The first time one of Ashen’s giant, freakishly long-limbed spiders dropped down on me, I squealed. Loudly. It was not the last time that happened during the 30 minutes I spent with the upcoming action RPG/roguelike from Aurora 44 but, as the old saying goes, you never forget your first time.
As it turns out, unequipping my lantern and sword combo in favor of a two-handed spear was a remarkably poor decision, especially since the dungeon I was exploring was shrouded in oppressive darkness. Lesson learned!
With that fatal experience tucked away for the next run, I began the demo over again, this time with an ace in the hole: a buddy who could help me. You see, while Ashen will let you play solo, this is clearly a game that is better with friends (and might even help you make some new ones). That’s because, like the Dark Souls series that it pays homage to,Ashen supports and actively encourages co-op play.
Unlike From Software’s beloved series, though, Ashen features a co-op system that doesn’t require you to work to find a co-op partner. That’s because the game employs a method that simply drops another player into the game, playing as one of the secondary characters that you’ll come across. When I looked over at my partner’s screen, he was the primary character and I was the secondary, roles that were flipped on my screen.
Getting our bearings, we made our way back to the entrance of the dungeon. Many of Ashen’s dungeons will require two players to open, and that was the case here, as we both had to put our hands into holes on either side of the door. This time, I was sure to keep a lantern equipped at all times, sporting a hefty club in the other hand. It might not have done as much damage at the spear I was rocking, but it was worth the trade-off to have a better sense of my surroundings.
This light/dark mechanic looks to play a central role in Ashen’s gameplay, and I could see how it offered some unique ways to tackle encounters. For instance, if the two players are willing to stay close together, one could carry a lantern and weaker weapon while the other carries a strong weapon, a plan that would fall apart quickly if you get separated. And make no mistake, the darkness in Ashen’s labyrinthine, claustrophobic dungeons is an inky void that almost feels like it envelops your character.
Taking our sweet time, we made our way further and further down into the dungeon, luring out enemies and carefully taking them down. The game’s combat rewards careful play, and I found the key to success is often waiting for your enemy to attack before following up rather than charging in swinging. Ashen definitely feels like a proper roguelike in many ways, including its views on careful combat and the fact dying will reset your progress with permadeath.
We found this out the hard way after we dropped down into a large central area, where we were confronted by a scary boss named The Elder Dark. Taking on this fast-moving creature that hid in the darkness required both coordination and quick reflexes, and we found that the best strategy was for one of us to lure him out and pray that the other could spot where he popped out of the holes in the walls around the chamber.
Alas, while we nearly got the Elder Dark’s health down to zero, everything went off the rails once my partner ran out of health-giving mushrooms. He quickly fell victim to a devastating fast attack from out of the shadows, leaving me alone to fend for myself against a powerful enemy. Unfortunately, I was out of mushrooms too, so it wasn’t long before I was frantically swinging my club with the hopes that the Elder Dark would accidentally jump right into it.
Naturally, that didn’t happen, and I let out one final, terrified squeal as the Elder Dark suddenly appeared behind me, slashing my back and killing my character for good. It may have made my heart race and my palms sweat, but I already can’t wait to go back and do it again. And again. And again.
You can be sure we’ll be bringing you more on Ashen as we get closer to the game’s release later this year.