The world of Ashen is naturally covered in darkness, illuminated only by a giant being known as an Ashen landing on the branches of the world tree. Upon the Ashen's fall, it let out three breaths which defined the three golden ages of the world. After its death, the world fell into darkness and ruin. The story begins with the rebirth of the Ashen and the beginning of a new age of light and sets your character on the road to protect the Ashen and rebuild the ruined world.
Ashen takes inspiration from the Dark Souls series, as an Action RPG based around blocking, dodging, and attacking combined stamina management and animation priority. Many of the central tropes of the Souls series return, such as checkpoints which refill the player's healing resources, a currency which is dropped upon death and much be retrieved, and an emphasis on punishing missteps in combat. The game otherwise serves as a departure in tone and design from the series, with maps and quest logs, no direct stat levelling with instead an emphasis on finding upgrades and creating a build through acquired perks, and more open areas that encourage wandering and exploration.
Ashen uses what the developer, Aurora44, calls passive multiplayer. Much like the multiplayer in Journey, the players who join the player's world they might help or hinder progress, and throughout the game, the player can or may need to be accompanied by various NPCs. Those encountered in the world then may fill out a player's town which is rebuilt over the course of the game, as new characters and options are added over time.