If you like Dark Souls-style combat, but with the potential to play the campaign with another person in a very stylized looking world, then you should add Ashen to your “games to watch list.” I had the pleasure to meet with the game’s developers who work at Aurora44, which has a team consisting of many former WETA Digital employees who worked on the Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Hobbit franchises with Peter Jackson. When I found this out I knew the demo would be special, and I wasn’t disappointed after they fired up the game on two different screens to showcase its passive multiplayer system.
It’s this mechanic that I found most interesting while watching them play the game and listening to their rehearsed speeches. What this system allows you to do is to seamlessly join, or have other random players or friends join your game without ever seeing menus, lobbies, or other prompts about joining someone else’s game, or them joining yours.
You could literally be exploring the open world on your own and run into a stranger, at which point you two could go and explore together to score your own loot drops (each player gets the loot) by killing random enemies, or exploring a cave dungeon to fight a boss. When you play with two players there will also be puzzles geared towards that setup, but even if you’re alone and come across a two player-centric puzzle, the game will dynamically have an AI character help you out.
I got to see two players encounter each other in the woods, and then they headed off to a cave to explore for some loot, because that’s what Ashen is all about. It’s a true open world title with minimal direction and plenty of secrets and loot to find. Once in the cave I noticed that the players were free to explore as they saw fit. There is no invisible leash keeping them in range with each other, so there is plenty of freedom to forge your own path even if you’re playing with another player.
While in the cave I also got to see how light plays a major role in this game, which is also reflected in the environments. In the world of Ashen there is no sun, only ash clouds, so any form of light is rare. While in the cave the players had to use their lanterns to see, but also as strategic items during a boss fight, which looked like a chaotic ballet between the two players and the boss. With some hard work the boss was vanquished and both players received some unique loot to add to their treasure stores, so the cave adventure paid off in spades.
Ashen doesn’t really have a traditional progression system, but players will realize the growth of their characters through a town mechanic. Essentially players will have towns and over time as they explore and find new characters and items the town will grow. This growth therefore represents the growth of the player, so rather than getting XP and ability upgrades, Ashen ops for a more natural progression system through the expansion of your town. It well offer a story too, but much more in the vein of a Journey over a traditional action game.
Ashen is due out during April of 2018, and it will be an Xbox One exclusive. If you like Dark Souls’ skill based combat, but would rather be in a more stylized looking world that offers the potential to play with another player, Ashen has a formula that will tickle your fancy. Stay tuned for more updates as the game approaches its spring 2018 release!
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