Upon entering The Ringed City, there was an overwhelming sense that this is what the entire Souls series was leading up to. These twisted landscapes, the horrors inside, and the loot I would find would be the last of this much venerated franchise. It truly is the end of an era, so does Dark Souls III wander quietly into the darkness, or go out with a bang?
Beware, SPOILERS lie beyond this point, waiting to rend you limb from limb and send you back to spawn by a campfire.
Compared to the previous DLC, there’s significantly more to do and explore here, feeling less like filler as a result. Actually accessing it is a whole different matter, as you must either have defeated all the Lords of Cinder or beaten the mandatory boss from the Ashes of Ariandel DLC. Both are no mean feats, but they’re decent enough preparation for the horrors that lie ahead.
Essentially, the DLC is split between an ash covered ruin that is plagued with creeping horrors and undead knights. Things aren’t too taxing, until the angels come. These guys… They’re practically invincible to conventional weaponry and, prior to the latest patch, they hit like a truck with magical arrows and curse spells. The key to defeating them is to find the fleshy growth that resembles them, which sounds easier on paper, but at least they stay dead once found.
Once you eventually defeat the boss of the area, the spectacle that is the Ringed City is laid before you… and then a million arrows will probably hit your character all at once. This time it’s courtesy of Judicators that are significantly further away, meaning you must somehow duck and weave your way once more. It’s a common theme in The Ringed City, which I must say put a rather sour taste in my mouth.
Things do get better after that first Judicator though, as you’ll find lots of Ringed Knights who put up a fairer challenge, as well as more of the Hollow Executioners, and the runts that make life a misery with curse effects. Level design is basically thrown out of the window when they throw in a massive swamp filled with enemies, including one of the more difficult bosses from the main game, closely followed by a call-back to the dragons of Demons Souls and Dark Souls.
To be fair, the dragon here is pretty cool as it is part of a questline. With a select number of quests, featuring new NPCs to either befriend or slay, that also means a ton of new weapons and armour. Some of these are incredibly well hidden, very powerful, and full of awesome new weapon arts. The Twin Ringed Greatswords are particularly awesome to wield.
Much like the rest of Dark Souls III, there’s good bosses and bad bosses. If there’s one boss that was a bit of a damp squib in this DLC, it would be the Spear of Justice. If you’re playing offline, you probably get the best result in that you have a reasonably difficult enemy called Halfbright who casts magic attacks, parries yours, and does so while other enemies spawn to throw darts at you and heal the main boss.
However, in my play-through using online functionality, I got another player who disconnected as soon as I wandered into the room. I figured I’d just fight the normal boss, but oddly it was the other player that spawned, so maybe he somehow reconnected? No. Sadly he was the enemy for me to defeat and just stood there receiving a few backstabs for the trouble. He was the easiest Dark Souls boss I’d ever fought.
Not to say that the idea of PvP boss battles isn’t a good one, and it’s not even a new one as we’ve seen it in Dark Souls II and Demon’s Souls, it’s just that the implementation here was sloppy enough to not consider the fact my opponent had disconnected. I may have lost the PvP encounter as I’m awful at fighting in PvP scenarios, but this victory was the only time it felt hollow and empty.
The other three bosses however were all standout encounters; the first has you fighting two demons with fire and poison attacks was thrilling (except for Toxic status ailment, which has no place in a boss fight), with the second phase changing up depending on which demon was killed first. From Software have tried repeatedly to recapture the magic of the Ornstein and Smough fight from Dark Souls ever since and this boss is the closest they’ve come to surpassing it.
In addition to this, an optional boss that has a lot of build-up and secrecy, before culminating in one of the harder bosses in the game due to its immense health and the fact it shares some traits with one of the more challenging fights from the original Dark Souls.
Dark Souls as a series would seem to end its salvo of taxing bosses on a genuine high note, with a final mandatory boss that is no slouch. It’s on par with some of the best bosses of the franchise, given the lore behind it and just how the battle is crafted. I still think that Ludwig from Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters DLC is the best boss fight they’ve created, but this one is certainly up there with the best of them.
The Ringed City is therefore a piece of DLC that for fans will signal closure for the lore and single-player offerings – for the time being at least. It has some of the best moments that the franchise has to offer, some not-so great moments, and indeed some throwbacks to key parts of the series. Until the time comes when Hidetaka Miyazaki wishes to return to this beloved franchise, this heralds the season finale with much more confidence than the previous DLC. Praise the Sun!