Despite having only three games in the franchise, it feels like Dark Souls has been going on for far longer than six years. Ever since the incredible success of Demon’s Souls, FromSoftware has been capitalizing on this creative and challenging formula, bringing multiple Game of the Year nominees. While the last piece of DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, stumbled a bit in its approach, big promises were made for what was going to be the series’ swan song, wrapping things up a positive way. New areas, enemies and bosses are par for the course, but adding a brand new covenant and tacking on to the already expansive lore will have fans digging into every aspect of The Ringed City.
The environmental design in The Ringed City is varied to a point of contention. While it certainly has a strong assortment of locations to trek through, not to mention being visually captivating, a lot of it, at least in the second half of the DLC where you reach The Ringed City itself, is far too cut and paste. It’s as if the developers had a checklist of their favorite areas and slapped it into a small city. So for example, there needs to be a swamp, a crypt, a dragon blocking your path, a castle with a princess at the top, and so forth. It has become formulaic, something Dark Souls has never really struggled with in the past, although it might be because so much potential is stuffed into a four-hour package. They have all these environments that, while layered on top of one another, feel disjointed and aren’t large or fleshed out enough to be special. At the very least, there’s a few secrets spread across the city, ensuring players will be rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny.
With that said, the first section of the DLC is the complete opposite. Never did I think I’d get dizzy just from thinking about my placement in the world, as you’ll be battling on top of knocked over towers and structures. You’re constantly scaling walls that were torn down decades, if not centuries ago and carefully walking across ledges that were once hand railings. It’s meant to be a completely decimated version of the Earthen Peak from Dark Souls II, with familiar enemies roaming about, along with some iconic visual treats. While it’s not as entwined as The Ring City, this section is still a surreal experience that will leave a positive first impression.
Fortunately, FromSoftware does have a strong grasp on enemy designs. There are very few rinse and repeated enemies this around, with a couple of the new faces making a huge difference. For starters, there are angelic beasts flying around the first portion of the DLC, constantly peppering you with magic. These are some of the coolest enemies in the entire game as there’s an element of stealth implemented here. Instead of simply running far enough to ensure they’re leashed back to a certain point, you will need to break line of sight with them to escape. The Ringed Knights within the city itself feel like evolved versions of Black Knights, having a similar, but more stylish, set of gear, and even have an elemental attribute attached to their attacks. Then there are the giants. These colossal beings are arguably the best new addition as they have the ability to summon an army at will to unleash hell on anyone who gets in their way. There are only a few of them scattered about, but they can be a pain to deal with. Outside of these three, there’s also magicians who look similar to Yoel of Londor, and hideous bug-like creatures that have the ability to slow down your movement.
Outside of the normal enemies, if there’s one thing the series does right, it’s the bosses, and The Ringed City more or less delivers. The first boss fight sets the tone perfectly, throwing in a multi-staged fight that will leave you on the tip of your toes. There’s even a secret boss hidden within the world that will live up to fan expectations. It’s easily the most difficult encounter in the entire DLC, but it’s worth it. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the second mandatory boss fight, as it’s almost not worth mentioning because of how easy it is. This is simply a human who sometimes receives support (which also ties into the new covenant) and uses a long blade with the occasional magical ability. There’s really no strategy to him; you just eliminate any support that spawns and then rush him whenever necessary, as his poise is virtually non-existent. There aren’t multiple stages to this fight, just an incredibly straightforward and almost laughable encounter that’s easier than most of the NPC Invaders.
The final boss, Slave Knight Gael, is a bit of a mixed bag, especially coming off the incredibly impressive Sister Friede from Ashes of Ariandel. This hulking mass wasn’t as simplistic as the previous boss fight, but it’s very easy to predict his attack patterns. He’s flamboyant with his strikes, constantly rushing in and out of battle, spinning his blade and lunging at you from great distances. There are of course two stages to this fight, with the second part really ramping things up. This adds various new attacks to dodge, such as the ability to call upon lightning from the sky, and an added effect to each blade, similar to Lady Maria in Bloodborne, slightly extending his range. Unfortunately, due to his quick nature and somewhat standard combos (outside of the lightning), he doesn’t really put up much of a challenge. In our case, he was defeated in the first go around with plenty of Estuses remaining, not to mention we were twenty levels under what’s recommended. Just as with any boss in Dark Souls, it’s about being patient and timing your shots right, and in Gael’s case, he leaves quite a few openings, especially if you’re more attuned in dexterity.
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City isn’t the swan song that we hoped it would be, but it’s still an enticing adventure for hardcore fans. The problem lies within city itself, which is a bit of a formulaic mess that fails to capture what made the series great. The first half of the DLC has an excellent setup that will leave players wanting more, especially with callbacks to Dark Souls II, but city portion is structurally boring. It’s still intertwining in on itself, but it feels like the developers had a checklist of all their favorite areas and design tropes that needed to be in this short experience, lessening their importance. No one area feels fleshed out enough to be memorable. Regardless, the bosses are a decent showpiece, especially if you can find the secret one, and the new enemies are a welcome addition. It may be only a few hours long, but The Ringed City still a worthy addition to the Dark Souls universe.