Last week, just before the start of Tokyo Game Show, Polygon had the chance to go hands-on with Dark Souls 3’s first of two planned pieces of downloadable content, Ashes of Ariandel. While we only got to play a small portion of the DLC — a half-hour-or-so segment and the first boss fight — we were able to follow that up with a discussion with Dark Souls 3 director and From Software president Hidetaka Miyazaki, who provided a lot more specifics on what we can expect from this add-on.
It’s got a style — and a theme — completely separate from the base game
The portion of Ashes of Ariandel that we played took place in a vast snowy field. It’s an environment type that has never showed up in Dark Souls 3 previously, and it’s also much more wide open than most environments from the base game, providing a huge space to explore in any direction.
"It’s very mysterious and a little bit unique," Miyazaki said of the new setting. He went on to explain that he’s aiming for a "gothic flavor" that stands apart from the core game but will be shared by both DLC packs.
the wolves kept their distance, stalked us from afar and only attacked as a group
The mix of excitement and terror that comes with exploring the unknown in a Dark Souls game extends to new enemy types here as well. Two new foes stood out to us in our demo of Ashes of Ariandel.
First, the tree-pocked hillsides of the new area immediately proved scarier than we might have expected when the trees themselves came alive. Withered, leafless branches will grab at your character as they run past, and since the trees cannot move they also have a ranged attack, allowing them to shoot balls of fire that can easily hit you from behind if you’re not paying attention.
Even more devious, however, were the wolves. As we explored this snowy area, we first noticed a single wolf off in the distance, clearly keenly watching our character but not moving closer. Less than a minute later, we realized we were surrounded by a whole pack. These bloodthirsty animals showed off some extremely smart and realistic artificial intelligence; they kept their distance, stalked us from afar and only attacked as a group that could all too easily overwhelm a lone adventurer.
"The wolf packs alone are definitely bringing a new gameplay experience," Miyazaki said.
It has some throwbacks to the first Dark Souls
Long-time Souls fans are sure to notice one noteworthy element the moment they enter the area for Ashes of Ariandel: The new zone is called "the Painted World of Ariandel." Those who played through the first Dark Souls thoroughly may remember an extensive side area called the "Painted World of Ariamis," wherein players actually entered, well, a painting.
According to Miyazaki, this is not a coincidence, although it’s not a direct connection either.
"It is taking place in the Painted World, but it’s taking place in a different Painted World," he said. "However, there are some connections between this Painted World and the one from the original Dark Souls. The reason I decided to return to the Painted World is because it matches with the theme I’m trying to describe in the first DLC. Players should be able to understand the reason as they play the DLC."
"it’s taking place in a different Painted World"
That’s not the only hit of nostalgia in Ashes of Ariandel. We also got to take on the DLC’s first boss, a giant wolf that is certain to remind players of Sif, the Great Grey Wolf from Dark Souls. Sif fought with a massive sword in its mouth, and while this new wolf boss doesn’t have a blade, it does use a move set that’s very familiar.
Is there a tighter connection between these two wolf enemies? Miyazaki didn’t drop any hints on that front, so we’ll have to wait and see.
It only has a couple of new boss fights, but lots of other new stuff
We witnessed one boss fight during our hands-on time with Ashes of Ariandel, and according to Miyazaki, that’s one half of the total new bosses in the DLC.
"It’s kind of a spoiler, but there will be two boss battles in the DLC," he told us. "Just like in the base game, there will be big changes during each boss battle. That’s being emphasized more."
In the case of the wolf fight, the boss battle actually begins by fighting a difficult human character, seemingly defending the wolf. Once he falls, the much bigger, much more powerful wolf takes his place.
While only two boss battles might be a little disappointing, Miyazaki promised there will be lots of other content in the DLC. This includes four new spells, four full armor sets and 15 new weapons. Perhaps most interestingly, the new weapons include a new spear type that players can actually throw during battle.
It will not affect the ending or change the base game at all
In the original Dark Souls, the one DLC add-on was a completely separate experience, while in Dark Souls 2, the three DLC sets had more of a direct impact on the progression of the main game’s plot. Dark Souls 3 will return to the style of the first game.
"Ashes of Ariandel is independent from the base game," said Miyazaki. "The storyline and theme of the base game are pretty much concluded in the base game."
If you hated accessing the DLC in Bloodborne, prepare to still be annoyed
Some gamers, including Polygon’s own Justin McElroy, have expressed annoyance with From Software’s approach to DLC structure. Specifically, DLC packs are often tucked into the middle of the game somewhere, so if you’ve already completed it and started new-game-plus, you’ll end up having to replay through a big chunk of the game before you can actually access the new content.
"[The DLC] is definitely not at the very beginning of the game"
Don’t expect that to change much with Ashes of Ariandel.
"Our approach to the DLC for Dark Souls 3 is allowing players to access the DLC once they reach a certain area of the base game," Miyazaki said. "Once they reach that area, they always have access to the DLC. But that is definitely not at the very beginning of the game, because of the difficulty level."
This is the beginning of the end of Dark Souls — at least for now
There’s been a lot of back and forth and a lot of confusing non-answers about whether Dark Souls 3 is really the "final" game in the Dark Souls series. We got the latest take on this burning question from Miyazaki, and he says it is. Sort of. For now.
"It’s time to move away from the Dark Souls franchise," Miyazaki said. "As president of From Software, I’m not completely denying the possibility of bringing back the franchise in the future."
You can read our breakout on this topic to see more of what Miyazaki had to say about when the franchise might come back and the potential for "HD remakes" of older Souls games.
Ashes of Ariandel will launch on Oct. 25, 2016 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One, with the unnamed second DLC pack set to follow in "early 2017." The DLC packs will cost $14.99 a piece or $24.99 for a season pass including both.