Underneath my yellow skin

The problem with Souls-like games

badass blacksmith, but a bit broken.
My buddy, Andre! Er, Bataran.

So, there’s a little game called Ashen that was exclusive to the Epic Store for a year and just was released on Steam earlier this week. I had my eye on it when it was first released, and then I noticed it was on Steam. I snapped it up and eagerly dove in. It’s a Souls-like, and I read a bit about it but not much as my thing is to go in as fresh as I can with the games. That doesn’t last long as an hour later, I’m madly Googling shit. Unfortunately, in the case of Ashen, not many people have played, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. I was immediately taken by the graphics as it felt very paper-craft/cut-out to me. It had a charm to it, and the little bit of reviews I read were mostly positive. I knew there were AI companions, and I was on the fence about that going in. Still on the fence now, but I’ll get to that later as well.

Jumping in, there was very little character creation, but I made her look as Asian as possible. I wasn’t able to name her, unfortunately, but then I just jumped in. The buttons were mostly the same, but there were a few that made me raise my eyebrow. One was putting jump on Y. Um, no. That’s not where the jump goes. I tried to put it on A, but that was was for interaction, and I was sternly informed that they could not be on the same button. I swapped the two, which isn’t ideal, but A has to be jump. Just as B is roll. This is life. This is how it  is. And it can never be changed.

The rest of the controls are similar enough, but we’ll come back to the jump in a bit. I  know I keep saying this, but I’m trying to do this in an orderly fashion, which is not like me at all.

In the beginning, I have some rubbish weapon and some rubbish clothing and a rubbish shield. The enemies aren’t very memorable, and the spear-chucking woman quickly gets irritating. Also, spear-throwing is…um…problematic. That’s your projectile in this game, and you have to aim it. It’s not enough to lock on it and throw. You have to manually aim to throw the spear, which when you’re running around and fighting enemies in general is not doable for me.

I love the look of the game and the combat initially was satisfying. The story was interesting, though not that original, and I really liked…um, Bataran I think his name is. He’s Andre in my mind, the blacksmith from Dark Souls and  Dark Souls III. He only has one arm, and he has some sickness that will probably make him lose the other. In addition, and this is pure speculation, it could drive him mad and make him the final boss. It’s funny how Dark Souls has trained me to be distrustful of everything and everyone. Right off the bat, I had to find his hammer and spark. Then, when I went to return them to him, the game asked if I wanted to give them to him or keep them for myself. What? My immediate instinct was to not give it to him because I don’t trust anyone. Eventually, I did, and nothing bad happened. Weirdly, I still have the items as artifacts in my inventory.

The first hub town is Vagrant’s Rest. You have to fetch NPCs to the town, which is an interesting mechanic. I like them, but it’s funny because the first one is Jokell, and he’s just there. He starts following you, and I was like, “Who the hell is this? Is he going to attack me?” Nope. Turns out to be a friend, but I call him Alfred. Why? Because of Alfred from Bloodborne. Similar look and similar ‘woe is me’ feel to him. Similar father issues. If Jokell turns out to *spoilers* lose his ever-loving mind and kill the vampire queen, then I’ll know for sure.

Ok. I’m sure you hear some of the reticence in my words, and I’ll just jump into it. The first three hours, I was really into the game. It felt like Dark Souls (lite), it worked pretty much like Dark Souls, and I was enjoying it as an acceptable substitute. No, the combat isn’t as good, but what is? I’ve done the first boss, which I think of as the tutorial boss, and up to that point, I was perfectly happy playing the game. I was optimistic, and then I started venturing out past Vagrant’s Rest.

*sigh*

is this good?
Look at me and my bestie, Bataran!

I hate doing this, I really do. I wanted to like this game and really sink my teeth into it. Before I get into that, it’s weird to always have an NPC companion. Not sure I’m down with it, especially as they’re not that smart. That aside, here are my issues with the game. They were always there, but I could ignore them until they added up to FUCK THIS SHIT. One. There is a slight nausea when I play the game. It’s third person, and I’ve messed with the FOV, but I can’t get it quite right. It’s not bad, and I could deal with it if it were the only issue.

Another problem–the map. There’s an overall map with markers, but it has the Borderlands problem in that it doesn’t differentiate between levels, height-wise. It’s frustrating to be right next to a marker and not know how the hell I can reach it. In addition, the jump is way too fiddly. You have to be in a certain spot, and the prompt has to come up, and you can’t always tell what is jumpable and what isn’t. Yes, I know the Dark Souls jump is janky, but it’s not something to be emulated. This jump is even jankier, and it’s one of the reasons I fell off this game.

A third problem is that there is no fast travel. Yes, there is the equivalent of the Homeward Bone that sends me to Vagrant’s Rest, but I don’t want to use them because they are so expensive. 2,000….um, souls? No, Scoria, I think. At this point in the game, that’s a lot. I did the quest to get the Estus Flask, and I upgraded it twice. I now have 5 swigs, and, no, it’s not actually called the Estus Flask. It’s the Crimson Gourd, but I’m calling it by the Souls name because that’s how it goes. It wouldn’t be so bad, the no fast travel, except every time you do a quest or a side quest, you have to go back to Vagrant’s Rest to talk to whomever gave you the quest. It got old real fast, I can tell you that for free. I know there is no fast travel for the first half of the OG DS, but you didn’t have to go back to Firelink Shrine every ten minutes. In addition, it’s doubly frustrating when one of the NPCs was accompanying me on the quest and then I still had to return to Vagrant’s Rest to turn in the quest TO THAT PERSON.

I am in the minority, I think, but one of the reasons I don’t play the original Dark Souls as much as the other two is because of the lack of fast travel. I understand immersion, but at some point, it’s just a pain in the ass. Especially since in this game at this point, you can only buy things in Vagrant’s Rest. Ok, that’s note exactly true. You can buy things off the travelers, but not anything I actually want to buy/do. All the upgrades are in Vagrant’s Rest, so I have to take my scoria back there in order to spend it. Like in Souls, if you die, you have one chance to recover it, then it’s gone for good.

I have not have that issue. Because there are NPCs, I have not died much, and three times it’s been to environmental bullshit. I don’t have an issue with that, obviously, but I do have an issue with having to carry the souls with me all over the map. Or rather, not having anything to buy with it except the big things. Also, you can’t trade in items; there is no storage box at this point; and the inventory is minuscule. Then again, most of it is crap, anyway, but I hate dropping items without getting anything for them in return.

Again, most of this I could deal with on their own, but the cumulative effect is me not wanting to play the game. Another huge issue for me is that if you leave an area, even by a foot, all the enemies in that area repopulate. That is utter bullshit, and that’s what ultimately broke me. Here’s the scene. Relatively new area, swirling dust/snow/ash. Lots of enemies just rushing at me. There is one bonfire per area, and I have a hard time finding it when I’m out in the wild. I like the environments, but each individual one kinda blends all together. Plus, with the limited enemy variants, it doesn’t make the sections at all remarkable. I have died at least three times frantically looking for the bonfire, dying less than five feet away from one once. Just to note, it’s not a bonfire in this. It’s a stele of some sort, and it’s not easy to spot.

So, the final straw was me being in the desert area with Alfie after talking to a new NPC and doing a quest for her. I painstakingly make my way to the point on the map to pick up the thing for her, and there’s a jump. I missed it and died, and then painstakingly made my way back again. Except, I couldn’t get to the point on the map because…reasons? I found the thing I needed, then I kept looking for my souls. I tried to make the jump and fell, but I had enough health not to die, and I went back to try again, but! In order to get to that point, I had to be assisted in a climb (that’s a thing) and Jokell was still on the other side. Then, he died, and I couldn’t go to revive him, and I decided to go back to the bonfire, reset, and try again.

Guess what? All the enemies were back. I ran around trying to find the bonfire, but everything looked the goddamn same. I had probably twenty enemies on my heels, and I had no Estus. I managed to make it back, but I was furious. I set down the controller, and I was done. I may try again, but the bloom is definitely off the rose.

Here’s the problem with Souls-like games. I have a thing in my head saying, “Would I rather be playing Souls?” Once I reach the point of me saying yes every minute, the game is toast. If you’re fashioning your game after Dark Souls, any change you make better be an improvement. In this case, it isn’t. It’s a shame because I want to like this game so much, but, alas, I don’t. I’ll probably go back to playing Dark Souls or Dark Souls III.

 

 

 

 

 

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