I was just introduced to Ashes a couple weeks ago, just finished afterglow and am thoroughly impressed.
"Though in the future I am veering toward having scripted reinforcements spawn in when the story invites players returning to cleared out areas."
Having a knife is a nice mechanic, but I never found myself using it, except to bust trash or barriers.
Crowbar is solid.
Revolver is good; ended up using it more as a shorter sniper rifle than as a close-range option. Nice for early 1hkos.
The glock is a great weapon, but once I got the mac10 I basically stopped using it to conserve ammo for the mac10.
Pumpshotty is 10/10, solid from early to endgame.
Sawed off shotty is alright; good for popping around a corner and really fucking somebody, especially slower tougher enemies; barely used it though because the mac10 does it better. Basically only used the altfire.
Mac10 is the mvp; use it on the toughest enemies and when Im up against big groups at shorter ranges. Stunlocking fullauto is fantastic. Also the best weapon with the lantern.
Flamethrower is alright; I used it against big groups who were further away, especially if they didnt have fast ranged attacks. The altfire is too slow and too short range to be very useful; I have better options. Did use it against the spiders though. The altfire is nice if you were using the flamethrower anyway and somebody gets close; there is that.
Pipebomb tripwires are great; used those all the time when I suspected ambushes or as a fallback option, and were my main way of handling riot shield guys. As a thrown weapon I used it only a few times; found it difficult to aim and time and usually blew myself up with it.
Junker musket is solid; as a long range weapon and as a power weapon, especially with the charge-up.
The m16 is probably the objectively best weapon, but its almost endgame-only. Basically it was my mid-long range mac10.
The PIG is fantastic in the big closerange endgame battles and too expensive elsewhere; never did make use of the altfire.
I never used the laser pistol, though I did have it at the end.
Used my leather bandoleers on 9mm and slugs.
Only used NV for like 5 seconds before the last level (in the tunnels under prosperity with the musket vs a riot shield guy) and on the last level in that dark section against the human soldiers. I saw you say you didnt want to do tough fights in the dark, but I wish you would, maybe on the harder difficulties anyway.
I never used brute; sounded like a melee buff and I almost never used melee. Only found out later on that it helps you reload faster.
Never used regen in combat; only once or twice when I was at very low health to get to 100 without using other consummables. There were a couple times where I probably should have used it, but switching items in that slot is a pain in combat. Didnt know what titan actually did but I used it against the witch boss.
Only used purge twice; once at the nuclear plant, and one time I probably didn't need to in the sub.
Never bought food or water; wasnt even positive what they did respectively.
The arrangement of the weapons was annoying; I wish they were grouped more by type than the order in which you got them, though I realized too late that I could rebind them.
It felt like there were a few too many weapons. I played on apocalypse and I never got low on ammo overall. Anytime I was close to maxing out with a weapon, I'd start using it just so I wouldn't leave ammo behind. I probably should have went with survival but I thought apoc would be harder. Actually, I played episode 1 on arcade, DMW on survival, and afterglow on apoc, and DMW was probably the hardest, especially that last gunfight (though I held back a bit because I expected an actual boss fight; didnt want to blow all my best resources).
Lvl 1, the metro tunnels, and westside were all solid and fun in their own ways. Flooded district is maybe my favorite level. The gap was ugly and too open and not so detailed, but it was fun to avoid radiation and I enjoyed the harder fights. Actually I should say the most fun I had exploring was the metro tunnels early on; wish there was a lot more of that and with more enemies.
I like that you made vehicles work in this engine, but honestly Id rather the motorcycle be a between-levels travel option. I'd always scout ahead on foot, clean up enemies, then come back and go through with the motorcycle; you only need it for the jumps and its really not much faster than running. I never had an enemy to shoot with Lucy, though I suspect I missed a bit of content. Maybe if there was heavier radiation in open areas and you need the motorcycle to get through fast enough?
I liked the early hub better than the later hub, but the later hub did have good levels. The biodome in particular was easily my 1st or 2nd favorite in the game. I actually wanted to side with the roamers but I already sold all the pods so I missed that. Planting the bombs, then going back and wiping them all out was like being a kid in a candy store. The sub was pretty cool, and the last level was great, but I'd rather fight enemies on foot than on the bike. I had so much ammo of all types on the last level that I had to keep leaving it behind.
Overall it feels like we could use an even harder difficulty level, like apocalypse + survival or something. Apocalypse but enemies drop less ammo and/or even more enemies at a time. I wish enemies were better at following you out of sight.
I think the game could use more "front and behind" ambushes; like you encounter a group of enemies to your front, then a locked door or whatever behind you opens and you are surrounded. I found it too easy to camp in the vast majority of fights.
Loved the workbench mechanic; barely used junk at all in episode 1 and the upgraded guns all look pretty cool.
Overall I liked the additional dialogue and trading mechanics compared to episode 1, and journal quests.
The atmosphere and environmental detail/art, the snappy gunplay, the fantastic music, creative and intelligent level design, the enemies, the scavenging/secrets; solid 9.5/10 game for me. My biggest complaint is how slidey the player is, especially when platforming, but I don't think you can help that. Episode 1 was good, but Afterglow is almost perfect. Very much looking forward to episode 3 and any DMW-like additions.