It’s been awhile since I last participated in a boss fight with little to no charges left on my Estus Flask. I’ve become gradually infatuated with every Souls game churned out, dating all the way back to Demon's Souls. The dynamic boss fights and RPG-like elements keep my blood pumping. I’m always starving for more gameplay and rarely feel burned out from completing a second playthrough. In the past, developer From Software has released plenty of action packed DLC content ranging from Bloodborne: The Old Hunters to Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss, all which have surpassed the expectations held by many fans.
I think most people would agree about the challenge factor driving players towards these games over and over again. There’s just something about refusing to give up and accept defeat. In the latest DLC expansion released for Dark Souls 3, which is the first of two DLC’s planned, you’re teleported to a familiar realm known as the “Painted World” in order to uncover the mystery behind the destruction of this land. Unless you’ve played Artorias of the Abyss, there is little backstory about the Painted World and its existence.
Scratching the Paint
Once you’re at the Cleansing Chapel bonfire and speak to the NPC kneeling at your feet, you’ll be granted access to the Painted World and immediately begin your journey. Not knowing what to expect, I was giddy with excitement and tried to keep my composure while exiting the cave at the beginning.
Among your first encounters in the snowfields are new enemies known as Millwood Knights, whom deal a massive amount of physical damage. I went in as a SL 129 Knight during my second run of Dark Souls 3, so each enemy I fought was already packing a stiff punch. From Snow Wolves to Farron Followers, there are plenty of surprises waiting for players in the Painted World of Ariandel and occasionally some of them will attack in groups. The DLC zone is well-designed and getting lost among the icy peaks isn’t a difficult feat to accomplish. Bonfires may be far and few but continuous progression will unlock shortcuts that will make your life easier.
Outside of common battles with mere undead, Ashes of Ariandel offers some of the best boss fights in the history of Dark Souls and dare I say the most punishing. Sister Friede had me begging for mercy as I attempted to slay her for an hour straight, only to find out there are two more phases of the boss fight and things don’t appear to ease up. Ashes of Ariandel manages to retain the signature soundtrack known to the Dark Souls series and it isn’t hard to tell when a boss fight is on the verge of heating up. The boss soul weapons you end up unlocking make these grueling battles seem worthwhile.
There are numerous additions to the ever-growing armor collection for players looking to gear up. Engaging in combat with Phantom NPC’s will also land you their unique armor if you manage to defeat them. During my playthrough, I was able to unravel a handful of invisible walls that led me to previously unknown areas. Stretching between secret pathways, mysterious NPC’s and terrifying enemies, I think From Software did an outstanding job by mixing a myriad of components that make the Dark Souls franchise live up to its legacy.
Short But Sweet
Although the Ashes of Ariandel DLC carries a tremendous amount of potential, it comes to an abrupt halt once you’ve advanced through each area. It took me over 11 hours to fully explore the DLC by examining every nook and cranny in order to obtain and discover everything there is to offer.
The issue at hand is that not all gamers are dedicated enough to strive for bonus content. I can predict countless players rushing through the DLC in order to complete it in a matter of 4-5 hours. This amount of time can even decrease if they choose to summon other Phantoms to their game world for assistance. There is no endgame lore once you defeat both DLC bosses. If I had to take a wild guess, I would say the next expansion From Software are currently working on will continue from where we leave off in the Painted World. While this may sound disappointing to players seeking another adrenaline fueled boss fight, the Ashes of Ariandel DLC comes with the inclusion of “Undead Matches”—a new take on PvP based combat.
You can queue up for an Undead Match from the Firelink Shrine bonfire. There are a variety of alternative choices for gamers to pick, ranging from a 1v1 PvP match to a full-blown 6v6 Team Battle. You’re given an infinite number of respawns until the timer ends inside a single arena. I participated in a few Undead Matches and managed to win some, although not without putting on my utmost and supreme gear. Sadly, most players in my experience were not accepting of their opponents looking to have a bit of casual fun and attempted to use a distasteful array of unbalanced weapons against me.
Fortunately, a new patch was submitted for release with the DLC and managed to fix plenty of weapon and magic balancing issues, among other things. The sum of all the changes made to the core game alone are worth a full replay.
This full-fledged expansion is no less than amazing and has delivered on many occasions through it’s addictingly raw gameplay. It holds some of the best boss fights in Souls history and the level design has improved from previous DLC entries. While I managed to gain a positive experience from Ashes of Ariandel, there were a few things that bothered me such as the lack of additional boss fights or the single arena given with Undead Match. I hope this is a taste of what’s to come with the second Dark Souls 3 DLC expansion, which is currently set to arrive early next year. For now, there’s plenty of reason to dive into the Painted World and face the challenges ahead.