Dark Souls fans will argue into eternity what makes the Souls series what it is. And I don’t think there’s one answer. But New Zealand developer Aurora44 has one take on that with Ashen, a dark, open-world game that takes more than a few pages from the Souls games to good effect.
Ashen is a world without a sun. The only light comes from the glowing ash drifting about in the world. For all the influence the game pulls from the Souls games, the title Ashen seems like it may be a bit on the nose. But for fans of those games, it seems there’s going to be a lot to like.
This game is a lonely one. Like Dark Souls, it’s a single-player experience dotted with interactions with other players. Don’t expect to hop on with your best bud and conquer the world together, though. The team is sticking hard to the idea of brief encounters with strangers.
Unlike Souls, though, they want to keep these interactions positive. There’s no Phantom system here. If you’re playing online (it can be played offline, Aurora44 confirmed), other players will simply appear in your game seamlessly. But they can’t attack you or make your life harder. Interactions are all cooperative, and the developer is taking any measures it can to keep even the most roundabout trolling from working For example, player characters cannot collide with each other in the game world. That means that you can’t stand in front of a doorway and keep someone from progressing, you jerk.
The game world is filled with scraps of story and hidden areas to check out. We’ll discover bits of story here and loot there, without the game ever dropping heavily into a cutscene to just push story down the player’s gullet.
Combat, so far, seems sharp and responsive. The session I watched was hands-off, but watching the players go at it suggests the team is putting a lot of time into tuning the combat system to make sure it offers some challenge and depth. This is something we can’t really know for sure until we have some time to play it, but it looks good.
Speaking of looking good, the visuals are one way the game is separating itself from stuff like Dark Souls. As Aurora44 is a smaller developer, they’re having to maximize their time and limited budget. Instead of going for ultra-detailed visuals, the visuals of Ashen feel more like a sketch than a finished drawing. Characters are cel-shaded humanoids with fluid movement, but they don’t have much in the way of facial features the same way a sketch will work to convey the most important parts of the image while leaving the less important stuff at the wayside.
The team says that right now, the plan is for Ashen to feature cross-buy and cross-play with Xbox One and PC. The Xbox One X will show the game off at 4K resolution. The game is set right now to be an Xbox One X launch title, which puts it on Microsoft’s Xbox and PC marketplaces on November 7, 2017, though the team is still listing the release date as TBD.