Honorable Mention: Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Ashes of Ariandel brought Dark Souls players back into the Painted World, an alternate universe that powders its dangers in fresh snow. It’s gorgeous and daunting in all the expected ways: bloodthirsty wolves gather in packs with terrifying speed, hulking Millwood Knights patrol white hills, and Corvian Knights attack with all the grotesque horror of what appears to be grown crow fetuses.
The bosses and optional boss themselves aren’t startlingly fresh, but still manage to pull a few strategic shifts from players. They require more endurance than intellect overall, but neither trait is ill fitting of Dark Souls. The hidden boss also serves as the gateway to Ashes of Ariandel’s PvP arena, a customizable warzone offering new opportunities beyond Dark Souls’ typical one-on-one fare. It’s a happy stop on a familiar journey of dangerous and satisfying conquests, and a genuine bit of replayability for an otherwise brief travel.
Ashes of Ariandel’s combat and world design stand alongside its full game quite confidently, but this DLC stops just short of something miraculous. Though there are plenty of challenges, weapons, and gear sets to discover among its grand landscape, the Painted World of the original Dark Souls feels lore-ripe enough for a more thorough exploration. The result is a quality addition to one of this year’s tightest RPGs, hindered only by its potential to stand taller than its source.