Fans of From Software’s Dark Souls series are getting all misty eyed and weepy this week and it’s not because they’ve just had their ass handed to them by an invader. No, it’s because the 28th of March marked the release of the final piece of DLC for what is reportedly the final entry in the Souls series, Dark Souls III: The Ringed City. Our reviewer spent a grueling weekend overcoming its challenges to bring you his verdict on whether this marks a fitting end to the tale of Dark Souls. So, after all this time, did he finally git gud?
Let me answer that first question right out the gate. No, after all my extensive time with Dark Souls III I’m still frequently reminded that my modest skills pales in comparison to many players. Usually when I make my misguided attempts at engaging in PvP matches. I have managed to beat everything the game itself has thrown at me though, so I take some comfort from that. In a break from our normal reviewing strategy, I’ll be aiming this analysis at fans of the game directly rather than attempting to paint broad stokes for those unfamiliar. The reason for this is pretty simple, The Ringed City content comes post-endgame in terms of Dark Souls III progression. You have to have either beaten the previous DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, or the game’s final boss to even unlock the bonfire that will teleport you into the DLC’s first area. (A minor note: The official blurb I read states you have to beat the final boss but the bonfire unlocked for me with the boss still alive, this may have been due to the fact that the character I used was in NG+3). So basically, if you aren’t already a fan of the game there’s no way you’re going to be playing this DLC anyway. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
The Ringed City doesn’t waste any time in getting you into the thick of things. As mentioned above, this content isn’t meant for neophytes and after a brief and suitably cryptic preamble from the obligatory mysterious NPC, it’s straight to some kill or be killed action. This is The Ringed City, a city at the end of the world and the place where the oft referenced ‘furtive pygmy’ secreted the Dark Soul all those Aeons ago in the pre-history of the original Dark Souls. That’s your mission, if you can call it that, reach the bottom of the City, nosey around, and see if you can’t find out what happened to the Dark Soul (have they checked between the sofa cushions?) Of course, to do this you’ll need to wade through an army of enemies and some signature tough-as-hell boss fights.
The first thing fans will notice is that level design in The Ringed City is typically tight. Hidden pathways and shortcuts abound and areas have that flowing logic that the series has become renowned for. Some found bonfire placement to be a bit too generous in Dark Souls III and it’s quite forgiving here initially. There are a couple of sections in the latter half of the DLC that will test your mettle though, throwing you against tough enemy after tough enemy and challenging you not to burn through all those precious flasks too quickly. The Ringed City is fairly light on bosses (four in total with one being optional) and it throws some very tough normal enemies at you to make up for it, as well as some very well designed ‘trick’ enemies that seem impossible to beat until you work out the solutions. The only thing is, anyone playing this DLC is going to be savvy to From Software’s shenanigans so these enemies lose some of the mind-melting impact they would have had if included in the base game.
The fact that the final piece of DLC is geared toward series fans and loreists is undeniable, it uses the Dark Souls III premise of all lands converging to re-imagine an iconic area from Dark Souls II many years after the events of that game in its opening segments. Later it even references the un-Souls related Bloodborne (though it seemed that this was more referential than directly tying together the universes, it should still interest the loreists no end). Then there’s the objective of the DLC itself, your journey to the resting place of the Dark Soul is filled with all kinds of lore tidbits and the fan theory that humanity came forth from the Dark Soul seems stronger than ever. I don’t claim to be able to unravel all the threads it presents but it certainly makes me excited to check the new videos from those (like community-famous YouTuber Vaatividya) who make it their mission to do so.
So, how do the bosses of The Ringed City stack up to the high standard of the main game? Well, they’re all memorable for various reasons but the challenge level of the three main bosses won’t raise any eyebrows for veterans. The final boss especially is an underwhelming fight in terms of difficulty and is more memorable for its visuals and what it means to the story. To say it’s the final Dark Souls boss, ever, it’s a little anti-climactic. The mid-point boss of the DLC impressed me the most as it’s a call back to a boss fight from Demon’s Souls which I will forever hold as one of my most memorable gaming moments, the Old Monk. Play the boss whilst online and you’ll find yourself fighting another player, with a bunch of advantages and AI enemy spawns just to be really mean. It’s awesome fun and I expect most player’s self-set objective in The Ringed City will be gaining access to the new covenant that allows you to take the part of this evil boss. The optional boss is a different story and one that will give the Nameless King a run for the title of toughest boss in the game.
One thing I feel I have to mention is, if you’re a Dark Souls III player who’s yet to purchase either of the DLC packs, then don’t start with The Ringed City alone. The story of The Ringed City and the Ashes of Ariandel cross-over and even feature a recurring NPC who doesn’t appear in the main game. The Ashes of Ariandel is arguably the weaker of the two offerings but taken together the two DLC packs present a very strong ending to the series and a worthy £20 add-on. Sound and visuals stack up right alongside the high standard set by the main game including a couple of new breathtaking vistas to gawk at. I’m not giving away too many details on the surprises in store but rest assured that there’s a full contingent of new spells, miracles, weapons, armor, NPC’s to meet and secrets to discover.
The Ringed City offers a kind of closure for fans of the series, though one open-ended enough that there’s still much for those Reddit groups to discuss. It’s a love letter to fans that makes no concession to those not already immersed in the world and its lore, and that’s just fine. If you played and enjoyed Dark Souls III then you owe it to yourself to get the expansions as it’s more of the same plus a few really memorable moments and some revelations and clarifications that might just make some of those story puzzle-pieces click together in your head. Au revoir Dark Souls, may we meet again.
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City is available now as a digital download from the PlayStation store, individually or as part of the Dark Souls III Season Pass.
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City PS4 Review
- Overall - Must Buy - 9.0/109.0/10
A fitting end to the Dark Souls III story and to the Dark Souls series in general. Apart from a slightly underwhelming final boss, The Ringed City hits all the right notes for fans of the main game.
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*Reviewed on a standard PS4