Dark Souls 3's final DLC, The Ringed City, seeks to close the curtain on the series. With some of the best environments in the series and imaginative boss fights, it feels like a fitting end. Even as I shed no tears at the passing.
The Ringed City is the last piece of content for the Dark Souls franchise and it’s a suitable send off. The preceding DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, felt light and aimless. Its snow-swept world was confusing and while it culminated in a strong final boss fight, it couldn’t compare to stronger outings like Artorias of the Abyss or Dark Souls 2's stellar DLC collection. The Ringed City is a gorgeous and surprisingly intelligent entry into the series. It is exactly what Dark Souls 3 needed.
Players find themselves descending into the Ringed City in search of the elusive dark soul of man. Along the way, they will explore a setting that takes previous games and throws them into a blender. The world is the real star here. It is evocative and grabs attention far more than any boss.
The first area is the Dreg Heap and it is something truly special. A burnt out world filled with ash hills stretches for eternity, high towers and castles bursting out like blighted tumors on the horizon. This is where worlds come to die and it pulls liberally from across the franchise to create a stunning image.
The old ruins of Dark Souls 2's Earthen Peak intermingle with tree branches from Dark Souls’ Lost Izalith. A poisonous swamp cuts through ash mounds and old ruins. Angels soar the skies above and rain holy judgement upon any foolish undead. It’s a meta-texual graveyard where the loose detritus of previous games comes to fester and decay. The Ringed City itself mixes elements of Anor Londo and Drangliec into a golden and majestic wonder. Moment for moment, The Ringed City is beautiful.
You don’t want to rush into this DLC unprepared. It’s stuffed with some of the hardest hitting enemies around. Even the smallest foes can drag you to death. It was recommended to me that I enter this area with a character that was at least level 125. I explored with a character at level 75 and while it is possible to conquer the DLC at lower levels it’s not easy. This is a final culmination, one last test to see if you are worthy. Don’t take it lightly.
There’s much better bosses here than in Ashes of Ariandel. From massive demons to a final duel that recalls some of the series’ best clashes, The Ringed City is definitely swinging for the fences. Of particular note is the second boss fight, which contains a twist that cements it as one of the best encounters throughout the games.
However, returning to Dark Souls after some time only stresses just how hostile and contemptuous these games are. They weave a web of arcane systems and clumsiness that feels outdated with the arrival of faster peers like Nioh. The Ringed City appears to know this as well, pulling out trick after to trick to invigorate combat and surprise the player. It’s appreciated but I’m glad to leave it all behind me as the ash settles.
The Ringed City revels spectacle and mystery. The world drips with the blood of past games, involved story arcs resolve the fates of beloved characters, and combat encounters are impeccably staged. In the end, it manages to distill some of the best core gameplay in the series. This is a final hurrah but it’s also a welcome end to the madness. “Very good.”