Through the Ashes is the second major DLC released for cRPG Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous by developer Owlcat Games, following the high-level expansion Inevitable Excess.
This new experience takes players away from the familiar position of the Mythic Hero and the future Commander of the Fifth Crusade and instead thrusts them into the boots of a normal citizen of Kenabres, stuck in the burning city as the demons and cultists lay siege to it and various unsavory types use the havoc to their advantage.
It is up to you to band with other survivors and make your way to the relative safety of the Defender’s Heart inn. Will you try to save everyone? Or sacrifice your unlikely companions to keep your meager supplies going longer?
I had a chance to try out the DLC ahead of its release thanks to the early access key provided by Owlcat Games. So grab those coils of rope and read on to find out!
Note: spoilers for the main storyline of the DLC ahead. No spoilers for the endings.
Let’s take a look at what is and what is not in the new DLC. There are no new races, classes, archetypes or feats – the developers have explained that this story is about common people stuck in the midst of the city besieged by demons, so new heroic powers do not fit well into this content expansion.
Much like Varnhold’s Lot for Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Through the Ashes is a small side story featuring a new cast of characters (including the new protagonist) and set during the first chapter of the main game. The events of the game take place sometime between Deskari’s attack on the city and the fight for the Defender’s Heart inn.
It took me roughly 6 hours to beat the DLC on Normal level of difficulty (mostly in turn-based combat mode) and my characters were level 5 by the time “To Be Continued” screen popped up (more on that later). There were a few familiar NPC faces around such as Joran Vhane or the Storyteller but no actual interaction with the Commander or the main game companions in any way, shape or form.
I have to admit to having certain concerns about the setting of Through the Ashes – going from a Level 20 party that consisted of a Mythic Hero and the companions to a bunch of inconsequential random low-level commoners initially felt like a huge downgrade, whether it is the main game or the Inevitable Excess DLC.
But, while there are no Mythic abilities to set the battlefields ablaze, the DLC manages to charm with its down-to-earth story and new mechanics that provided something I’ve not felt in Inevitable Excess: a tight progression curve as well as a sense of accomplishment from winning fights and finishing tasks.
The DLC starts with your new level 1 protagonist being stuck in the Kenabres theater along with other survivors. It is there that you meet Rekarth, an ex-Thiefling working for Irabeth and Anevia. He has to get to the Defender’s Heart inn with an important report about cultists planning something to do with the Tower of Estrod. And he needs your help to escape the cultists and traverse the ruined, burning city.
While exploring the theater and equipping props for weapons – the new protagonist has no gear or consumables whatsoever in the beginning – you run into other citizens sharing your plight. You can agree to help them make their way through the city – but you will also have to keep an eye on them, as they can die from diseases or wounds despite being non-combatants. Keeping them alive will cost you precious spells, scrolls and potions that are only available in very limited supply, especially in the early game.
On the other hand, these non-companions can participate in the storybook sequences and be sent ahead as scouts, find supplies, stand guard while your actual warriors rest and more, saving your main party from injuries or worse. Bemir in particular can help you make new way forward by using his impressive strength to toss things aside or break through obstacles. It is an interesting balance to strike, especially on higher difficulties.
In addition to Rekarth, you will be able to meet Sendri – an enthusiastic Gnome Sorcerer. An anti-Regill, if you will. These two companions are fully voiced and frequently participate in conversations among themselves and with the various NPCs you meet on your way. There are no romances with the new companions, if you are into that.
Of course, it won’t be just the three of you if you so desire – on your way to the Inn, you will be able to run into Crusaders who will join you as party members. The game gives you an option of creating three Mercs from scratch or using the default bunch: a Fighter, a Slayer and a Cleric. They act just like you expect Mercenaries to – using “barks” for critical strikes, movement, stealth, etc. but otherwise are silent both in terms of voiceovers and additions to the conversations.
Throughout the theater and beyond, you will be able to use the environment to your advantage. Drop a shelf on an unsuspecting enemy and squash them, thus avoiding combat. Push a cart to run over a group of enemies lured in the position – just make sure that it goes in the direction you think it’s going or it will batter your entire party, like it happened with me. It’s the column from Estrod Tower x100!
You can also use rope and/or tools to create new passageways, open doors, climb towers, bring down walls, etc. There are some puzzles but, unlike the Inevitable Excess, I didn’t have to consult Google or brute force my way through. The goal and how to go about achieving it were clear enough.
A coil of rope, a set of tools and Grease (that can be cast by Sendri) – what else does a happy adventurer need? As it turns out, a new way of acquiring experience.
Instead of receiving XP for defeating enemies, as happens with your Mythic party in the main game, the characters of Through the Ashes level up by doing certain feats. Be it picking mushrooms, finding items, finishing errands or getting rid of obstacles in your way, doing these little things and finding a better gear feels extremely satisfying – in a way I haven’t felt in the main game since about mid Act IV.
Finding a light crossbow or a shortsword feels like a big deal, at least until about level 4. Meanwhile, stuck in the Shield Maze at level 2, my future Commander was tossing out more loot than the Through the Ashes gang saw in the entirety of the DLC.
On the less positive side, these survival elements and overall the difficulty of Through the Ashes get noticeably easier once you reach level 3 (about halfway through) and get access to a new combat feat, some pretty strong gear and consumables aplenty.
Throughout the DLC you will be able to run into some mentions of the Commander’s companions and the Mythic hero – be it a hidden gear stash in the catacombs bearing the mark of a cat eye and six spider legs or an NPC complaining about certain scandalous noble that partied through the demon invasion or even the frequent mentions of the Tirabade couple. But that is not all!
Through the Ashes seemingly has two endings before it boots you to the main menu. However, it is not “The End” but rather “To Be Continued”. When you complete the DLC, you are able to import the results into the main campaign. After the tavern defense, your Commander can meet the people you’ve saved and earn an exclusive new magic item from Irabeth, the Rod of Mortiferous Blizzard – check out the screens below for details.
Note: the game imports your DLC state automatically from the “For Import” autosave file. You don’t do it manually like it was with Varnhold’s Lot.
Additionally, according to the Steam description of the DLC, “the heroes and villains of this story will be back in future game expansions to let you delve deeper into the secrets of the Worldwound that escaped your notice in the main campaign”. Season Pass #2, anyone?
Through the Ashes is a down-to-earth addition to Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, offering players a different look at the events of Kenabres. The DLC utilizes new mechanics to keep the playthrough fresh and different from the adventures of the Commander.
Loot scarcity (at least early on) and the different way of acquiring experience provide the sense of accomplishment that might have been missing with your demon lord-exploding Commander. Although, admittedly, I still miss the Commander and their companions and hope they get some love in the future expansions.
Ramping the difficulty up and using a character completely different from your Commander makes the DLC a dozen times more interesting. Additionally, Through the Ashes features a few in-engine cutscenes (like when Deskari attacks Terendelev), making the world come alive around the characters in a new way.
Note: the review was done using the early access DLC key provided by the developer. Outside of it, Season Pass is a verified purchase by the author.