Ashen is a game that has been on mind since its reveal in 2015. Something about the art-style looked appealing, and I wanted to know about that world. The Xbox console exclusive was playable on the show floor, I rushed without hesitation to play Ashen before any other video game in the building. I’m so glad I did because Ashen is genuinely something special. Developed by Aurora44 and published by Annapurna Interactive, Ashen puts players in the role of an unknown character searching for a way back to their home.
Almost immediately, the game radiates with intrigue and mystery as your faceless character starts to come together through the use of customization. You have the option to play as a male or female character as well. Movement feels slow but responsive. You move with the stick, light attack with the right bumper, heavy attack with the right trigger, dodge with B, lock-on with the right stick, and use items with X. If you’ve played games like Dark Souls, Ashen will almost feel natural. Within minutes, I was entering the menus, choosing items, and mapping them to the character’s left and right hands.
By placing a sword in the right hand, and a shield in the left, attacking enemies and defending from their advances became manageable. The open world in the demo was expansive, and with the press of the back button, a map could be opened to show you where to go. What sets Ashen apart from other games in the genre is the fact that there are side-quests, an interesting take on multiplayer, and then there is the use of light and darkness as a form of gameplay.
Sidequests are scattered throughout the open-world. You’ll find different NPCs during your adventure that will task you with doing quests for them. In the demo, one character asked me to find two items and bring them back to him. After attacking a bunch of bandits, and retrieving the requested items, it opened up another side-quest that I admittedly, didn’t know how to complete. Ashen can be quite overwhelming when you don’t know where to go, but I honestly found that to be part of the game’s charm. Additionally, when you have multiple quests active at the same time, you can prioritize which you would like to do by highlighting them on the map.
The demo didn’t feature multiplayer, but I was told that you could play with others (friends or random players) throughout your adventure. After playing with other people, they will actually become NPCs in your own world. I noticed something similar in my demo when I would go on a quest with characters, and then they would become citizens of my town shortly after completing the mission. It’s a mechanic I look forward to seeing when the full game launches.
Lastly, the use of light and darkness as a gameplay mechanic is compelling. Early in my demo, I saw a cave. I was enticed to follow a shadowy figure who led me further into the darkness. After quickly becoming frightened of the situation, and attempted to leave, it grabbed my NPC partner and forced me to try to free him. Unfortunately, it killed me in one shot. It wasn’t until I found a lantern that I found out darkness can be conquered with that item. I equipped the lantern to my left hand while holding the sword on my right, and followed a quest line into a labyrinth.
With my partner, we navigated through the caves, fighting off swarms of vicious spiders, all while trying to keep the cave lit. You can actually drop your lantern on the ground to illuminate specific sections. All of the exploring led to a showdown against a boss who became amplified by the darkness. In order to attack the beast, you needed to shed light in its direction and then attack. After a few successful hits and dodges, it burrowed into a dark hole to regain health. At this point, it took me a while to realize that I needed to place the lantern at its feet to draw the beast out.
After a few close calls, I finally landed the fatal blow and completed the battle. The demo continued, but my time with Ashen came to an end. After almost four years of wanting to play the game, I left thoroughly impressed with how Ashen is coming along. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I played the game yesterday morning. It will launch on Xbox Game Pass when it’s ready to be released. So far, this is the best game I’ve played at E3. It’ll be tough to top Ashen. Xbox owners should definitely keep an eye out for this game when it comes out. You won’t be disappointed.