The story in The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes has a few twists and turns. The five playable characters are engaged in a firefight in the Iraqi desert before a quake causes the ground to swallow them. Then, they discover an ancient temple, as well as the tools left behind by a team of archaeologists. What exactly is going on? Well, here’s our House of Ashes guide and story analysis to help you learn more about the demon Pazuzu, Naram-Sin, the Curse of Akkad, and the true nature of the monsters.
Note: For more information, check out our guides and features hub for The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes. Likewise, you can take a look at our full Theatrical Cut walkthrough. Lastly, please be reminded that this guide contains spoilers not just for this game, but for previous titles in the series.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes story analysis – The Curse of Akkad, Naram-Sin, Pazuzu, and the monsters
Naram-Sin and the Curse of Akkad
Legend tells that Naram-Sin, a ruler of Akkadian Empire from 2254 to 2218 BC, sacked a temple of the Storm God, Enlil. Soon, drought and plague ravaged his lands, and Naram-Sin had no choice but to pray to Enlil. He built a massive temple to appease the god, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. His empire would crumble, forgotten and buried in the sands. This legend became known, over time, as the Curse of the Agade or Curse of Akkad.
This is depicted during the Cursed prologue in House of Ashes. It starts out with you in control of an Akkadian general, Balathu. He watches as Naram-Sin orders the execution of more innocents as sacrifices to Enlil. Then, an eclipse shrouds the area just as the Akkadian army is about to fight rebels. The next scene has Balathu and Kurum, a rebel who survived his execution, fighting side by side against unimaginable horrors. Sadly, neither of them survive the ordeal.
Randolph Hodgson’s expedition
In succeeding chapters in House of Ashes, you’ll control four members of the US forces (Rachel, Eric, Nick, and Jason) and one soldier of the Iraqi Republican Guard (Salim). During The Temple chapter, Rachel and Eric discover a camp and several tools left behind by a team of archeologists from 1946. Led by Randolph Hodgson, these men and women thought they found the long-lost tomb of Alexander the Great. Instead, they got a little more than they bargained for. They unknowingly entered the buried temple of Naram-Sin.
As you progress, you’ll learn what befell the archeologists. The local diggers were frightened and some started battling unknown creatures. Others also started suffering from illnesses. In one particular instance, Randolph’s wife, Mary, was afflicted by a sickness that caused her death. Randolph had no time to mourn, for Mary somehow reanimated. Soon, he’d realize that some members of the expedition might be keeping secrets as well. There’s something sinister here, and various imagery and clues, such as the statues of Pazuzu, might make you think that you’re dealing with a demonic entity.
Demons? Vampires? Aliens? Demonic alien vampires with their zombie friends?
As you fight more creatures in House of Ashes, you’ll learn of their weaknesses: sunlight and a stake through the heart. Salim notices this in After the Fall – Slayer. Then, during The Truce, Eric inadvertently causes a monster’s corpse to burst into flames by waving a UV light wand. The group starts referring to these creatures as “vampires.”
Not only that, but they start seeing how their own comrades have begun to transform. Joey, who was killed earlier, reappears as a horned demon. Meanwhile, Clarice, who’s slowly succumbing to a mysterious illness, reanimates as a vicious, animalistic killer. Then, of course, there’s the Ancient One, Balathu (or Kurum) from the prologue, who returns to chase the group in multiple sections.
Much later in Brothers and The City, Salim and Jason reach a gargantuan cavern where all the vampires seem to be nesting in cocoons. This area is buried underneath Naram-Sin’s temple, meaning that these creatures have been here for thousands of years well before the rise and fall of the Akkadian Empire.
As for Rachel, she gets bitten and infected during The Horror. Next, in Strange Aeons, the parasite that’s gestating in her attempts to take control of her mind. She watches a vision of the past based on the memories of the creature. It shows how an alien race explored the stars, only for their ark to crash on Earth. Based on various clues, including fossilized remains, it seems that this spacefaring race suffered from the effects of the parasite. The slug-like thing would enter a living being’s body to gestate. Then, it will kill the host and take control of its body. It would continue killing and infecting others over time.
Simply put, you can think of the aliens as sentient creatures just like humans. They have advanced technology, and they communicate by way of sound (ie, the use of the spiral device and echolocation in the case of bat-like monsters). Because the parasites cause living beings to turn into rabid killers, the aliens act more like giant, frenzied bats. But, if the parasite controls a human, that person turns into a demon-esque zombie.
More parasites and Pazuzu demon-alien worship
Another example where we see the alien parasite is in The Assault. If you decide to let Jason shoot Clarice, a parasite will scurry out of her mouth unbeknownst to the group. It seems that this is also how Balathu/Kurum and Joey were infected. In Joey’s case, he’s already dead and, while not explicitly shown, his corpse may have been bitten which caused him to reanimate. This, too, presents another question because of a short scene before The Signal. In it, a figure stands over Merwin. The next time you see him, he’s all hale and hearty with no signs of infection. We don’t really find out more because he gets shot in the head by Dar.
Speaking of Dar, his gruesome death also leads to additional questions. If the parasite travels from one host to the next (ie, an alien vampire bites a human), then how come Dar is simply consumed instead of infected? Come to think of it, we even see several soldiers who are killed, but we don’t see them reanimate at all.
Perhaps the most glaring question is why the alien vampires never managed to infect the rest of the populace even after thousands of years. Yes, they fear sunlight and can only come out at night or when there’s an eclipse. But, if these creatures were under the control of a parasite that attempts to spread through contact, it’s odd if winged monsters somehow never went further afield to turn most of the human race into demon-zombie hybrids. Remember, Naram-Sin’s empire was destroyed by these things. Likewise, ancient peoples are already aware of them, which means they’ve been sighted. We also know that they slumber in cocoons when idle, but it’s not like they won’t be able to find other caves or ruins to hide in after infecting others.
Overall, this is how I interpret the storyline of House of Ashes:
- The aliens (already affected by the parasite and killing each other) crash-landed on Earth.
- Naram-Sin built the temple dedicated to Enlil above the crash site/ark/Vault. Naram-Sin’s lands may have been affected by other disasters, but it’s the disturbance of the old city/Vault that caused the doom to fall on Akkad.
- Some Akkadians, such as Kurum, may have already started worshiping the vampires as part of their occult practices. This would give rise to the belief in a demon god, Pazuzu.
- The ancient god — also seen in The Exorcist, mind you — looks like a monstrous figure with wings. During Bloodbath, you see a giant Pazuzu statue in the blood-red river. Then, in the Daylight finale, you’ll clearly see how the alien vampires resemble it.
- After the fall of Akkad, subsequent civilizations continued to believe in Pazuzu. It’s why we see clues about how the game’s title, House of Ashes, is also the equivalent of the underworld in the ancient religion. Because the vampires come from deep beneath the ground, folks started to think that it’s akin to souls being dragged down to the depths.
- In The Raid, Jason sees effigies in a shepherd’s hut. These symbols, as you’d later notice, match the ones that are etched on the temple’s walls.
- While there are those who think that the legends might be paranormal or supernatural in nature, some members of Hodgson’s expedition knew that these were aliens. It’s why they’ve been planning on digging deeper to find their lair. One journal even cites how alien technology can help the human race.
- Members of the top-secret government organization in the mid-credits scene are aware of various strange occurrences, although it’s their first time seeing these vampire aliens. They do mention a certain “Winterfold,” which might be where they found different creatures.
Comparing it to past twists in Man of Medan and Little Hope
I enjoyed Until Dawn immensely, and I’ve also covered previous titles in The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan and Little Hope. As mentioned in our House of Ashes official review, this game manages to one-up its predecessors due to having more action-packed sequences. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you experience frantic and hectic moments. Unfortunately, the twist/big reveal is more subjective, and it wasn’t to my liking.
I’ve stated this in other articles, but I found the twists in Man of Medan and Little Hope to be more impactful. In the former’s case, I had read about the SS Ourang Medan ghost ship and the conspiracy theories surrounding it. As such, seeing it play out in a video game (with its own inspired take), was a treat. As for the latter, I know that it disappointed players who didn’t want another retread of the “it’s all in your head” trope. But, I did like the reveal in the ending, especially due to how it’s connected to the pasts of your characters.
In contrast, House of Ashes goes the Until Dawn route, a pure creature feature where the monsters are real. That’s fine in and of itself (and many of us did enjoy Until Dawn as well). Unfortunately, the game went a little bit overboard. Rather than relying on a paranormal or supernatural explanation, it happily jumped the shark to the sci-fi territory. I even wrote in the review that it’s like a meme coming to life. Of course, the meme I’m referring to is the “Alien Guy” from the History Channel. It’s a silly trope where, if people encounter strange occurrences, someone would blame extraterrestrial beings. I felt that it lessened the impact of the Akkadian legend, turning it into a silly backdrop rather than enriching the lore behind it. After all, one of the ways Hollywood cheapens supernatural thrillers is by adding a twist that aliens were behind it all.