Ashen is another half-forgotten indie long-term construction, suddenly released in December. I talked about the other - Below - within the framework of the cycle "30 main games of 2018" and they have common features with Ashen. Both games are mysterious and melancholic, both imbued with a dark atmosphere, reminiscent of a journey in the spirit of Journey, but make you suffer like in Dark Souls. I was waiting for both after the announcement, but over the years of development I managed to forget ... Yes, comparisons with From games are a taboo topic and a separate meme, but in the case of Ashen we are really talking about a follower of the Souls series. And this is an important point: about the follower, not about the clone.
Initially, the text was published as part of the same cycle "30 main games of 2018", but since then I have played more than ten hours in Ashen, significantly expanded the original material and decided on the estimate.
First of all, Ashen borrows the most basic things from the Souls series. A battle system built on timing and endurance with dash and somersault - one to one Bloodborne . A significant part of the lore is revealed through descriptions of objects, which, however, are always expanded with quotes from characters, but this addition does not overturn the foundations. Conditional “souls” that drop from enemies are also in place as currency, as are analogs of bonfires and estus. And many more characters speak slowly, in soft voices, weaving together hints instead of giving information directly. The list can be long, but it makes no sense - you all know perfectly well what Souls is.
What is much more important: Ashen successfully and accurately borrows the common vibe of "souls" - this is again a story about the opposition of light and darkness. Only in a more literal sense - the darkness (which is, rather, an analogue of the abyss) in Ashen is not dissipated by fire, as in Dark Souls, namely the light emitted by the bird-goddess Ash. Long ago, she filled the worlds with her own light, and then weakened, grew old and died. Three of her last breaths became "golden" eras and then darkness reigned. The general philosophy of Ashen is clear: light is good, but not absolute, not always and not for everyone. However, darkness, no matter how destructive it may be, is not evil by definition, it was always here, long before Ash arrived. Darkness is the beginning and will always be: in the world and in human hearts. Because people are the children of Gefna, who is able to swim in the darkest corners of the universe, which means that humanity always carries a piece of darkness within itself. This is probably why people did not disappear in the dark era - they scattered, degraded, lost their great city of Latiria, but remained to live.
Ashen is a story about the opposition of darkness and light. The story of an almost decayed, destroyed world, all the inhabitants of which turned into parasites on the body of a decaying universe. A story inspired not only by the legends about Lordran, but also by Eastern and Scandinavian mythology, and therefore in many ways original and memorable.
But if in Dark Souls the dawn was mythical, unattainable, then in Ashen on the contrary - this universe has already survived its darkest days and is slowly being reborn. Ash is about to rise on the remains of its own decayed body. We should help her in this - the light needs protection. Because the older dark ones, who gained strength at the first breath of the goddess, desire the final reign of the era of darkness.
The main symbol of the revival is the vagrant's shelter, an abandoned village, which the hero clears out and makes his base at the very beginning. This is our Temple of Fire, all the characters will flock here, here we will store things, improve equipment, brew potions and pump. The further along the plot, the more the village changes. It fills with life, grows, shacks turn into beautiful houses of white stone, and even the rare ragamuffins are transformed and find hope. Now this is completely different from Dark Souls!
True, then you descend into an ancient dungeon, where the real Darkness is still alive - here you begin to feel that the old scars of this world have not gone anywhere and are ready to open up. And remember - the World Tree is rooted in the deepest depths, where not a single ray of light has never penetrated.
There are many other differences - sometimes positive, sometimes not very. Weapons, for example, in the game are of the same type, differ in speed, size and ... in general, everything. It doesn't matter with what exactly to go through the game, the main thing is to pump the combat weapon on time. And, I must say, in the later stages there is a great lack of unique strikes and ligaments - the combat system gradually tires with monotony. Dark Souls only seemed like a two-button, in fact it was a real slasher. And in Ashen, the difficulty is also uneven: sometimes it falls so much that the child will pass, and sometimes it flies up to the skies - you will reach the location "Matriarch's Estate", you will understand what I mean. Only the final boss is worse.
Also in Ashen you will almost always be accompanied by a partner - it can be either a live player or an AI. In the second case, it will be difficult. The point is not only in the stupidity of the ally, but also in the fact that sometimes he just freezes and stands still - and there are places that are simply impossible to pass alone! And in general, the location and the number of enemies are pushing towards a cooperative, passing alone is a separate level of hardcore.
All this on the one hand. On the other hand, Ashen has amazing locations - huge maps that open linearly, but each one individually is just an ocean of secrets. The local analogue of Anor London is generally made so well that the game would remain interesting if it were its only level at all. However, one can find fault here too, because one wants to explore the world, it is pleasant to find secret paths, but financially, the game for curiosity cannot encourage. Unique armor and weapons are rare, even in the most secluded corners there are often banal resources for pumping weapons.
But with the lore and the plot as a whole, the developers have worked excellently - the secrets of Ashen attract, it is interesting to understand the structure of its world, and to absorb the philosophy. There are not too many characters here, but the story of each of your companions is detailed and touching in its own way - like in the best role-playing games.
Progression is also arranged differently - it is much simpler than in Dark Souls, but you will not refuse it in grace. Souls cannot be exchanged for stat enhancements in Ashen. And there are only two main parameters - health and endurance. To increase them, you need to complete tasks - secondary and storyline (there are equal parts of them here) - as well as look for the lost feathers of Ash, scattered around the world. The rest of the parameters, such as the rate of recovery of stamina or defense indicators, are configured using equipment, potions and talismans, which you can hang on yourself as much as five pieces. Everything is arranged so that a meticulous player can maximally customize the hero for himself and at any time change the "build" for the situation. If you don't want to - please, the hero becomes stronger as the story progresses, and new, more powerful equipment no, no, and even comes across on the main path.
Well, at the top of all the advantages of the game is its visual performance. Look with one eye - like, the usual "polygonal indie" (a phenomenon no less rare than indie "pixel"). But don't get fooled - try it yourself. When these simple shapes come to life in soft light and muted colors, the effect is extraordinary. The game is actually filled with pinpoint details, against which the faceless characters (they literally have no faces) look especially otherworldly, which only helps the atmosphere.
Here - pushed into the background, but not lost, the atmosphere of a gloomy oriental fairy tale. No gins, but with authentic architecture, carpets and music. Not the most well-worn setting, which in Ashen and more familiar fantasy is successfully mixed.
Ashen doesn't just echo the Dark Souls formula, but mixes it up again with a unique vision. And if Nioh reimagined the combat system, then Ashen focuses on the universe and the atmosphere. It turns out very well. It is a bit drawn out, and the battles lack depth, but it is still one of the best followers of the Souls series. In 2017, I gave The Surge (2017) an eight , but if it came out after Ashen, the requirements for it would be much higher.