I have been following Ashen since the exciting 2015 announce trailer. When I found out Ashen was going to be an open world Souls-Like RPG I became even more excited about it. Last October I heard Ashen was scheduled to release in December of this year. I honestly thought this game was going to be postponed. Then out of nowhere, Ashen was shadow dropped on December 7th for Xbox One and PC. I immediately downloaded it from the Xbox One game store via my Game Pass subscription. After beating Ashen I decided I wanted this to be the first game I reviewed on Level Smack.
NOTE: I played Ashen using an Xbox One X. This is my first written review for a website. I consider myself to be an amateur writer, but a professional when it comes to video game analysis.
Warning!: There are minor spoilers in this review. I chose not to mention any of Ashen’s characters or story to avoid greater spoilers.
Ashen definitely falls under the souls-like genre. To me, the gameplay feels like a mix of Dark Souls and Zelda: BOTW. Which isn’t a bad thing because I love both of those games. Ashen’s combat and controller layout feels very similar to Dark Souls games. The combat environments are not similar though. Dark Souls is linear, while Ashen in most areas (excluding some dungeons & pathways) is very open. That openness during combat reminded me of Zelda: BOTW.
In Ashen you have a few different combat choices at your disposal. You can choose a one-handed weapon carrying a shield or lantern in the other hand. Or you can choose to strike with a slower but more powerful two-handed weapon. All combat combinations come in handy for different situations. If you’re in the dark though, you got to have your lantern equipped xD! As you progress through the game and defeat enemies you’ll earn scoria (money) and find certain items necessary for upgrading your weapons.
Alternatively, disposable spears can be found and eventually crafted. Spears didn’t work out too well for me against tougher enemies in close combat. Launching spears at unsuspecting enemies from far distances is effective though. I ended up using spears mainly for teleportation. Launching spears at red glowing statues will teleport you to unreachable areas.
Each enemy type has a unique set of attacks. If you wish to kill enemies while remaining unscathed you’re going to have to learn to attack strategically. Timing your attacks at the right moments and knowing when to dodge or defend while also managing your stamina is a necessity. If you happen to die you’ll lose all your current scoria you’ve earned. You’ll have a chance to recover your scoria at the place of your death.
There is a lot of different enemy types in Ashen. Enemies are very memorable and match well with environment locations. Just as an example… in a forest, you might face bandits. But in dark areas of dungeons and caves, you’ll encounter giant spiders or poltergeists. Sadly Ashen’s first few bosses are not as memorable. All of the bosses are varied well and fun to fight against. But only the last two bosses were engraved into my memory. Probably because they were brutally hard and more important to the story!
There’s a lot of mandatory quests to embark on, along with rewarding optional side quests to complete. Most of the quests consist of finding artifacts, certain characters, and defeating certain enemies. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the quests. When you defeat quests you’ll earn Scoria and permanent increases to your health or stamina bar. You can also unlock item crafting upgrades that can be purchased at the main hub known as Vagrant’s Rest. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but Vagrant’s Rest changes a lot as you progress through the game and it’s fun to watch the changes happen! I will just say progressing NPC friendships are very meaningful in Ashen.
While playing through the game I eventually decided to keep Co-Op multiplayer permanently disabled. Because many of the real players that joined my game were horrible and uncooperative. However, most of the AI companions were skilled fighters and followed me anywhere I wanted to travel.
The Map navigation works well, but I would have loved to see a mini-map in the bottom left corner. Pausing to pull up the big map in unfamiliar areas was a little annoying at times.
– Gameplay: 8.5 : The combat & crafting system isn’t revolutionary or complex. We have seen it before, but it’s executed and balanced extremely well. The quest progression system is very rewarding and addicting.
Graphics / Art Style:
Running on Unreal Engine 4, Ashen is a beautiful game. The animated graphics and character models look unique. While playing in 4K resolution colors looked crisp. I might receive some negative feedback for the following statement. The graphics looked like a mix of Fortnite and Zelda: BOTW to me. Cartoonish and clean, but also serious.
The art direction impressed me a lot. It was a bold move to make all the characters in the game faceless. Facial expressions don’t exist in Ashen! Some players might be disappointed by this design choice. Others might use there imagination!
– Graphics / Art Style: 9.0
Environments / World Design:
Even though Ashen is a souls-like it doesn’t strictly hold on to the traditional dark gothic setting. Ashen’s world consists of many diverse environments. You’ll travel across forests, mountains, snow storms, ancient cities, dark dungeons, caves and more. Each environment sets a mood. Some environments are bright, colorful and beautiful to look at. While others are dark and horrifying. I loved this diverse approach. It made me want to keep playing to see the next area. Considering the map is fairly large but not gigantic, they added a good amount of diversity.
At first, I was annoyed by some of the dungeons. Some of the dungeon areas are almost maze-like and will require you to learn the correct path. I raged when entering these areas after being ambushed by numerous difficult enemies or having my AI companion die on me. After playing through each dungeon multiple times I realized their designs were actually quite good. The maze-like dungeon environments encourage exploration. Some of the best loot in the game can be found in hidden areas of these dungeons. Once you know the main path and where the enemies are the dungeons are quite easy.
– Environments / World Design: 9.0
Music / Sound:
I absolutely loved all the music in Ashen. The instrumental music fit the environments and situations almost perfectly. The music was so good when I went to bed at night I could still hear the sweet harmonies of Vagrant’s Rest, lol (Here’s a Music Sample!). The soothing soundtracks made me want to keep exploring this magical world. When facing bosses the instrumental music ramps up and creates a feeling of suspense. Kudos to the music composer and producers!
Most of the gameplay sounds are spot on. Weapons and enemies sound like they should. Although screams from certain enemies sounded a little awkward. It was never too distracting though.
– Music / Sound: 9.5
Ashen ran great playing on an Xbox One X in 4K resolution. It kept a steady 30 frames per second throughout most of the game. I did notice some frame-rate stutters in certain areas though. I also noticed a bug in a few of the dungeons where the sound would briefly cut out for a second. These weren’t major issues and I’m sure they’ll be patched soon, but they did bother me a little.
I did try the 1080p resolution mode via the in-game settings. It dulled the color down a lot. Sadly instead of boosting the framerate to 60 FPS, it still remained at 30 FPS which is a little bit of a bummer.
– Technical: 8.0
After I beat a couple of the side quests and the first boss I instantly became addicted to Ashen. The quest progression system, characters, story, music, challenge, and the world were all satisfying. It was hard to stop playing. I had to put my entire life on hold for about 20 hours because I was determined to beat this challenging game. Ashen is a lot of fun!
– Fun Factor: 9.5
Is It Worth Playing?:
Anyone that loves Open World Adventures, JRPGs, WRPGs, or of course Souls-Like games should definitely check out Ashen. It’s 100% worth playing!
I got the chance to play Ashen through Xbox One’s amazing subscription service Game Pass. Ashen’s current retail price is $40. Whether you decided to play it through Game Pass or purchase it, Ashen is worthy of the offered admission price options.