Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel review

Dark Souls expansions have to work harder than most. It’s everything to do with how Souls worlds are constructed: witnessing how From Software’s environments fan out from a central hub, and tracing the ways landmarks interconnect, is one of the core pleasures of the series. When an expansion shuttles you off into a whole new area, such as Ashes of Ariandel does, it helps for that environment to feel unlike anywhere the series has visited before in order to compensate for the lack of a bigger picture. And while it’s not damning necessarily, Ashes of Ariandel fails on that count.

Returning to the painting-come-to-life motif, Ariandel follows in the footsteps of the original game’s Painted World of Aramis. It’s a miserable mountainous sprawl beset by snow and frost, where a ransacked settlement rests among the dilapidated grandeur. It’s beautiful in that utterly despondent From Software way, but I never felt compelled to stand still and behold a particularly wretched landscape for moments at a time. Ariandel is very white, except when it’s very dark, and while I wasn’t especially taken by the environments, I still felt enthusiastic about pushing through.

I played Ashes of Ariandel at soul level 111, which is arguably over-leveled—others have suggested around 80 is the sweet spot. Even at 111 I encountered challenges, though. Enemies are varied, both in form and strength, with tall javelin-wielding knights rubbing shoulders with disease-ridden bird mutants. The enemies present a stiff challenge, but there aren’t any tricks to navigating the world itself: don’t expect environment puzzles ala Crown of the Sunken King, though the map is more open than usual, and it’s easy to get lost in the same-y whiteness of it all. Wandering Ariandel’s snowy plains goes down as one of the few instances where I’ve longed for a map in the Souls series. The presence of collapsible ice sheets and snaking mountainside paths suggests disorientation was the intention.