A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ashen is a downloadable combat-driven role-playing game for the Xbox One and Windows PCs. Players fight a mix of human and fantasy creatures -- such as large spiders and wraiths -- using melee weapons including axes and spears. Blackish blood often sprays from wounds, and enemies disappear when defeated. Stylized visuals -- most characters are blocky and faceless, with no mouth, nose, or lips -- helps to alleviate some of the intensity. The story's surprisingly upbeat, focused on the rebirth of life and light in a world long suffering through darkness and death. The hero, who can be customized to match a player's gender and skin tone, is on a mission to ensure that the remaining forces of dark are held at bay as the world transitions into this hopeful new era. But parents should note that parts of this game are very difficult and could prove frustrating for players.
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What's it about?
ASHEN is a highly stylized fantasy role-playing game (RPG) in which the player's character is one of just a handful of surviving humans. Once bathed in life-giving light by a creature known as the Ashen, the world has suffered through an age of darkness when evil things flourished and humanity dwindled. But now the Ashen has begun a process of rebirth, giving new hope to the few who have endured. But dark forces are gathering to stop this rebirth, and the player's character has embarked on a mission to stop them. A primary part of the adventure involves exploring the game's open yet labyrinthine world, discovering and collecting many weapons and resources, and fighting enemies via a challenging block, dodge, and strike combat system that demands caution and forethought. Along the way, the hero will also meet other survivors who need help, perhaps in the gathering of specific items or tracking down a family member. Many become allies and friends, joining the effort to rebuild and foster the new light by becoming part of a burgeoning town where trade and crafting slowly grow and begin to thrive. Players may also run into other human-controlled avatars along the way, occasionally inserted without warning to replace the computer character that journeys beside the hero.
Is it any good?
Imagine a dungeon crawling game with less gloom and foreboding mixed with a beautiful, poetic art style, and you'll have a pretty good idea of this incredible adventure. Ashen sets a dire stage, one on which a battle for the future of humanity plays out, but the story's suffused with a sense of optimism and hope that gives real purpose to your mission to see the Ashen fully restored and the world returned to light. As you meet new characters, make new friends, and your town grows, you see and feel the fruits of your labors, which provides further motivation to keep braving the wilds. That these characters take turns venturing with you into danger as your AI companion only helps solidify the bonds between them.
But what's likely to keep many players coming back is Ashen's beautiful world and expertly designed combat. Fighting's blissfully straightforward -- just block, roll, and attack -- yet satisfyingly challenging. The controls are tight, responsive, and intuitive, meaning you're the only one to blame should you fail. You'll need to be both strategic and bold to defeat the game's strongest foes. And since you'll lose all of your unspent experience upon death, there's a real feeling of risk in everything you do. The settings in which combat takes place are equally compelling, both open wilds pocked by craggy rocks and winding streams and deep, dark, narrow dungeons teeming with danger. The world's loaded with a mix of secret perils and well-hidden treasures that encourage players to cautiously explore every nook and cranny, often leading to hidden paths that redirect back to familiar locations and serve as future shortcuts. Getting to know this cleverly designed world is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Ashen isn't as grand in scope or complex in design as the Dark Souls games that clearly served as its muse, but we could hardly hope for more from an independent game that's half the cost. It's all but essential for fans of challenging action-based RPGs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen time. It's easy to lose track of time while playing an immersive game like Ashen, so how does your family go about ensuring play sessions last a healthy and not obsessive length?
Have you ever tried creating a game character that was not the gender with which you identify? Or who had a different skin tone? Did it alter your perception of how the character fit into the game's world?
- Platforms: Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $39.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Annapurna Interactive
- Release date: December 7, 2018
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- ESRB rating: T for Blood, Violence
- Last updated: April 8, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.