Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City is the final swan song in a video game series firmly cemented as one of the greatest of all time. FromSoftware, the series developers, recently announced that it would be the last we see of the games which are revered and despised in equal measure, which create a unique blend of punishment and reward, the likes of which we’re unlikely to see again – the exception being another FromSoftware title, of course. The Ringed City is the final bow that no one asked for, let alone wanted, and what a way to go.
The latest and final expansion for Dark Souls 3 is as challenging as it gets; a bold statement for a series renowned for its oft-unbearable difficulty. It’s easy to see why the developers chose for it to be this way; aside from this being the developer’s last Souls game, players are required to have defeated the Lord of Cinder, or at least have beaten Ashes of Ariandel, before they can even step foot in the latest area. FromSoftware therefore assume that The Ringed City players will be well adept, and knowledgeable enough of the game’s mechanics to take on the toughest of bosses and enemies. Yet it may still challenge even the most skilful of Souls players.
You first begin at The Dreg Heap, an area as cold figuratively as it is literally. Covered in layers of snow, new enemies will rise from the ground in abundance, and create a threat from seemingly every section of the floor. Headless giants wield monstrous weapons, and the annoyingly nimble thralls return in frustrating numbers. Most enemies will initially be beatable, meaning the early sections are good for farming souls. Yet there are sections towards the end of The Dreg Heap which require running as fast as you can for safety, none more so than in the swamps. Behemoths shoot from the skies, ensuring that you replay their area time and time again, until finally you make it through. Yet in Dark souls you rarely have respite, and a difficult passage inevitably turns into to an even more difficult boss fight.
The Ringed City area, after which the DLC is named, leaves no prisoners either. More new characters are introduced, ghosts summoned from a robed behemoth, with arms great enough to swipe anyone in close proximity with a deadly blow. The city is ruined but beautiful, and leads to the final swamp area in the series. In typical Dark Souls fashion, there are many enemies but very few bonfires. Patience, skill, and estus flasks are needed in abundance. A fairly simple boss awaits past the swamp, tempting you into confidence for the grand finale. You arrive at a dilapidated city, in what looks like an endless desert, for the showdown that the series deserves. It’s quite possibly one of the most difficult bosses FromSoftware have conjured, but in their final attempt, they couldn’t have made it anything but.
Not a second is wasted in The Ringed City, both in terms of difficulty and artistry. The game will challenge people of all different playing styles; whether you prefer a pyromancy, strength, or dexterity build, your weaknesses will, at some point during the game, be exploited. Yet with the DLC being so stunning, it’s hardly a problem having to die and re-do areas so often. From ruined cities to the deepest of swamps, every area has something to stop and admire – if you have the time. Running with the theme of the whole series, life is bleak in The Ringed City, but stunningly bleak in a strange way. Whilst both of the new areas may not have the charm of Anor Londo, the artistry of the background architecture, the raw colour palate, and secrets hidden around every corner will have you transfixed from the offset.
Of course Dark Souls doesn’t always want you to curse at it angrily and tell the world you hate it, which is why summons make a return. They may be especially relevant for the final boss, but there are others in the game which feel like they were designed for co-op play. With the Dark Souls online play being some of the most original ever made, it’s exciting to see it put to good use in The Ringed City.
The length of the expansion is dependent on your skill level in the game, but players can expect to put at least eight hours into their first attempt. There are of course secret locations and optional bosses, and completing these will extend game time to at least twelve hours, again depending on your experience in the game and your character build. Those who have played Ashes of Ariandel will find The Ringed City almost twice as long, and probably more difficult also.
The Ringed City is a requirement for every fan of Dark Souls, not just because of its testing difficulty and magnificence, but because it acts as the finale of an inspirational series, one which changed the way the modern generation of players viewed games. With most games now rewarding players with checkpoints every step of the way, preferring narrative over game mechanics, and allowing players a choice over difficulty, Dark Souls has acted as a reminder of what games used to be. Like the rest of the series, The Ringed City doesn’t hold your hand; instead it makes you work hard for that bonfire, teaches you how to defeat your enemies slowly but surely, and ultimately rewards you for your patience. If it is goodbye, then it’s been a pleasure. You made me laugh. You made me cry. You made me die. Many times.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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