And that’s a wrap ladies and gentlemen. Or at least, so we’ve been told. The Ringed City is, apparently, the last instalment in the Souls series. So far, we’ve been simultaneously punished and rewarded by one of the greatest series’ in gaming. And one thing’s for certain, if Dark Souls is going out then it’s taking you with it, because this is perhaps the hardest that the game has ever been.
The initial areas – from Dreg Peak to Earthen Ruins – aren’t too punishing. For almost the first time ever, the series seems to give us the opportunity to appreciate the scenery. The gravity defying towers and mish-mash of previous (or at least reminiscent) Souls scenery is truly spectacular. Of course, there are a handful of crap-your-dacks surprises that will leave you dead or, if not, close to. The angles and buffed lothric knights should spice things up for even veteran players.
As gorgeous as these areas were, I wasn’t enthralled in the Ringed City until the demon prince boss fight. The fight is difficult in both its length and danger. You’ll begin by fighting the Demon in Pain and the Demon from Below, which aren’t dissimilar to demons we’ve seen before. Still, the two are a formidable duo; one attacks you head on while the other shoots poison projectiles. After you’ve dodged, countered and I-framed your way through this, the Demon Prince will spawn from the body of the demon you kill last. Interestingly, the Demon Prince’s attacks differ depending on whether you kill the Demon in Pain or the Demon from Below last. Needless to say, this second stage is tough. But, with the music, the arena and the general atmosphere, it’s almost a treat to return to the fight.
And the DLC only gets better from here. On your journey through the Ringed City, you’ll face new breeds of enemies: Judicator giants that summon archers and soldiers to protect them, and hollowed clerics with vicious spells. However, the big standouts are the Ringed Knights, which are some of the best looking enemies in the game. You’ll encounter your fair share of these enemies during the lengthy trek through the Ringed City. But you will of course find rare and rewarding moments of peace, where you can admire beautiful and terrifying views this area has to offer.
Once through the city, things take a bit of a downward turn. You’ll find yourself trudging through the dated textures of yet another Dark Souls swamp. Historically, I’ve found these areas to be the low points of the franchise. They’re dreary, disgusting and almost always lead to you dying in some bad-mannered way (think poison, or surprise attacks). And for whatever reason, we’re stuck with horrible texture packs. That said, it’s still worth exploring this area because you’ll find a nostalgia trip in the form of the Iron Dragon Slayer mini-boss. He’ll put up a heavy fight, but he’ll also drop some tasty loot.
Throughout the Ringed City, notes and NPCs hint at some sort of optional boss. Sure enough, after the swamp, a dragon will come and barbeque you while you’re crossing a bridge – nothing new. Provided you take the right steps – which you can work out for yourself, thank you very much – you’ll find yourself in a hidden area, face to face with this same dragon. This is Darkeater Midir, and he is the hardest boss I’ve ever had to fight. I don’t mean that he’s bad mannered, or undefeatable. The fight is just punishing. We haven’t had a good dragon boss since Dark Souls 1, so it’s nice to see a return to form.
From Darkeater Midir, you basically walk straight into one of the series’ easiest fights. But that’s not to say your fight with Halflight, Spear of the Church isn’t a fun one. You’re essentially just fighting a bunch of NPCs here. And truth be told, fighting a manageable boss was an enjoyable turn of events after the bombardment of difficulty leading up to this point.
But the difficulty is ramped straight back up as soon as you’re done here. But even so, this final section of the Ringed City – and I guess, of Dark Souls – is magnificent. Of course, there’s no clear-cut explanation of the story. But the encounter with Slave Knight Gael is a macabre and wonderfully gothic conclusion to the lore of Lady Fillianore story. It’s also the best fight in the DLC. Gael’s mechanics are phenomenal; he’s balanced enough that you stay calm, but difficult enough to pose a challenge to even veteran Souls players. The entire aesthetic of this area, from the ashen floor to the scattered corpses, is spectacular. And fighting Gael in this ashen desert gets my vote for the most visually dazzling moment of Dark Souls 3.
Honestly, there’s not much else to say. The Dark Souls plot is as mysterious in its conclusion as it was in its beginning. Of course there are a myriad of scattered clues, references and story points scattered throughout the Ringed City. And I’m sure there’s a myriad more I’m yet to discover. I guess that’s an excuse to play this all through again, but it’s not like I needed one anyway; the Dark Souls series has, after all, supplied some of the most original and rewarding experiences in gaming. Am I sad that it’s ended: of course. But I’m ten times happier that it ended like this.