Written by Jason Palazini.
From Software is renowned for the relentless challenge they present players in the Dark Souls series. Rest assured you masochistic soul hoarders, the final expansion, The Ringed City, offers no respite for the Hollow.
In fact, it might be fair to say The Ringed City has taken Dark Souls 3 and elevated the difficulty by introducing a slew of new enemies, puzzle elements, and some of the most brutal boss fights. The Ringed City has more airborne projectiles, more clever puzzles, and more overpowered bosses than previously seen in the series.
Astute observers, or the player responsible for writing “Angel, try tongue rear” in glowing soapstone might have noticed, “angel” has been listed under “enemy” in the message system since launch. But for the first time, you get to meet these fabled angels, and unless you enjoy devastating airborne attacks and sprinting from cover to cover, these are anything but heavenly.
If you have the patience, or archer skills, to cover-shoot one to death, you’ll find joy is short-lived. These creatures will immediately respawn, unless you find the nearby parasite that sustains these angels. If you can survive long enough to find and kill it, you’ll be in the clear and never have to deal with these monsters again.
And The Ringed City is loaded with permadeath enemies like the angels, but finding their patterns, dodging attacks, and surviving long enough to end them proves to be more difficult in this expansion. Ghostly battalions of archers, dark dragons, NPCs and Dark Sign Knights will effectively halt your progress for a time.
The Ringed City introduces three new bosses, each one giving you a run for your money. I spent hours burning through embers so and summoning as many phantom players to assist me as my bandwidth could handle. Even so, it usually wasn’t enough to cut it. It’s only fitting that the final bosses introduced in the series incorporate some of the more difficult boss fight elements, including player summons. Two boss fights force you to regularly close large distances between you and your target, putting a heavy strain on stamina, not to mention a few surprises. But the final boss is a wonderfully unique entry to the series.
The final boss in the expansion is an NPC players will be familiar with (no spoilers here). But what makes this character such an interesting choice is their late entry into the series. For an NPC that felt so non-threatening when we first met them, the difficulty of the battle rivals that of Orphan of Kos from Bloodborne. But in true Dark Souls fashion, this boss’s rise to power is a complete mystery, leaving the sequence of events entirely up to the player’s own interpretation.
DLC content is typically intended to increase replayability, give us some new tools, and pull us back into a world just one last time. But in the case of The Ringed City, From Software took it one step farther and tested just how much they could get away with spiking up the difficulty. I spent many late-night hours telling myself “just one more try,” only to fail in a new humiliating way. As a long time fan of the Dark Souls series, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but the creators didn’t hold back for the final sendoff, and it almost ruined the experience.
Dark Souls has always required a patient grind; backtracking for key items, completing side-quests, and hunting down your favorite character’s armor set has always been enjoyable for me. But for the first time in the franchise, I found myself farming embers, just so I could get some help in the next area. My progression was entirely dependent on the skill and quantity of online players. Without an online subscription, I wouldn’t have moved beyond the first boss. Even worse was the puzzle requiring players to, “show your humanity,” in order to access a crucially advantageous shortcut. It ultimately depended on players accidentally discovering what can best be described as an Easter Egg, and then utilizing that unexpected, and frankly unprecedented, tidbit as a solution to this valuable puzzle.
Dark Souls‘ unique multiplayer system once excited players about the benefits of Jolly Cooperation. However, with each new release, interest seems to shift away from co-op and more toward PvP. Co-op is a great tool for when you’re truly stuck in a game, but the dependency on it to progress through The Ringed City dissipated the rewarding feelings of victory. There’s no denying that I enjoyed the DLC, but I certainly wish I could have enjoyed it without others just a little bit more.