Ashes to ashes.
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City on PS4
As I step out onto the ledge and look out over the twisting, warped landscape it’s hard to believe that this may very well be the last journey players take into the world of Dark Souls. Acting as the last piece of real content that this series would obtain, The Ringed City attempts to close the books on this famed franchise all while tying up the various loose ends in the main plot. After the letdown that was Ashes of Ariandel, this second expansion seeks to send the series off on a high note. Despite a few stumbles, The Ringed City delivers new challenges, weapons, enemies, and some of the best bosses in the entire franchise’s history.
Set between the events of Ashes of Ariandel and the final boss, The Ringed City does an admirable job expanding upon the lore that both Dark Souls III and the series at large has established. There has always been a sense of dread entrenched within this series, but the second expansion builds upon this and offers players a glimpse at the end of the world. It’s not hard to feel a sense of hopelessness as you explore the ruined city, vast wastelands, and twisted architecture that makes up this DLC’s two primary locations.
From Sofware’s intricate level design is on full display here, with areas folding in on themselves in unique and almost dreamlike ways. Most of this is experienced during The Ringed City’s first half known as the Dreg Keep where players get to traverse sandblasted ruins and buildings that float in the air. Yet, there’s almost too much familiarity with the various areas this time around, as some ideas such as the poisonous swamp and vast open water area feel recycled from the core game. There’s just not enough variety at times and once you actually visit the famed city itself, all of the big surprises feel spent.
Where The Ringed City succeeds is how From Software consistently subverts player expectations within this expansion. Vague notes that tell players to jump off a cliff seem like just another trick left by a player, but are in actuality the only way to progress through the world. While a rare spell is hidden behind multiple hidden walls, teasing those who continued to smack away even when it appeared as if nothing was going to be there. There’s a rather elaborate sidequest to unlock a hidden boss that involves a good mix of combat, exploration, and problem-solving. The Ringed City even challenges players with a riddle to solve in order to unlock a hidden area that an NPC constantly references.
Yet, users won’t want to just run through the world to discover its secrets as The Ringed City is more than happy to remind players of what the “You Died” screen looks like. Make no mistake, this is absolutely end game content, as everything hits hard and can easily kill a careless player. Going into this expansion I was worried that my level 120 Knight was too overpowered, but that thought was quickly put to rest when a basic enemy killed me in three hits. It’s exciting and adds a nice sense of challenge to the gameplay that Ashes of Ariandel was sorely lacking. Yet, your basic enemies are rather hit or miss, as some are truly exhilarating to fight against while others just feel like arbitrary difficulty spikes.
The angels are the most notable example of this, as these flying figures can release a torrent of light arrows from the sky if you are spotted and will most certainly kill a player if caught in the crossfire. However, the issue is that they are immune to your basic attacks, meaning that these sections are little more than an elaborate game of hide and go seek. It’s boring and acts as a stark contrast to the exhilarating moment to moment gameplay this action/RPG offers players.
But where it really matters is in the bosses, of which The Ringed City offers players four new beasts that stand in their way. In what can best be described as a love letter to the rest of the franchise, each boss feels like a callback to original encounters that users have faced in previously entries. One fight playfully incorporates a PvP aspect that’s reminiscent of the Old Monk from Demon’s Souls, while another is the closest thing From Software has ever come to recreating the legendary Ornstein and Smough battle. It’s a wonderful way to pay tribute to the famous foes players have encountered, but even on their own these monsters stand above most of the series’ bosses.
If you want to kill these beasts, players will want to pick up the rather large amount of new loot offered this time around. The Ringed City isn’t content with giving users just a few weapons, as there is a treasure trove of new swords, spears, and bows to acquire. Sadly, spells and pyromancy get the short end of the stick this time around, but there’s more than enough items in this arsenal to fit almost any playstyle.
While The Ringed City may not be perfect, it still serves as a fantastic send off to one of the most engaging series in modern gaming. Even with some lackluster environments and sections that feel artificially difficult for the sake of it, this second expansion reminded me of why I fell in love with this series. From the fantastic bosses to the powerful weapons and visually stunning levels this is an experience that was clearly crafted for the fans. If this is the last time we ever ignite the bonfires and charge into battle against a terrifying demon then it’s one that will be remembered. Even if it didn’t tie up every loose thread, The Ringed City stands as a great epilogue to an even greater series. Praise the Sun!
Score: 4/5 – Great