The Painted World of Ariandel: A Winter Wonderland of Dismay
Dark Souls III’s first DLC was the holiday surprise I was looking for
My gaming guilty pleasure is winter themed levels. Worlds like the Snow Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey fill me with joy and are, without a doubt, best played during the holidays. Shawn Laib beat me to the punch with his article on Christmas-themed video game levels, so if you’re interested in more I recommend checking his piece out.
This year, I was deprived of my annual tradition of playing through winter worlds in video games — or at least I thought I was before I played the Ashes of Ariandel DLC in Dark Souls III. The last place I expected to come across some jolly Christmas goodness was in the dismaying world of Dark Souls, but to my surprise, even the darkest of games can harbor such spots.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching that Dark Souls III somehow propagates Christmas joy — the Kingdom of Lothric is too bleak for that. The only gift you’re given in this forsaken place is the feeling of triumph as you conquer the next boss on your radar. That’s not to say that certain aspects of the holiday season aren’t present in this world, for the winter season can be represented by more than snowmen and Christmas trees.
Most winter themed levels check-off boxes to fit their quota. A frigid and snowy setting with warmly bundled inhabitants? Check. Graceful piano tracks with soft hymns or, the contrary, excited bells that ring in that feeling of winter? Double-check. Notice that there’s nothing here that states “horrifying bosses that make you question why you’re playing the game”, but here I am making a case for the lovely Painting of Ariandel.
The Story of the Painted World
It would take a far wiser and more knowledgable loremaster of Dark Souls III to cover everything involving the lore of Ashes of Ariandel DLC, but the general premise is easy to understand. The entire world is that of a mystical dreamscape, a refuge that solely exists in a painting. That’s not to say the painted world is fake, it’s just located on a painting. But just like anything produced on a fragile surface, a painting doesn’t last forever.
Something is amiss with this Painting of Ariandel, that being it is rotting. Sister Friede has established herself as a sort of ward in Ariandel, becoming a woman of worship for the residents. Friede is a bringer of peace for those who reside within the painting, as they are forlorn individuals who have no place to call home. She placed herself alongside Father Ariandel, who painted the world.
“Fret not father, we have no need of thy flail. Tis only the flame, quivering at misguided Ash. Please avert thine eyes. I will snuff out these ashes for good.”
— Sister Friede
Paintings suffer from rot as time passes, and with each rotted painting, fire brings destruction to the painting. A new painting is then made in its place, although this cycle of destruction isn’t favored by all. Sister Friede is one who despises it and uses her influence to hang on to her rotting world.
Your job as the Unkindled is to bring your flame to this rotting world and let the cycle continue, rejoice in the birth of a new world, painted by Ariandel’s daughter. The residents are rotting away and suffering, all so Sister Friede can hang on to the corrupting world. Friede kindly asks you to leave, but when you continue onwards into the painting she takes matters into her own hands, engaging in one of the toughest boss battles in Souls history with you.
“Ahh, have you just arrived?
How very unusual. Just how long has it been!
Rejoice, my new friend! For this is a true haven of the Forlorn.” — The Drowsy Forlorn
The Painted World of Ariandel is a brisk pocket within the Dark Souls universe. It beckons those forlorn from their homes forth and gives them a place to reside, but the grasp Sister Friede has on the world is that of rot. It needs a new flame, just like a cold winter’s night needs a flame-ridden fireplace and a plate of cookies. The aesthetic of the world truly gives off that seasonal vibe, with its facets of winter. Besides, doesn’t a tale about a world absent of warmth within a snowy painting sound like something out of a Christmas storybook to you?
There isn’t much tranquility to be found within Dark Souls beyond the calming bonfires, and even the Painted World of Ariandel has its chaos, but I found playing the Ashes of Ariandel DLC soothed my holiday video game itch. Perhaps I could argue that the stillness of the beautiful Irithyll of the Boreal Valley is peaceful, what with its winding roads of snow, but even then, I’m sure a boss or two would sink that argument.