Published on April 6th, 2017 | by Cactus
REVIEW: Dark Souls III: The Ringed City
Summary: From the depths of the Dreg Heap comes the final instalment to the Dark Souls franchise; Dark Souls III: The Ringed City. Continuing from the previous DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, it’s up to you to follow the Slave Knight Gael to the ancient kingdom of ‘The Ringed City’. Is the City better left long forgotten, or is it time to take the plunge into darkness one last time?
Concept: Taking place after the events of Ashes of Ariandel, the Ashen One plunges head first into the Dreg Heap, a bizarre conglomeration of kingdoms long past, located at the end of the world. Their goal: to follow Gael to The Ringed City, the ancestral home of the pygmies, and the location of the epitomes Dark Soul. For the ultimate part of the series, these new locations both tie in strongly to the thematic ideas expressed up until this point, and build on them thoroughly. Passing through the ruins of lands long gone, only to arrive at one of the most ancient places in the entire Dark Souls universe, makes for a chilling feeling. Although it is not as bombastic a finale as one would expect, in many regards the absence of splendour leads to a more haunting, and impactful experience, which permutes the more explosive moments. While many questions about the world and lore are still left hanging, The Ringed City successfully manages to wrap up the Dark Souls universe in an incredibly suitable manner.
Graphics: When it comes to the Dreg Heap and The Ringed City, the DLC’s two new areas, graphically they could not be more distinct. The Dreg Heap is a mass amalgamation of towns, cities, and kingdoms long forgotten, arrayed as a jumble of spires and keeps with no regard for uniform orientation. This strange mess of times past is stacked high, and in moving down towards The Ringed City, we begin to see its majesty. Although the Heap may not have the same beauty in architectural design as some previous locations, its daunting vertically and unfeeling harshness leads to a humbling atmosphere not since seen in the series before. Standing in stark contrast of this is The Ringed City.
Oh god, you leave town for a few weeks and EVERYTHING goes to Hell!
The City’s vibrant use of colour, as well as the liberal use of bright sunlight throughout the area, provides a stunning environment to discover. Being the ancestral home of the pygmies – ergo humans – my first playthrough of the area was like a religious experience. My journey throughout the initial parts of The Ringed City was filled with almost as much sightseeing as it was my myriad of deaths. The environmental storytelling is some of the finest yet shown. To visit a fictional city so rich in history is a joy to behold. The design team have done a fantastic job creating a location that feels as though it has existed for millennium. Even particular architectural cues harken back to the designs used in the original Dark Souls, which cements the age of the location perfectly. Another notable feature is the enemies that populate the two areas. While the enemies of the Dreg Heap are somewhat standard Dark Souls foes, those in the Ringed City rise above the rest. By having a controlled use of old design aesthetics, the denizens of the ancient city manage to both inspire fear and curiosity, due to their implied relation to beasts encountered in prior games.
Gameplay: The vertically of the Dreg Heap leads to many new additions when it comes to gameplay. Falling great distances, only to break your fall on piles of ash, leads to an interesting form of level design. Normally the levels in the Dark Souls series allow for easy backtracking, so that locations may be explored more readily. I found it frustrating that these immense drops which, while lending to the sense of spectacle and scale for the area, lead to an array of frustrating level restarts as I attempted to search every section of the first area. The underuse of the environmental themes in regards to level design also feels disappointing. While the topsy-turvy nature of the Dreg Heap could have lead to some brilliant uses of reputation, such as having to traverse well-known areas in obscure ways due to their orientation, the level plays out in an all too standard way. A lot of possible innovations to the gameplay have been squandered, due to the disregard for some of the more interesting features of the location. One notable exception is the new angel enemies. These guys are tricky to kill, and very dangerous, leading to an emphasis on stealth that is not often used in the series. While I admire the attempt at a more diverse design, this section overstays it’s welcome, and unfortunately doesn’t play well with the skill set amassed thus far. By comparison, The Ringed City is a plethora of interesting environmental design and encounters.
Must ..fight ..monsters… Trying to ..avoid looking ..at buildings!
The diversity of new enemies will push your Dark Souls skill set to the limit. Encounters such as the new ‘Judicator Giants’, who summon tens of unkillable arches, are particularly troubling. Figuring out just how to beat them can be difficult, even for the most experienced player. While conceptually The Ringed City might not have as many obvious level design tricks to play, it certainly has a few hidden up its sleeve. Enemies which inflict curse on you while in their vicinity, or colossal brutes with a weakness to plunging attacks, invoking an interesting new use of long-honed skills. The DLC also includes 4 new bosses. These play out incredibly well, each one acting as a conclusion to boss developments from over the years, focusing on enhancing old boss fight styles rather than developing entirely new ones. Each fight had me on the edge of my seat. In particular, the final boss of the expansion acts as a brilliant way to conclude the Dark Souls series. With moves echoing those of older bosses, as well as a few new tricks, each encounter has a feeling of individuality. The bosses in The Ringed City are a real standout in the colossal line-up of Dark Souls bosses.
Multiplayer: To begin with, for the sake of the reader, I will alert you that the discussion of the new multiplayer elements requires spoilers. For all of you who wish to avoid these, simply note that the new addition is something I thoroughly enjoy. You may skip to the ‘Awesomeness’ section for further Ringed City thoughts. For the rest of you: within The Ringed City is a boss fight called ‘Spear of The Church’, which utilises an intriguing idea first seen in Demon’s Souls. In the fight, a Judicator Giant summons in a Spear of the Church, a member of the new covenant introduced within the DLC, to fight as their champion. This covenant allows you to be summoned into another player’s game to fight against them as the boss. This system has its own highs and lows. On the positive side, I was able to fight a different player on each attempt of the boss, and the game even includes a way to refight the boss as many times as you please. It’s a really enjoyable way to initiate a PvP encounter. On the other hand, this fight can be incredibly hard if you are not well versed with the multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls. As this is a major boss in the DLC, it can potentially lead to a lot of frustration if you manage to get stuck. Furthermore, as the DLC is new, it’s apparent that over time fewer people will be fighting this boss, and so over time, the activity within the covenant will diminish. I for one think that the idea of having another player be the boss has potential; it allows people to not only custom build their own unique boss fights but also allows a potentially infinite number of bosses to be encountered. In a game so focuses on intense fights, the Spear of The Church encounter is a wonderful way to accentuate how varied the multiplayer aspects of Dark Souls III can be.
‘Hey, I wonder how close to this egg I can get without touching it? Whoops!’
Awesomeness: The Ringed City sits in an unfortunate situation when it comes to the subject of ‘awesomeness’. Considering that as the final piece of its property, there is a lot that is expected of it. In a series so aloof and mysterious, it’s understandable that many expect this expansion to hold all the answers. To put it bluntly; it doesn’t, but it was never supposed to. Dark Souls has always been a series about mastering a system that is intentionally obtuse, be it the combat, the world traversal, or the lore. That still holds true here; Dark Souls III: The Ringed City doesn’t hold all the answers, nor should it. The world building put forth here is spectacular and nuanced, and the new enemies are challenging, yet for the most part, emphasise techniques honed by years of play. Personally, I think it’s bloody brilliant.
Final Word: In this triumphant conclusion of the Dark Souls trilogy, From Software have gone above and beyond in the execution their final addition. As farewells to a series go, this DLC is the perfect demonstration of how it can be done right. As well as providing some genuinely thrilling set pieces, the controlled use of fan service and call backs in conjunction with a strong, thought provoking ending leave me feeling absolutely satisfied with The Ringed City. A great send off to a fantastic series.
Out of 5 Bugs