Ed. Note: There will be spoilers in this review. I feel the need to say that because the DLC dropped this week and not months/years ago. If you are going to play the DLC and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read this review. Then again, if you’re a Souls aficionado, you’ve probably already played it. If that’s the case, then let me know what you thought of the DLC!
I just beat the DLC for Dark Souls III, and I have many thoughts about it. This is the first of two DLC planned for DS III, and I was curious what they were going to do with it. I thought the ending to DS III was fitting, and I must admit, I had a hard time imagining that the DLC could improve upon it. I also was experiencing Dark Souls fatigue near the end of the game, which is very common for me. I’m not very good at Souls games, so I take much longer to get through them than do most players*. What is easy for others is a struggle for me. Still. I doubt those who breeze through Souls feel the same satisfaction I do when I finally, finally, beat the boss I’d been killed by a dozen times prior. I have been doing two more playthroughs of the main game, one melee and one caster, based on miracles rather than magic this time. Let me just say that all the Souls players who hate on casters without ever playing as one can go jump in a lake. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that magic is the easy mode when I watch Souls content. “Magic is too OP.” Blah, blah, blah. Now that I’ve played as a pure melee character (with a Greataxe, bitches. I’ve never had my strength over thirty, and now I have it up to forty), I can say with authority that being a melee player is much easier. MUCH. Oh my god. Strength and poise for DAYS. Health up the yin-yang. So much damage. I will definitely write a post about that, maybe when I’m done with my melee playthrough, but suffice to say that I solo-killed two of the four bosses I co-oped during my first playthrough. I have three bosses left, and two of them are the other two I co-oped on. I’m going to take them on solo, and I anticipate that I’ll have less problems with both of them.
Anyway, the DLC. Ashes of Ariandel. First of all, I had problems with installing it. Ian bought me the season pass along wit the main game, which means the DLC should have automatically installed. It didn’t. I was playing the main game when it dropped, so I checked when I was done. Not installed. I looked at the forums, and there were several people having the same problem. I looked at the DLC page on Steam, and people had already left angry reviews in the vein of, “I bought the season pass, but still have to buy the DLC? WTF?” I shook my head at how impatient and childish people were being. I mean, I understand being upset about not having something you paid for–I was unsettled myself–but chances were that something had gone wrong–not that we couldn’t actually access the game. I read the forums some more, then signed out of my Steam account and signed back in. Nothing. I verified the integrity of my game cache, but still nothing. I started the game and quit. Somewhere along the line, I got the DLC. I didn’t play it that day because I was Souls out by that point, but when I went back to it the next day, it was installed.
I didn’t know much about the DLC before I started playing it because I like to go in fresh to a new Souls experience. I did watch the cinematic trailer, so I knew the DLC would be set in a snowy world, which is always cool with me, no pun intended. I heard there would be ice spells, which really excited me, and there was going to be a dedicated PvP arena with team combat. PvP isn’t my thing, but it’s a big part of the Souls community, so I’m pleased that FromSoft included it in the DLC. I knew there would be new weapons and difficult bosses, of course. I assumed there would be three because that was the standard for each of the DS II DLCs. There were technically four in the original DS DLC, but one doesn’t really count, so I’d say it actually had three bosses as well.
Weirdly enough, I was oddly reluctant to start the DLC, and I’m not exactly sure why. It was partly fatigue, but it was more that I couldn’t see the DLC being as good as the main game, no matter which way I looked at it. Then again, the DLC of the original game was amazing–arguably the best part of the entire game, and certainly contained the toughest bosses. Actually, I think that’s mostly why I was so reluctant to start the DLC. I remember how hard they were and how much the DLC from DS II kicked my flat, yellow, caster’s ass. It was fucking brutal for a caster, and I had no qualms about co-oping the bosses of all three DLC. I was so intimidated, I considered waiting until I finished the game with my melee character before starting the DLC, but something inside me rebelled. As much as I enjoyed playing as a melee character, I’m a caster at heart. I would feel as if I betrayed my nature if I didn’t tackle the DLC with my pyromancy, magic, and miracles first, so taking a deep breath, I dove in.
Let me rephrase that. I tried to dive in, but I had to find the entry point first. FromSoft loves to make the access to the DLC as obtuse and obscure as possible, and for the past two games, I used the wikis to find out how to start the DLC. I kid you not that in the first game, you had to kill a hydra in a lake first (which is part of the main game). Then, you have to kill the Golden Crystal Golem who spawns in the lake after the hydra is killed. Inside it is Dusk of Oolacile. Once you free her, you go to the Duke’s Archives and kill a crystal golem there. He’s staring at a map or globe or something and is not interested in you at all–until you hit him. He drops a broken pendant when he dies but ONLY after you rescue Dusk. Then, you have to return to the hydra lake and there’s a portal that will take you to the DLC. I don’t know how the hell someone figured that out, but mad props to them.
For this DLC, I tried to reason my way to the access point. Since there’s snow in the trailer, I traveled to the Irithyll of the Boreal Valley because it’s a snowy land in the game. I went to Anor Londo and looked at the paintings because they looked similar to what I saw in the trailer. I tried to enter them (that’s how you enter a hidden world in the original game) to no avail. I went to other major parts of Anor Londo, but I couldn’t find anything. Ian told me that I needed to go to a place and do a thing,** but I did not need an item. That eased my mind somewhat, and I continued trying various places in the game. I went to the Deacons of the Deep (boss) bonfire dressed as the archdeacon because–I don’t even remember why, but it made sense in my brain at the time. Nada. I spent an hour or so trying to find the DLC entry point, but I couldn’t. I decided to watch the launch trailer to see if there were any clues in it. I saw an area that looked like the Deacons of the Deep arena, but then I realized that it was in the same area, but at an earlier bonfire. I went there, and there was an NPC that hadn’t been there before. I talked to him and he told me a story of a painted world (much like the one in the original game), holding out a scrap of rotted painting. I touched it, and then I entered the Painted World of Ariandel.
Almost immediately, I was beset by enemies galore. Hollows that are called Followers, witch tree ladies who throw fire orbs at you, and wolves who attack you even if you’re invisible and have your footsteps muted as I did throughout the entire area. Can I just say that the combination of the Hidden Body spell (invisibility, or close enough) and the Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring (muffles footsteps) is a godsend for a caster? I ran my way through that first area with the combo making me nearly undetectable, grabbing items as I went. I raced my way forward, reapplying the Hidden Body spell as I ran, sighing in relief when I found a bonfire. I knew there were things I’d skipped in my run up to the bonfire, but I figured I’d go back and get it at some point. I am not a big fan of mobs of enemies, and I couldn’t imagine doing this section as a caster without my spell/ring combination. As I’ve said a hundred times, I’m old and my reflexes are slow. Having to deal with ten or fifteen enemies at a time is definitely not my thing.
My main feeling as I played through the beginning of the DLC was one of being underwhelmed. The setting was gorgeous, but something about it left me empty. One thing I really liked about the main game, though others found irritating, was all the callbacks to the previous games in the series, including Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne. I was ambivalent about this callback, though. I really liked the Painted World of Ariamis in the original game, but it feels…I just have to say it, unoriginal to duplicate it for this DLC. Also, lazy. I realize that Miyazaki has set an impossible bar to clear and that he’s going to get shit if he strays too far from the lore, but this really felt like playing it safe. The hollows are pretty basic, though some of them do a neat trick of blowing on a torch in a makeshift flamethrower kind of way. I have one, and it’s fun to play with, but because I’m a pyromancer, I don’t have much need for it.
The ice spells are a disappointment. One adds ice to your weapon, which is similar to spells that add fire, magic, crystal magic, lightning or dark to your weapon. I don’t use those spells very often, but they’re decent. The other is Snap Freeze. It emits a cloud of ice that freezes your opponent, but you have to be really damn close in order for it to work. There’s a miracle as well, Way of White Corona, that sends out a Frisbee of white light that slices your opponent before returning to you. It doesn’t do much damage, but maybe I’m using it wrong. I feel like I’m missing something with the second spell and the miracle, so I’ll fiddle with them some more and see if I can make them work. The thing is, I prefer my pyromancies by far as I went almost pure pyro this time. One of the coolest things about the DLC is that there’s a second Pyromancy Flame to be found, this one called Pyromancer’s Parting Flame. It trails flames as it leaves your hand, damaging anyone in its path, and if you have it equipped in your left hand and kill several enemies, you can use the skill attack and get one extra Estus Flask. The regular kind, not the ashen kind. The latter would actually make more sense and be more appreciated, but whatever. I was a bit disappointed to find out that you can only do that if it’s equipped in your left hand, which means I can’t wield a shield at the same time. It’s better with lower intelligence/faith stats than the regular Pyromancy Flame, but not as good with high intelligence/faith, which I have. Still. It’s fun to dual-wield pyromancy flames and fire off spells at a rapid pace. Plus, it looks badass, and that’s what’s really important.
The Pyromancer’s Parting Flame belonged to a pyromancer named Livid Pyromancer Dunnel, and you can fight him, but it’s hard to get to him. I killed him by doing the ultimate cheese using my beloved Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring combo. I hit him with a Chaos Bed Vestiges pyromancy from quite a distance, then stopped. He’d flinch, but not move because he couldn’t detect me. I repeated this several times until he was dead. This was after he killed me one time because I foolishly tried to take him on head-to-head. I suck at PvP, but I will say that I’ve done much better at it with my melee character. I’ve won something like five matches and only lost one. When I killed Livid Pyromancer Dunnel, I got the Floating Chaos Pyromancy in return. It’s an orb that spits out fireballs at the enemy. It’s fun, but it’s still not as powerful as my other pyromancies. I’m glad to add it to my arsenal of fire weapons.
This is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up for now and finish it up in another post. I still have many thoughts on the DLC, and, yes, I’m going to play it again with my melee character at the very least. I should try to take my other caster into it because she’s following the path of Yuria, who is the sister of–I’ll save it for the next post. Later!
*Personally, I think many Souls players fudge how long it takes them to play because they want to appear like badasses, but that’s just a theory I have.
**I asked him to give me a hint, but not a spoiler from the reviews he’d read. That was the hint he gave me.