REVIEW – Lap six for the end of the week, an action-RPG from a New Zealandian developer team called A44, published by Annapurna, who will bring Journey to PC shortly. Ashen, even though it’s a bit difficult to recognise at first, is a Souls clone. Is it a clone in a proper meaning? For the most part, yes.
Ashen is currently available on Xbox One, and Epic’s store (not on Steam… yet!) – the price is forty dollars/euros, and while it’s somewhat difficult for me to say it, but I believe it’s worth the price, but only those who expect a slightly deeper story compared to Souls games while keeping their essential gameplay. (Aside from that, there are differences.)
Using the term clone isn’t a joke. More massive, lighter attacks, dodge rolling, stamina bar; HP reloading with Crimson Gourds (Estus Flask anyone?) – the bonfires are replaced by ritual stones, the souls that stay at the location of your death were replaced by scoria. It’s evident that FromSoftware inspired A44, but it shouldn’t be a reason to uninstall the game…
We’re looking for a giant, corrupt queen, and by the time we get to her, a few people will want to stomp us, regardless if we’re in the dungeons or not. The Vagrant’s Rest, which will become our base, will only be ours after bringing some light to the land – from this point, Ashen takes a turn, as building relationships, making people join us, and the trust put into us will be important. In short, we will find characters that we can „send home,” to provide us with some unique equipment, or side quests, at our base, which will expand over time, although we cannot directly influence its changes. The characters can also come with us to help, which will be necessary, as the doors of the dungeons require two people to be opened. I like how the characters received care from the developers – they can be interesting and exciting, and they immediately laugh around Just Cause 4, whose plot I’d rather not have seen whatsoever… and the funny thing is that Ashen doesn’t cost sixty dollars, just forty!
The handling seems to be tight and on point – the sprint jumps, the melee never felt like uncontrollable events, so Ashen is surprisingly good in controls. There are three different type of weapons (axe, hammer or club, and spear), and there are several types under them, too. The main difference in them is how you swing them at your enemies. Some of them are used with a horizontal animation, while other weapons will see your movement performed vertically. They require different strategies, and you will likely end up using both types, as Ashen isn’t easy. It’s not ridiculously difficult, but it provides a healthy challenge. The boss fights don’t end in one minute either; the balance is perfect – it gives you tough times, but not too much of them. Don’t worry about tearing your hair out.
The game opens up even more online, but it also brings out the flaw of Ashen offline: if you play solo, you will be limited in a sense that your characters’ gear cannot be changed at all, and that will be problematic! Online, however, the game’s magic comes into play – you build relationships without talking. In Vagrant’s Rest, your base members will be replaced by other players, and I had a similar feeling seen in Journey – can we trust each other without being able to talk? You have to experience this… writing about it doesn’t define the situation strong enough.
The visuals, done by the Unreal Engine 4, are minimalistic, but it fits Ashen. Sure, the game doesn’t look like a technical masterpiece, but it does the job, and it makes the world exciting to look at. The soundtrack is also okay, but it seems to lack songs… maybe this could be a negative, too. Look for it on YouTube; I’m pretty sure you’ll like what you’ll hear there.
Ashen deserves an eight out of ten because even though the basics of the gameplay lay elsewhere, the experience was able to convert it to something unique, more ambient, and, in some cases, even better than what FromSoftware has done. Although the dungeons didn’t feel exciting (the boss fights, as well as the enemy types, are fine), in every aspect, I think the game is worth forty dollars. The only main thing I need to point out at the end is that Ashen isn’t available on PlayStation 4 at the moment, so you either have to get it on PC (and on the Epic Store, as there’s no Steam version yet!) or the Xbox One. Epic Games Store is going into a great 2019 – even the Super Meat Boy sequel is going to be exclusive to that platform on PC for a year -, but without going off my thought, let me end here. It’s an 8/10.
+ The game’s world is exciting, even with its minimalistic style
+ Good controls and challenge
– Maybe it lacks some songs on the soundtrack?
– I didn’t like the dungeons that much
– If you play alone, you’ll be stuck with the default gear on your partners…
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release date: December 7, 2018 (PC – Epic Games Store; Xbox One)