Although the level-system features certain small modifications, the experience system is glaringly familiar, swapping Souls' currency system with Scoria, that, likewise, can be lost and recovered after your death. The controls act as a nearly exact replica of Souls' established template, following the same layout. Similar to the Fire-link Shrines, in Ashen, when you recover at a checkpoint, your health is restored, and your “flask” is replenished. Some people might argue certain points, saying that Dark Souls isn't the originator of everything I mentioned and that other dungeon-crawlers have implemented similar practices prior to it. This wouldn't be incorrect, but to see all of the incorporated together and such a specific manner, it becomes very obvious and undeniable where A44's head was at when they were developing Ashen. I also found that certain areas in Ashen resembled settings in Dark Souls and, lastly, a lot of smaller details like the way texts are displayed show clear callbacks to its inspiration.
Some small changes to the formula I like – Ashen includes a map, and although its world isn't particularly enormous, it's still a convenience I think is overlooked for reasons I don't understand. It implements a banking-system of sorts, which basically allows you to purchase Scoria pouches from merchants, storing your experience in your Inventory or your Storage. On one-hand, it costs more to buy them than what you actually save, but I think that's a fair consequence. I'm not necessarily saying I'd like to see From Software have these incorporated, which might take away from the mystery and sense of discovery it has, but I think it works to help Ashen's approachability, perhaps making it appeal to a more-casual audience.
I like the graphics in Ashen, which allow the budgeted-experience to still appear unique on a visual-level. Although I would certainly call Ashen much easier than the average Souls adventure, I can think of one or two stretches in-particular I found difficult. Both of them were dungeon-areas, which are difficult mostly because of their gauntlet-like qualities, feeling like they go on-and-on without any end in-sight or checkpoint. The reason I mention them is because I found them to be the most enjoyable part of Ashen, they're the most engaging aspects of game-play and they're also visually the most gripping and immersing, having you traverse the darkness with your lantern, unsure of what awaits, it's the type of game-play that makes you think this style could make a wonderful, full-fledged survival-horror (one-step further than Bloodborne). It was these moments where I think the experience as a whole really began to win me over. A note would be to mention I chose to play this with co-operative assistance through A.I. and not online multi-player, a fact that likely made dungeon-areas more difficult, because, a lot of the times, the A.I. characters disappear or don't show up until the eleventh hour. There's an option to turn these characters off altogether, which some people might prefer.
The story-line is nothing to write home about in Ashen. The characters aren't very interesting, and I found myself wanting to skip through long-stretches of dialogue. This is something that happens a lot with role-playing video-games or minimalist dungeon-crawlers, but it seemed particularly noteworthy in Ashen. Ashen is filled with exposition and world-building, but doesn't have any real character-development to speak of, this makes dialogue feel very arbitrary and forced.
The main-hub of Ashen is an area called Vagrant's Rest, which is mentionable, because as you progress through the story-line, the shambled area slowly starts to build-up and come together, becoming a quaint, little village. I thought it was a neat touch, even if I did find myself struggling to remember where certain things were after large changes.
Ashen features a level-system comprised of weapon-upgrades, equitable skills, and other small alterations, opting against a traditional attribute system. Although I think this is an interesting and unique decision, I can't help but think it highlights how superficial and weak the level-system feels. Something else I noticed is the sheer bulk of items spread out throughout the area, something that seems odd to mention, but, what I found is, I would tens of bodies sprawled around throughout areas, all carrying the same, useless items, taking a lot away from the game's sense of discovery and making exploration feel less meaningful.
In the end, I think the impression I leave Ashen with is that it's different than what I expected, but, at the same time, likely better than what I expected. It isn't a local-cooperative player for my fiancee and I to experience with each-other, but it's a solid dungeon-crawler that walks a razor-thin line in-terms of being inspired by something and being derivative by it. I think it incorporates most of its deviations on a visual-level, and I do think it has moments of inspiration in-terms of game-play as well, usually in long-stretches where everything's allowed to all hangout. The story feels wedged in and wordy, but it has to appeal of being inconsequential to the game-play, in other-words, you could skip it all and it not make a difference to things. Ashen is a solid, above-average role-playing video-game with fun to be had with it.