Ashen

A little over a year ago, action RPG Ashen from AA4 and Annapurna Interactive was one of the most wishlisted games on Steam. That changed abruptly when Ashen became one of the first Epic Games Store limited exclusives, along with Supergiant Games' RPG Hades, which pushed back its Steam release by a full year.

That year has come and gone (somehow) and Ashen is now available on Steam and GOG. (Hades launches on Steam tomorrow).  As you might expect for a game that's been out on another platform for a year, Ashen is discounted 20% on both sites, though it remains at full price on EGS. Purchasing it bundled with its Nightstorm Isle DLC from Steam will also get you a 20% discount, and the DLC can be purchased separately for 20% off on GOG as well.

As for how well it will sell (and what the reviews will look like) on Steam and GOG a year after its Epic Store launch, that remains to be seen. There's been no shortage of complaints about Epic exclusives from players and even some developers, particularly when it comes to games that were listed on Steam for months only to take exclusive deals with Epic shortly before they launched. Some of the Epic Store's other games, such as Satisfactory and Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, remain completely exclusive to the Epic Store, while others will similarly be available on Steam (like Genesis Alpha One, coming in January 2020) when their exclusive deals expire.

Grand Theft Auto V - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

I was homeless when I discovered Minecraft — not homeless in the street-sleeping sense, thankfully. Only in the sofa-surfing sense. I had a bed, even. The creaking cabin bed of two friends who took pity on me and let me crash for a few months in their house, while I sullied my fingertips with sambuca in a dank Yorkshire nightclub for part-time pound coins. My chin-scratching uni days had just ended, but I stubbornly refused to go back to my family house in Northern Ireland. I could do this, I reasoned, I just needed time.

Then my friend showed me how to punch a tree, and I found a new home.

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Rain World - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

Sorry, definition nerds. Soulslike is a word now. Disgusting, I know, but this is how genres are made. Along comes a giant like Dark Souls that everybody won t stop bleating about and soon it has copycats. Before you know it, a swarm of like-minded games with sparse checkpoints and lethal attacks are scuttling around, leaving slime trails and biting your ankles for surprisingly massive damage. Ugh, soulslikes. But stoop low to appreciate these little monsters, and among them you ll find some very good games about dying.

Here are ten of the best.

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Ashen

Developer A44's brooding co-op action-RPG, Ashen, is plopping its (no doubt sombre) expansion hat on next week with the arrive of its Nightstorm Isle DLC, coming to Xbox One and the Epic Store on Monday, 9th September.

Nightstorm Isle, according to publisher Annapurna Interactive, sees players accompanying a mother on a quest to find her missing daughter - a search that will lead the pair into the depths of new location Nightstorm Isle.

"Countless horrors lurk below," says Annapurna, "yet nothing will prepare you for the ancient evil they imprison." There's a taste of the terrors to come in the trailer below.

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Ashen

Following a year of Epic Games Store and Xbox One exclusivity, developer Aurora44's brooding co-op action-RPG, Ashen, will be shaking off its shackles and heading to PlayStation 4 and Switch on 9th December - and it'll be arriving on Steam and GOG the same day.

Ashen wonderfully stylish fantasy action blends stamina-based third-person melee combat and open-world exploration, and casts players forth on a journey out across a bleak, time-ravaged world. While on their travels, adventurers can encounter and recruit comrades to help them tackle Ashen's challenges, defeat imposing bosses, and expand their slowly growing settlement. The twist, however, is that these anonymous friends might, at times, be other fellow human players, and not just NPCs.

Despite the fact that Ashen, almost inevitably, sometimes struggles to escape from the shadow of From Software's Souls series, which remains a heavy inspiration throughout, there's still much to appreciate in its solid combat and, sombre, meticulous landscapes.

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Ashen

A44's broody, beautiful Souls-like Ashen will drop its Epic Games Store exclusivity and make its way to other digital storefronts in December, one year and a little change after it was unveiled as an EGS launch title—which is also when the yearlong exclusivity period was announced. 

Ashen will be available on both Steam and GOG December 9 according to a trailer released today, which you can view above.

While it's true that Ashen cribs liberally from Dark Souls' mechanics, it is tonally very much its own game. It puts you in the shoes of a wanderer, and as you explore its somber world you gradually convince the people you encounter to join your fledgling settlement, gradually creating a community that feels alive.

In his Ashen review, Joe Donnelly writes "Ashen echoes the core mechanics of Dark Souls, but it does so with such finesse that it hardly matters." For players who held off on playing due to the Epic Games Store exclusivity, Ashen is likely to be a real treat.

Ashen - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

I went into Ashen with certain expectations. Not of quality, but of mood. It sets out its Dark Soulsbut stall right away, with talk of disasters and darkness and god-level menaces, and so I shifted my brain into the familiar gears of isolation and doomy solitude. These, experience has taught, are lonely adventures in hostile places only the broken corpses will ever witness my successes and failures, and the world will not care if I live, die or die and die and die again.

A night drive on a lost highway, no other car but mine. Except… That didn t happen. The expected coldness welcome as it is, for it means I am in a place where my triumphs and failures are mine and mine alone, serving no other agenda did not envelop me. Instead, Ashen makes me feel warm – and makes me feel that I have friends.

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Dec 18, 2018
Ashen

Some people will argue the 'Soulslike' label needs to die. They'll tell you it's overused, hackneyed and that there are other catch-all terms to describe hybrid ARPGs, which don't rely on comparison, even when it's the best fit. I think these people are wrong. Ashen, a low-fantasy action role-player developed by A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive, closely echoes many of the ideas and systems found in From Software's Dark Souls series. It knows exactly who its audience is, and, for all intents and purposes, is a Soulslike game. And it's a bloody good one. 

In place of Estus Flasks, for example, Ashen gives players sap-filled Crimson Gourds that deliver health boosts in limited supply. In the absence of Souls, Ashen trades in Scoria—a currency farmed from fallen enemies that helps facilitate progression. As is law in Miyazaki's nightmare-scapes, accumulated Scoria is lost upon death, and can only be regained in your immediate next life. Likewise, resting at Ritual Stones replenishes vitality, à la Dark Souls bonfires, at the expense of reinstating fallen foes within the world. Ashen's enemies are tough, its bosses are blockbuster, and its gorgeous handcrafted world is littered with ambiguous lore and odd but charming NPCs. 

So similar to the Soulsborne series is Ashen, in fact, that these comparisons will inevitably attract or avert players from the outset. This reflects the polarising nature of this style of game, but, by setting out its stall with precision and conviction, Ashen never does so shamelessly. Moreover, Ashen leaves little room for learning curves during its relatively modest 20-ish hours runtime. But I reckon it's all the better for it.  

In the wake of the game's titular 'Ashen' rebirth, Ashen paints a familiar tale of Light versus Dark, which ultimately boils down to: All the goodies in the world want the light to survive, and all the baddies want it extinguished. The overworld is often described as the 'twilight plains', while its cavernous, beastie-infested dungeons are, by nature, drab and packed with terrors.     

This juxtaposition of themes is best defined by Ashen's world itself, which regularly switches from sprawling open world to claustrophobic grotto during the game's scores of tabulated quests. Early doors, I found myself fumbling around a wooded area named the Restless Knoll, which was cluttering with spear-wielding enemies. Paired with an AI-controlled NPC named Jokell, I let him engage two foes at the foot of a hill, before I swung back around and got the drop from above. 

We cleaned house on this occasion, but, after dying down the line and re-trying this same battle plan against this same cluster of enemies, I took a different route to the summit of the peak and was ambushed by a group of angry shield-bearing bearded men. Fortunately, Jokell dispatched his aggressors in time to batter the beardies and revive my sorry ass, but the whole ordeal was a lesson in how unforgiving Ashen's world can be—and how quickly you can find yourself in hot water. It can at times feel a wee bit on-rails, but the epochal, chop-and-change character of its quests help ease the world's occasional linearity. 

Minutes after that debacle, Jokell became my torch-bearing wingman as we plumbed the depths of a Tomb of the Giants-style dungeon, brimming with traps, interminable winding corridors and, obviously, shadow monsters. It's in these moments that Ashen's stamina-based combat comes into its own. 

In any fight, understanding the lay of the land is crucial, and whereas conflicts out in the field can be judged in advance, battles indoors often unfold in tight, dimly-lit areas. Different weapons have different stamina demands, and shrewd use of light and heavy attacks is essential for survival. Do you steam in with an RMB double-handed axe smash and hope for the best, or do you offload a flurry of LMB light-attacks and quickly Shift dodge your way to success? Judge well or die hard, my friend.   

And speaking of friends, Ashen's passive co-op system is wonderful. AI companions offer sidequests and will often tag along for the journey, while real-world players let you band together for specific missions and part ways whenever you so choose. You can always go your own way if you like, but I'd always recommend against it because a) I'm a shitebag and b) every time I went it alone, I wound up crying for a buddy's help anyway after a new wave of misadventure. 

Once you've tied down an NPC, you can invite them back to your centralised HQ in Vagrant's Rest, where they'll duly offer new key items, crafting options, lore snippets and other world-related quirks I won't spoil here. Despite the obvious Firelink Shrine/Majula nod, I got some serious Suikoden castle vibes from the search and recruit nature of Ashen's settlement—which is no bad thing. 

To say Ashen borrows liberally from From Software's Soulsborne series is an understatement, but it in many ways necessitates the 'Soulslike' label. Yes, Ashen echoes the core mechanics of Dark Souls, but it does so which such finesse that it hardly matters. Its passive co-op features offer new insights into the genre, and the variety of its beautiful world is an absolute joy. 

Dec 17, 2018
Ashen - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

If you re summoning Dark Souls, you have to be prepared to make a deal with the Capra Demon. In this pact, you will be granted the power of From Software s ideas, yes, but you will also be doomed to comparison. You ll only be seen in the light of that which came before. Ashen has made such a pact, and it invites that comparison especially often. It sticks so closely to the Souls formula it could be a dream Hidetaka Miyazaki once had. But lapsed hollows who look closely will also find that it uses the template to create its own mythology and its own admirable spirit, one of restoration rather than decay. If Dark Souls is a tale of perpetual, cyclical death and redeath, Ashen feels like tramping through a creation myth as it s still being told. I like it a lot.

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Celeste - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

Look out. The year 2018 is going down in a storm. There are hundreds of games aboard, running, jumping, trying their best to survive the maelstrom. But there s only one tiny lifeboat, and only enough room for three games. It falls on the sorry shoulders of the RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show, to decide which trio of games clamber onto the life raft and which games drown and become lost to history.

(more…)

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