At last year’s E3, we went hands-on with an earlier version of Ashen, an adventure game that aims to blend the difficulty of Dark Souls with the mystery of a dark fantasy tale. Featuring a co-op mechanic that allows you to join a friend on an adventure – or with an AI stand-in if no one is available – it was great to see more of the game at this year’s E3 and how its world, lore, and quest system have all started to expand, creating an even more intriguing and complex adventure that we’re looking forward to playing more of when the game launches day and date on Xbox Game Pass later this year.
One of the more striking things I appreciate from the game’s simple, direct, and low-poly character design is that of the blank face, making you a faceless pawn caught up in a larger adventure which will eventually define you. It’s a uniqueness that helps give Ashen an identity, but not necessarily giving one to the player. There are options when creating your adventure to adjust their skin tone, facial hair, and other identifiable markers — but the blank, eyeless, mouthless face remains.
For this year’s E3 build, we were able to sample the quest system that’s being built into the game that can involve tasks such as item retrieval or dispatching an enemy. The map system allows you to easily track these quests with a simple and direct interface, as well as a compass indicator on the top of the screen to help send you in the right direction without having to constantly refer to your map, allowing you to take in more of the polygon forest and its numerous enemies who wish to do you harm.
Combat in Ashen is very Dark Souls-esc: keep your shield up, dodge roll away from enemy attacks, take your time to see their swing pattern and strike them down. Your character controls are refined and responsive, with appropriate weight applied to both your strong and light attacks on enemy combatants. Knowing which to use and when is a learned experience that comes in time.
The primary quest for this demo early on was to retrieve a hammer for a one-armed giant who needed to use it to set off a spark, activating a stone pillar that works as the games respawn/checkpoint system should you fall in battle. And fall we did.
Again, like the Souls games, you have the chance to respawn item-less with the chance to retrieve your goods by retracing your steps and re-engaging with enemies in their original spawned positions. A harsh lesson-learning process as you fight your foes once again with the shared and accumulated knowledge of failure.
Further into our demo, we re-entered the dark and ominous giant spider-filled cave we experienced last year. This area of the map also allowed us to see some of Ashen’s impressive lighting effects as we descended into the cave, holding a lantern in our off-hand. Still, even with a passing familiarity of what was lying in wait, the giant, acid-spitting spiders still got the best of me, sending me back above ground, arriving back at the respawn shrine with the pull of “just one more try” becoming ever stronger the longer I played Ashen.
The pull will have to wait until next time when we have a chance to play more of Ashen when it comes to Xbox One. Be sure to keep it tuned to Xbox Wire throughout the year to learn more about this game and many others coming soon to your favorite console.