How do you survive in a sunless world? You’ll have to answer that in Ashen, an indie RPG in development for the Xbox One and Windows 10. The slow-paced open world action game has, perhaps appropriately, not seen much sunlight since it was announced at E3 2015. The developers at Aurora 44 were ready to shine a little light this year, though, giving us a short demo of what we can expect when the game launches in April of next year.
There are no bright colors in the world of Ashen, and no wonder — there’s no sun. The open world of the game is lit by luminescent ash, casting a pale light on a world that still manages to teem with life. Being an indie title, fine detail is swapped out for a minimal artistic approach that the developers say is loosely based on their native New Zealand. That minimalism even extends to the player and AI characters, who lack faces.
Outside, it’s your standard open world action RPG — roam around, get into fights, and find new equipment and weapons. The combat is slow, but light — while there is a stamina bar that dictates how many swings you can take, it doesn’t appear to be as ponderous or strategic as a game like Dark Souls, which this game will probably (and unfairly) be compared to often.
From the demo, combat with other humans stalking the cold, quiet world didn’t look all that inspiring. Pop into a cave, and things change completely. Underground, you’ll find shades of less fortunate adventurers, mysterious clues about the history of the world, and more fearsome foes that thrive in the darkness.
Managing that darkness is on you. Like any cave in the real world, once you go spelunking, things get pitch dark. You’ll have to equip a lantern and have it at the ready, meaning you can look forward to a lot of one-handed weapons. Tonally, the game doesn’t look like it will veer into horror territory, but the feeling of the darkness itself being an enemy lends more tension to those underground parts — especially when a lightning quick boss attacks before running to hide in the shadows.
A game like Ashen will live or die based on whether or not its world is compelling enough to convince you to stay. Jury’s out there, but it’s hard not to be intrigued — as you explore, you’ll discover faceless titans, giant blindfolded mermaids, and massive whales floating in the sky. They’ve at least got our attention!
It wasn’t in the demo we saw, but the developers say they’ve got another plan to keep you around — small towns you can build from scratch, creating a home in an otherwise desolate world. Your character will occasionally come across other people in the world more interested in cooperation. Get along with them, and they’ll head back to your burgeoning village.
Sometimes, those characters you meet in the world will act a little strangely — because they’ll actually be other players. While the developers stopped short of fully explaining how their passive multiplayer works, a matchmaking system running in the background will link up two players who are in the same area of the world, allowing them to cooperate to move through dungeons and fight bosses. The plan is to scale up the difficulty a bit in that limited co-op mode, but some things will be easier — one player can be the torch bearer, while the other can just focus on dealing damage to bosses.
What you won’t be doing is fighting those other players. While Aurora 44 considered making that possible, they quickly decided it didn’t fit with the tone of the game — while there’s plenty of combat, they want to emphasize exploration and discovery over competitiveness.
That fits in with the progression system, too. While this is an RPG, don’t expect much in the way of stats — the axes, clubs, and spears you’ll pick up will vary more by play style (including one-handed or two-handed) than strength or power. So, if you find something that looks cool, that’s going to be way more important than finding some ultimate weapon hiding in the world.
Ashen isn’t due out until April of next year, so there’s still plenty of time for changes, too. We’re looking forward to seeing how this game shapes up over the course of the next year!
Check out more of our E3 2017 coverage right here!