In Ashen, You Survive Together or You Die Alone

When delving into dungeons in games, I often have to ask “Who is the one tending to all the torches and candles that light my path in these forgotten tombs?” In Ashen, however, the answer to that question is simply: No one. And if you aren’t managing what little illumination you bring with you – you’ll be dead before you know what hit you.

In the demo I played, I moved from the muted and overcast woodlands teeming with bandits to a large stone door where a companion awaited me. Finding a friend you can trust in these wilds is a key factor of Ashen. Without the two of us working together, that door would not be opening. Inside were claustrophobic tunnels leading deeper underground, and it was there I quickly learned that teamwork was not only helpful – it was essential.

You can carry up to two different weapons at a time (I found an axe and spear from killing bandits outside), but bigger weapons means no free hand to light your path. Combat feels almost painfully slow even with one-handed weapons, and from it a new task was born of keeping a wary eye out for new monsters trying to surprise my partner while he cut down the enemies in front of him. While my spear looked very enticing, the risk of leaving myself in the dark was too great (and I wasn’t sure my new friend would be willing stick close to compensate).

While my spear looked very enticing, the risk of leaving myself in the dark was too great.

We both carried lanterns in our off-hand, but as the space between us grew, so too did the shadows and darkness all around us. In that inky void lurked horrors that threatened to cut us down if we didn’t work as a team to watch each other’s backs. Besides a few fleeting strands of ambient light, the lanterns were the only source of salvation – and their reach only illuminated a few paces in all directions. Enemies seem to make use of this – as I soon found out.

Exploring a side passage hiding meager food and water to replenish health and bolster stamina, I noticed my partner had disappeared. Venturing down a passage, I realized why: A hole at the end of the tunnel had swallowed him up. Jumping down, I realized too late the warning signs: My partner and his lantern were nowhere to be found. From the darkness around me, a new powerful creature stalked me – dashing into my dimly lit sanctuary to slice away my health before slinking back to the shadows. Without my comrade, I had no way of flushing out the monster, and no way of telling where it would attack from. Even the meager food I had did little to offset his attacks, and my corpse became the next permanent resident of the tomb.

I’m still not sold on Ashen’s slow combat – certain encounters felt hard to react to quickly – and I’m worried the larger monsters teased in the latest trailer will demand quick reflexes to survive. I also didn’t find the outdoors nearly as thrilling as the catacombs, since human opponents felt stiff and tedious compared to the monsters below. Instead I hope we’ll be spending more time in the dark, and hopefully with a friend.

Brendan Graeber is an Editor at IGN, and spends his nights under the belief that he’s Batman. You can follow his odd thoughts on Twitter.


Source: IGN Video Games

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