Ashen is very much a Soulslike game, which means that a lot of it will be familiar if you’ve played a FromSoftware game like Dark Souls before. Ashen puts its own spin on the mechanics, though. It’s not overly intimidating or confusing, but its quirks mean there’s a bit of a learning curve.
Ashen takes place in a world recently emerging from an age of darkness. As you take your first steps into the light, our guide will help you find your way.
Getting ambushed is the rule
More often than not, your enemies will be hiding around a corner or behind a rock you’re about to walk past. It happens enough that it’s worth making it our first tip.
Hidden enemies being everywhere doesn’t mean you have to play constantly on the defensive. You’re free to explore and wander around, but just keep in mind that there’s almost definitely something about to pounce when you round the next corner. Don’t rush blindly around, and keep your shield (or the dodge button) ready.
Always carry spears
Relatively early in the game, you’ll pick up your first bone spears. Spears are your ranged weapons in Ashen. Having ranged attacks opens up new possibilities for you — especially when you’re getting ambushed all the time.
Attacking from a distance lets you thin out (or weaken) your enemies before approaching. You’ll also be able to kite enemies away from larger groups so you’re not outnumbered. And you’ll be able to take out enemies that are high above you.
Spears are also a great way to hunt. The animals you see around the world — like deer and the rabbit-like rafets — will sometimes drop consumables.
Running jumps let you explore (and find more items)
The valuable items — like Craven Remnants and healing items — hidden around the world of Ashen are usually hard to reach. They’re often on a path out of your way, in the opposite direction, or on a precarious ledge.
Sprinting and then jumping opens up a lot of paths for you. Sometimes, these paths will lead to an item, and sometimes they’re a shortcut. Keep a running leap in mind and in your move repertoire.
Progress Journeys and Side Journeys to unlock new mechanics
Once you reach Vagrant’s Rest and see the “Town Founded” notification, you’ll establish a base of operations. You won’t have much to do in town at first, though.
Side Journeys (and main Journeys) are important for earning Scoria (Ashen’s in-game currency), exploration, and finding items. But completing them also unlocks important new mechanics and abilities.
Completing Jokell’s first Side Journey will get you a Crimson Gourd healing item and unlock the ability to upgrade it. Upgrading your gourd increases the number of doses it carries. The upgrade only costs you Scoria, so do it often after you unlock the option.
Completing Vorsa’s first Side Journey unlocks the ability to craft spears in town. Completing more of her Side Journeys unlocks new, better, and more expensive spears.
Your main Journey will also unlock new things. For example, completing Bataran’s “Annex of Light” Journey unlocks weapon upgrades. And, obviously, the main Journeys progress the overall story.
This all just means that you should give equal weight to both types of Journeys. Side Journeys unlock important new mechanics just as often as the main Journeys do, and those new abilities will make your main mission much easier.
Your weapon and armor determine your class
In Ashen, you won’t be putting points into stats like you might expect from an action role-playing game. Instead, the armor you wear and the weapons you wield dictate the role you play.
In Ashen’s first couple hours, you’ll pick up a lot of different weapon types. The major distinction is one- versus two-handed. As you’d expect if you’ve played basically any video game before, two-handed weapons deal more damage, but they swing slower (and cost more stamina per swing). One-handed weapons let you carry a shield with your off hand, swing more often, but deal less damage per swing.
Ashen’s weapon’s stats are well-balanced, so what you use really comes down to how you want to play. If you like big, slow, devastating swings, pick a two-handed weapon. If you like to be light and dance around more, stick with one-handed.
For the first couple hours, you won’t have any choice on what armor you wear — you’ll only have your Survivor’s Rags. As you find more options when exploring the world, the stats of the armor you find should determine what you wear.
Beyond a base defense and damage reduction stat, armor might also have stamina cost and stamina regeneration adjustments. Wearing something with high stamina cost and low (negative) regeneration means you’ll only have a couple swings with your weapon before you need to recover — which means you should be wielding something that deals a lot of damage per hit like a two-handed weapon.
Play with your options (once you have options) to find the combination of weapon and armor that works best for you.
You won’t unlock upgrading weapons for a while (or armor ever)
Upgrading (improving) you weapons won’t become an option until you complete “Annex of Light,” like we mentioned above. Once Bataran opens his forge, you’ll be able to improve any weapon you’ve picked up (excluding spears).
You’ll move your weapons along a scale from Broken to Repaired to Forged to Ash Infused. Each point on that scale comes with a big improvement to that weapon’s stats.
Don’t hesitate to upgrade. It’s more important to have the best available version of your current weapon than it is to save up in case you find something better later. Upgrading (the first few levels, at least) only costs money (Scoria), so do it often.
Armor, however, isn’t upgradable. What you pick up is what you get. The only way to improve those stats is with Relics and Talismans at Amara’s stand in town (she’ll join your town as part of the “Annex of Light” Journey).
Just use your damn consumables
It’s always tempting to hoard consumables. Don’t.
For the first hour or so of the game, you’ll only have White Sapote for healing. Don’t be precious with them. You’ll get the refillable Crimson Gourd from Jokell early on, so you won’t be dependent on them for long.
If you ever need more White Sapote, rafets (the rabbit-like animals you see hopping around) will often drop it when you kill them. And, once your town is established in Vagrant’s Rest, you’ll be able to buy more White Sapote from any villager for 150 Scoria.
For the first few hours in Ashen, your health and stamina aren’t great. Don’t hobble yourself by hoarding your consumable items. You’ll almost always find more soon.
Ritual Stones heal you even if you don’t interact with them
The Ritual Stones you find act like bonfires in a Dark Souls game. They refill your healing item (the Crimson Gourd), fill your health, and respawn all of the enemies. They’re also your respawn point if you die.
But you don’t have to rest at a Ritual Stone and reset enemies to heal. There’s a glowing blue ring around them. When you cross that threshold, you’ll get fully healed (and your progress will be saved). Use Ritual Stones to top off your health without having to fight all nearby bad guys all over again.