In the first of its pair of DLC’s, Dark Souls 3 brings us Ashes of Ariandel, a new journey into an old world. Thorough fans of Dark Souls 1 will of course remember the Painted World of Ariamis from the first game, and as one might surmise, this is a throwback trip to the same destination. But just how much is different in this water coloured world, and is it worth the price?
Unlike previous Souls DLC, Ashes of Ariandel is not an adventure in and of itself to merely activate. Rather than needing to continually reload the game, or find a key in some unrelated part of the map, or even kill yourself in a specific trap to begin the expanded adventure, you merely speak with an old prostrating knight at the Cathedral of the Deep. And boop; ye find yeself in yon Painted World. Markedly different from the rest of the level design in Dark Souls 3, the Painted World of Ariandel is immediately wide open and vast. Without corridors or clear pathing to follow, you strive into boundless snow-scapes, fighting Viking-esque enemies packed together in frosted woodlands. While it can be a subtle change, this experimentation with the traditional level design sets the tone for the inhospitable setting.
As one would expect with Dark Souls, there are many ways to go and there is no clear right answer as far as where to go first. Several interlacing paths form the entirety of The Painted World, and loop back on each other in interesting manners. Unfortunately, the reasoning for this is less pleasant than the result, and it’s that Ariandel’s world is frankly quite small. Definitely larger than its previous appearance in Dark Souls 1, except rather than being a hidden, entirely optional and secret level for those who stumbled upon it, it is now a $15 DLC. Exacerbating this issue is a decidedly nontraditional approach to the bosses residing in this world: there are only two. One of which is optional, though required to access the PVP offerings.
Defeating this boss gives you access to the Undead Match option at the Firelink Shrine bonfire. Here you can queue up for either Duels where it’s one life a piece and the last man standing wins, or a Brawl where the Undead with the most kills when the times up is the winner. So whether you’re a hardcore, meta-building Dark Souls PVPer or just looking for some fun invasion hijinks at a moments notice, the Undead Match has you covered! I didn’t participate in this too much, though I can definitely see the appeal in the execution.
Aside from map layout, boss fights, and the PVP, Ashes of Ariandel bring with it a variety of new items and spells. From flails, sword-and-shield paired weapons, greatbows, miracles, pyromancies, there are many interesting weapons for a variety of playstyles. While these new items afford more variety to the PVP offerings in the arena and in the base game, these are primarily augments to the base game. The actual Painted World itself is relatively barren, and as mentioned, small. Running through the entirety of the DLC took a maximum of four-five hours, and that was with a breadth of exploration and backtracking.