Dark Souls III’s Ashes of Aiandel expansion exemplifies the crux of most downloadable content: brevity. While it may offer up an addictive locale of deep and detailed visual degradation, as well as snippets of interesting yet perplexing lore, the painted world into which you venture lacks substance: there aren’t enough bosses to best, and areas can be surpassed in a matter of minutes. Flame becomes ash in a matter of hours.
Meeting a lone straggler named Gale in the Cleansing Chapel, your character must touch a piece of crumpled red canvas in order to enter the Painted World of Ariandel – a snowy cataclysm made home to the unwanted, forlorn and decayed. Its tundra of ash and snow provides a visual style not present in the main game, and while winter levels are ever-present throughout the annals of gaming history, the juxtaposition of beautiful ice sheets and ruined, rotten homes and townspeople unsettles the foundation of its motif, strengthening the lore tucked neatly into its wastes.
Ariandel’s enemy types, the groaning birdish Corvians, their Edward Scissorhands-like tormentors and the wolves that hunt in the night are intrinsically linked to the Painting. A battle has been waged between those that wish fire to consume their world, and those that desire the rot to set in – that much is clear. Narrative clarity may be absent in Dark Souls but the deep-set story constantly rewards as you notch together bits and pieces of dialogue to create a bigger and more interesting whole.
While both of the expansion’s bosses have been, disappointingly, spoiled in either previews or trailers, each one packs that expected Dark Souls DLC punch in that they are both exceedingly difficult. The first is an absolute homage to Artorias of the Abyss, and pits you against a human figure, known only as the Champion Gravetender, and his giant wolf companion – a further homage to the original game’s Great Grey Wolf, Sif. The second takes place across three ridiculously tough phases; against a pair of foes as equidistant as Ornstein and Smough, and just as soul-crushing.
A PvP battle arena has also been added, which pits players against others in either teams or individual skirmishes. This mode is tense yet fun, as you scramble frenetically, or stalk enemies with skill, around the zone in which the main game’s final boss fight takes place. While this may add some much-needed time onto your experience, the DLC’s overall brevity is both shallow and unsatisfying to say the least; considering From Software’s past ventures into the realm of meaty downloadable content.
These ashes, unfortunately fade all too quickly.
The fires fade all too quickly.
Despite From Software's previous meaty DLC offerings, The Ashes of Ariandel is just a little too shallow.