Dark Souls was first released in 2011, but the Souls series technically started in 2009 with the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls (great game). It wasn’t until FromSoftware made a hardcore action-RPG available for multiple platforms that the cult following really began. Dark Souls was also the first game in the Souls series to receive an expansion, and this began the trend of excellent expansions produced by FromSoftware. Dark Souls 3’s previous expansion, Ashes of Ariandel, was incredibly lacklustre and was Miyazaki’s second last chance to leave dedicated Souls fans amazed. Now we finally come to The Ringed City, Miyazaki’s send off to the brutal series. If you read my preview for this particular expansion, you’d know that I was a little skeptical. After putting in some solid hours, I can quite easily say that The Ringed City makes up for all the things that Ashes of Ariandel did wrong. It’s a fitting, sombre farewell to the series, and one that comes highly recommended.
Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City is supposed to be the conclusion to the entire Souls series. It sees you traverse down into some accursed lands and venture your way to The Ringed City itself, which is rumoured to be where the Dark Soul resides. In my preview I mentioned that I was a little disappointed in FromSoftware’s reliance on dilapidated castles in their settings, and while the whole expansion still remains subject to that minor disappointment there is still some creativity applied (especially after the first boss). The closer you get to The Ringed City itself, the more creative the level design and environments become, in fact it probably has some of my favourite areas in all of Dark Souls 3. The use of varied colour and greenery helps prevent things from feeling stale, and sets it all apart compared to everything beforehand. Obviously the expansion isn’t huge (FromSoftware DLCs never are), but in typical FS fashion, the compact size is still tightly filled. Things from set pieces (specific areas that hold noteworthy weight without having to be a boss fight), clever use of level space and direction which causes every Souls player to face their nightmare help it feel fresh without it feeling foreign.
Don’t forget to slip, slop and slap!
My character in Dark Souls 3 was unfortunately up to NG+7 (I have a problem, I know), so of course the difficulty was going to be ramped way up. Especially since my character is built to be able to use everything, meaning no one attribute is outstanding. That being said, it took me about 5-6 hours to make it through the whole thing including the one secret boss, and the only boss that really gave me trouble was the last boss. I’m not going to comment on how many bosses there are for the sake of spoilers, but it’s definitely a step up from the minimal amount found in Ashes of Ariandel. The types of boss fights are incredibly varied, ranging from gigantic fiends to more organic fights similar to the final bosses in Bloodborne and the original Dark Souls. I would definitely say that they are all memorable for their own reasons and are certainly befitting of the Dark Souls name. One of the bosses in particular has throwbacks to both the Knight Artorias and Ludwig, The Accursed boss fights (and that can only be a good thing).
In terms of the audiovisual part of the expansion, FromSoftware have once again outdone themselves. It’s normal for these guys to create incredible skyboxes, set pieces and immersive aesthetics, and The Ringed City does not disappoint. As I mentioned before, the addition of greenery and a varied colour palette help break the monotony of the gothic medieval architecture. The area immediately following the first boss is really set a part with the lush vegetation scattered across the stone buildings, and the bright light really contrasts the dark tone of the game. Enemy, weapon and armour models are also incredibly detailed, my favourite being the Ringed Knight set. FromSoftware also have always proven themselves when it comes to sound design. Enemies give harrowing shrieks, beast have deafening roars (not actually deafening, it’s hyperbole) and enemy movements make sounds which just feel believable. Weapons and armour clank while moving, that gratifying sloshing sound remains when you hit enemies; everything just fits. If there is one thing that FromSoftware have never let me down with, it’s the high calibre and level of polish in their games’ audiovisual design.
The Ringed City isn’t without its flaws though, and while most of my issues with it are purely personal opinion, as a huge fan of the Soulsborne games I feel that these can detract from the experience. For starters, the way to access the DLC (while quite simple) requires players to be at the very end of the base game. Previously, all Miyazaki-directed expansions (including Ashes of Ariandel) only required you to be about halfway, or less, through the game. However, with The Ringed City, the bonfire used to access the DLC is placed behind the bonfire you rest at when preparing to battle the final boss of the game. It kind of takes away that aspect of ‘I should be higher levelled to tackle this, but I can access it now so why not butt my head against a difficulty wall?’ that every other Miyazaki expansion has had. My only other real issue has to do with a very minimal part of the level design. While the level design for the most part is great, the same issue that I pointed out in my preview remains. At some points, when trying to figure out where to go you’ll find yourself at some dead ends. The worst part about these is that to get out of the dead ends, you’ll need to warp back to your bonfire last rested it. It really seems counterintuitive to force players to use an item and restart an area for making one mistake that didn’t cause death. If I’m still alive, I should be able to rectify my mistakes. It’s an unspoken rule of game design in general and it’s odd that it’s broken here.
Dark Souls 3: the Ringed City is an incredible send off from Miyazaki to the Souls series. It combines great audiovisual design, variety in bosses and a good level of challenge that should help satiate the hunger that the lacklustre Ashes of Ariandel left. Throwbacks to older expansions and bosses in the Soulsborne games directed by Miyazaki help create a thrilling conclusion. Even though you are forced to be at endgame level to access it and the level design sometimes leaves you with no choice but to homeward bone back to your bonfire and reset your progress on the given area, I would still highly recommend this expansion to all that love the Souls game. Goodbye, Dark Souls, it’s been fantastic. May your legacy live on.
Reviewed on PS4