Interested in Elden Ring but not sure if Souls-like games are for you?
Do the older games look intimidating and time-consuming?
Then this Indie title is perfect for dipping your toes into the genre.
Ashen is a 40$ game but is on sale consistently.
Created by A44 games and published by Annapurna Interactive, Ashen was released in 2019 and boasts an open world with enemies to fight, secrets to uncover, a fluffy flying companion.
The combat is the standard one-handed, two-handed, and spears for a ranged attack prevalent in most souls-likes games. With a light and heavy attack that drains stamina as you attack, dodge, and guard with your shield. Nothing new but is done very well. From my playthrough, I probably saw 15+ enemies variants from the typical grunts, brutes to crab things. All with their own attack patterns and blind spots.
Situational combat scenarios
What stood out to me was how Ashen puts you in scenarios where you have to think instead of smash.
One example was when I first got a teleport ability and I’m flying from pillar to pillar and I saw a spot to teleport to on the ground. I landed there and was immediately bombarded by enemies with explosive spears. After reviving I had two options;
- bum rush through the ambush and hope to make it out in one piece
- Take out the ambushers with spears from the distance.
Option one didn’t end so well. The explosive spears stun-locked me and killed me after 3 hits.
For option 2 I crafted extra spears and sniped the ambushers from a distance. It made me digest the situation and act accordingly.
The combat situations and build crafting are the two areas where this game gets slightly deep.
The reason I didn’t try a Fromsoft game before Elden ring was I didn’t want to invest too heavily into the deep games. Ashen provides just enough to see if you like it. It begins with your weapons. Then you can craft spears and potions. Both with a variety of types.
Then as you progress you get talismans that help to round out your build. Some offer minor bonuses to health or stamina, some are more niche like stamina penalties from armor are reduced. For myself, I prefer one-handed, with a talisman that allows you to get damage resistance when holding a lantern. Great for dungeons.
The final layer is Relics. Relics are the focal point perk that you can put all the talismans around. I found these a little abstract and found one that increased damage the more damage you dealt without being hit and stuck with that.
However, you wouldn’t need build crafting if the game wasn’t difficult.
Hour 1-2 for me was a learning curve. The most simple mobs will give you an issue. After that, you get into a stride that carries you to the first dungeon. Then they turn it up to 11.
You have to memorize the dungeons if you want to get out in one piece. Each section has its own layout and encounters where your approaches have to differ. Some have one big enemy where you have to pace yourself and some have a bunch where you need to quickly take them out before they all converge on you. The save points are few and far between so one misstep will send you quite far back. The boss fights at the end of these dungeons also follow suit.
Once you make it to the boss at the end of each dungeon they have an obvious mechanic that you should exploit. The arenas are big and ooze style. I found the bosses easier than the dungeons that they watched over. These areas and bosses are the only parts that nudge you to the build crafting system.
- For such a simple, mannequin art style, ambiance and design are gorgeous. Desolate castles, dark dungeons, a massive city actually had my jaw drop. They do a lot with less. This is what I expect from Elden Ring but to a much more grandiose scale.
- Most souls-like games are depressing as shit. They are always “Go massacre everything because the world sucks and you can make it suck a little less”. This is where Ashen sets itself apart. As you complete quests your town grows in both population and structure. NPC’s who in the beginning wished for death, begin to have hope in their voice, and in turn, the mood of the town changes. Your base starts to feel like home. In other Souls-likes, it feels like you fighting for some abstract cause, in Ashen what you fighting for is tangible. Because every victory strengthens it.
- Questing has you help the main members of your town through both side quests and main with tasks around the world. Each member has about 5 objectives to complete before their story is finished and I found them interesting. Some want revenge, some want to break a family curse, etc. Good stuff that will keep you engaged.
- The only complaint I have against this game could be my souls-like novice showing. Some things aren’t explained very well. Sometimes you will get a quest that you can’t complete till you’ve completed a main quest step. Things like that. The Relic system as I explained before is also convoluted.
As the Youtuber, Jim Sterling once said “ A game doesn’t have to be original, it just has to be good at what it does”( link will be below). This is Ashen to a tee. It knows the Dark Soul’s formula and does it well. If you needed a souls-like game to dip your toes into this is one to do it.