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A Souls-Like Rebirth: Ashen Review

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Souls-like games are extremely hard to get right, and with masterpieces that define the genre becoming increasingly common, many titles struggle to make a niche for themselves in this group of games. In steps Ashen, and with unique ideas and even more unusual presentation, there is a lot to talk about regarding this cel-shaded souls-like.

Platforms: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC [Reviewed]
Developer: A44
Publishers: Annapurna Interactive, Xbox Game Studios
Release: December 7, 2018
MSRP: $39.99

The comparisons to Dark Souls, however, leave for good once anyone with any knowledge in either game begins to play Ashen. Ashen is a much simpler, shorter, and more elegant experience. The game takes the dark atmosphere of Dark Souls and adds a heaping helping of comfort and light. It is hard to describe the experience of playing Ashen for the first time, but it is safe to say that it is an unforgettable experience that flips the aesthetic of Dark Souls completely without losing any depth.

Ashen is a much happier game, a game about rebirth rather than death. From the beginning, the game hits you with this feeling. The story supports this, being much simpler than the epic and highly detailed Dark Souls. But, it also begins to get deeper the more you play, supporting the idea that this world is arising into something new, not descending into undeath. In short, the story works well, even though it isn't as deep as other souls-like games.

Ashen Blacksmith Hitting Board

Presentation-wise, Ashen's sound design is probably its shining feature. The sound is clear, crisp, and clean. Every action has a unique feeling that represents it, and they are very satisfying to listen to while playing. Everything is exceptionally well-designed in that way, and it is a true pleasure to listen to. Visually, the game has a clear theme, and even though it takes odd stylistic choices such as removing faces, it does it well enough and coherently enough so as to draw the player in rather than scare them away.

Gameplay is where Ashen again takes a unique approach, and rather than making every level a trip in between bosses, it turns every boss into a gate into a new area, flipping the typical souls-like formula on its head. There are a limited number of bosses, but that isn't the appeal of Ashen. Rather, the building of a new home in the main town, the unlocking of new areas, and the exploration that comes with it, all combine to create a truly exceptional development in the souls-like genre.

Ashen Inventory Screen

That is not to say Ashen is flawless, however. Some areas are better designed than others, and some are just frustrating to get through. However, the most frustrating part of Ashen is actually the main appeal for some: the multiplayer. The so-called "passive multiplayer" that Ashen advertises serves to detract from the experience rather than add to it. I found myself when actually wanting to play with random people online, unable to do so for long. And, when I wanted to play with friends, I found myself disappointed by the lack of features available. For instance, players can't see each other's gear or skins, making it difficult to tell if that's actually their friend playing or just another random person.

I really wish Ashen had added a setting for turning off passive multiplayer, and also added a setting for inviting friends. One of these without the other doesn't work, and since the game is designed around this idea of multiplayer interactivity, it does seriously detract from the experience to rework this system.

Ashen Listener's Ridge View

However, the multiplayer isn't the main reason to play this game, despite the advertisement to the contrary, and the strength of the exploration, bosses, and game systems make Ashen an easy recommendation for anyone interested in this genre.


  • Excellent presentation, both in terms of visuals and audio
  • Coherent and masterfully developed theme and aesthetic
  • Extremely strong souls-like gameplay
  • Compelling exploration
  • Bosses are very fun
  • Beginner-friendly
  • Available on many platforms


  • Multiplayer is difficult to get used to
  • Gear and armor is client-side only
  • Some areas are frustrating to get through
  • Few bosses
  • Village-building could use more player interaction




Great games are generally good buying decisions and are recommended for those with an interest in the genre. There might be a few flaws that detract from the gameplay, story, controls, presentation, or value, but the game is still an enjoyable experience that justifies a full playthrough.

Want to know what this score means? Check out our Scoring Guidelines page.

About the Author: Collin Westbrook

Collin Westbrook joined in 2010 to help with Zelda Castle, and has since rejoined the staff multiple times throughout Nintendo Castle's existence. He is a lover of strategy games, platformers, and everything Nintendo. Look out for him editing guides, writing articles, and helping the site in whatever way he can.

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