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June 14, 2017 2 min read
I can't say I'm fully on board with Ashen, a non-linear action-RPG about "forging relationships," after playing it this week at E3 and then seeing it, again, in an off-the-show-floor presentation with developer Aurora44. I need to see more of the game, especially further in. I still need some convincing. But damn do I hope it turns out well and hits the notes it needs to hit. The concept is strong if it can all come together.
Ashenwas rough around the edges in the hands-on demo I played, but more in a technical sense than anything else. The scaled-back look of the world and characters' featureless faces appeals to me, the stamina-based wait-roll-strike combat felt better than a lot of these Souls-inspired games tend to, and there were oh-shit moments of surprising imagery, like the giant woman shown in the image up top. I sure didn't expect to see her tower over me while I was down in a murky dungeon.
I also didn't expect to take a wrong turn and fall into an area that should've killed me, but didn't, enabling me to sort of run around underthe level. There were tuning and polish issues like that. It's nothing that can't be fixed (and Ashenis "targeting 2018," for what it's worth), but it's always a bummer to see during a first impression. Thankfully, the second look was much better. Ashenwas fully working as intended the next day during Aurora44's gameplay presentation with Microsoft.
Light plays an important role in the game, both in the slow-to-reveal-itself story and during world exploration. The dungeon was dark enough that I really did need a lantern to see what was what, forcing me into using a one-handed weapon (a club) as acid-spitting spiders popped out. Alternatively, I could've let another player handle lighting duties. Ashenleans into co-op with "passive multiplayer." (Think Journey.) It sounds like the developer would prefer us to "rely on" someone we don't know during this 20-hour-or-so adventure, but of course single-person play exists here as well.
One element I didn't get a sense of was progression, and for that, Ashenwill have players forming a town with NPCs and kitting themselves out with talismans that have varying benefits and downsides. I like the sound of that, and Aurora44's decision to not go stat-heavy or have loads of weapons available -- to avoid bloating this game with elements it doesn't really need -- is advisable. This is a self-published ID@Xbox (and PC) game, after all. Scope is critical. Get too ambitious and the whole things falls apart.
Coming off of E3, I think a lot of the groundwork has been laid and the potential is there, but it's too early to call for Ashen. I'm rooting for it, though. You should be too.
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