure loves its bugs

Inside the Painted World you will find a number of new enemies. At first, though, they don't pose too much of a threat. Soldiers will attempt to impale or hurl their spears at you but will get taken down by a quick back stab. Wolves will ambush you in packs but get obliterated in a couple of sword swipes and a few environmental hazards will keep you on your toes. However, there are a few noticeable additions for which to look out.

Some soldiers will show off brand new spells and breathe fire across a large radius that will engulf you if you aren't quick enough to avoid it. Hulking, barbaric knights will slam their axes and hammers in your face. You will also spot lifelike trees camouflaging themselves amidst the landscape that will spare no expense in sending fireballs at you in a sudden attack. A lot of these enemies make it clear just how much Dark Souls III has evolved since the first title. Combat isn't as clunky and slow as it used to be, so you will need to be nimble and agile to remain alive. Not all enemies are tough to beat but there are a few surprises that will pound you into submission.

A trusty shield or some quick feet will be invaluable hereA trusty shield or some quick feet will be invaluable here

As you aim to eradicate every enemy that you face, you will soon find yourself circling around the map. What the original game struggled with was a number of linear areas that, while having a couple of branching paths, didn't possess the same inter-connectivity of the first game. The Painted World of Ariandel is unique as a lot of areas loop round each other. Some shortcuts feel more useful and opening a door may lead you back to a previous area and cause an "Oh, I'm back here!" moment. I'm not ashamed in saying that I even got lost on a number of occasions, realising that there was a hidden path or switch that I just missed further along. Eureka moments are great in Dark Souls, especially after a while of halted progress.

The DLC area is an interesting one but is not the biggest, unfortunately. After a couple of hours of exploring, you will start to wonder what is left to see. Unlike previous DLC's, "Ashes of Ariandel" only has two bosses, one of which is optional. It is a bit of a shame as the series prides itself on its grand scale boss fights; fortunately, the main boss of this DLC is so brilliantly executed. Many will even agree that it is up there with the best in the series as it is extremely tough and will challenge even the best of players. The optional boss looks and sounds fantastic, as well, but it is much easier and may only take a few tries to defeat.

Don't be fooled by that weak visageDon't be fooled by that "weak" visage

One reason why the DLC is short is likely to be because of the addition of the arena battles. "Ashes of Ariandel" introduces a brand new concept in Dark Souls that is known as Undead Matches. Only after defeating the optional boss will you gain access to this, but once you do, you will need to proceed to Firelink Shrine to start matchmaking. This PvP focused gameplay will pit you against other players either in teams or alone -- the aim is to smash everyone to pieces. Think of it as a free for all or deathmatch with a Dark Souls twist. It took a bit of time to finally find a mode that had enough players, but after entering the arena, the all-out warfare is surprisingly enjoyable, even for those who don't usually partake in PvP. There doesn't seem to be any visible reward for winning, so only PvP players will come back regularly, but it is still fun nonetheless. It is also a great playground for trying out the game's creative new spells.

It's rare to say this in a TA review, but there are no achievements to be found here. Like all Dark Souls DLCs before it, "Ashes of Ariandel" contains no new achievements, which may come as a disappointment to some. Fans of the games will no doubt want to jump straight in regardless, but avid achievement hunters will need to go elsewhere for their gamerscore fix.

Deathmatch...Dark Souls style!Deathmatch...Dark Souls style!


Summary

For the first DLC of Dark Souls III, "Ashes of Ariandel" is a good start. The new Painted World looks gorgeous at times and exploration feels rewarding as you discover more shortcuts and pathways. The multiplayer arena seems unusual at first, but it is an interesting take on the game's PvP. Only hardcore fans will stick around for the long haul, though, so the DLC's main appeal comes from an awe inspiring boss fight at the end. The lore behind this DLC will bring forth plenty more fan theories but some of us were pining for just a little more once we were done with our trip into the blizzard. Another DLC is still scheduled for early next year, so the Ashen One's journey still has more death waiting just around the corner.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Visually beautiful area with plenty of looping pathways
  • Fantastic final boss with plenty of lore
  • Undead matches are surprisingly enjoyable for all who jump in
Negatives
  • A little on the short side
  • Some enemies provide little challenge
Ethics
The reviewer spent 6 hours exploring the Painted World of Ariandel, brawling in the arena and dying a few times, of course. A code for the DLC was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.