Alas, the wait is over! The final iteration of Dark Souls is finally upon us. Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City brings more or less of what you would expect from a Dark Souls title. Epic boss fights, hidden pathways with a few jump scares, and new loot. This DLC comes packed with three main bosses, one secret optional boss, and a few mini-boss encounters. Great aesthetics, interesting new enemy types, and more. For those of you worried about length, FromSoftware, Inc. did not let you down this time around, ahem, Ashes of Ariandel. On average, if you were to go through at a reasonable pace and defeat every boss, it would take you about seven to eight hours to complete. Then include an NPC sidequest, a few side bosses, and you could quickly put in close to ten hours or more. And, yes, this makes it all worthwhile. But does this live up to be an epic final installment of the Souls series?
The DLC opens up big with fantastic views overlooking a tangled mess of ruined towers as you slowly descend towards the Ringed City.
The level design is a suitable choice for the Dark Souls universe. I felt as though I was traveling through a dark, decrypted world filled with vile creatures ready to tear me limb from limb. The highlights of astonishing visuals appear right before and after you get to the second bonfire, the Ringed Inner Wall. You get to see a lot of the city and future pathways that await your journey as you descend deeper and deeper into the city. However, once you reach the city, there are times when it feels clunky and awkward to maneuver around. The clunkiness could be a deliberate hurdle for the player. I do appreciate how each area is woven together to create easy access around which you can maneuver. Although the large, desolate, desert-like segment right before the final boss sets the bar high, there was one instance where the ground glitches and my screen started flickering. The glitch was not too significant, though -- a patch could fix it right up.
The art design for many of the new terrifying creatures fits right in with the level design. A few of the monsters are just re-skins, pulled directly from the original title and previous DLC, Ashes of Ariandel. These re-skinned enemies lacked imagination, and at times I feel as though I'm going through the motions of killing the same enemy types over and over. Some sections are very challenging and punishing in an arbitrary way. Take the poison swamp area, with the zombie-like death angels, for example. I was running about, literally screaming at the top of my lungs trying not to get obliterated by these horrific creatures. They seem to fire beams of light aimlessly at you and getting across the swamp feels more like more of a gamble on whether or not I would live, rather than using my individual skill of avoiding the beams.
The new enemy types bring new game mechanics not too familiar with the Souls series. I found myself trying to utilize a more stealthy approach that took immense patience to move on. Many players not akin to this play style could see this as an interesting take to approach each situation. For myself, stealth Souls is not my style. I prefer to go in head-on and best my opponent with pure skill at my back. I wish there were an alternate way to approach these situations, so you don't feel forced to play a certain way. It would seem that the addition of these unique mechanics may serve as either frustrating or welcoming, depending on your playstyle.
When you do complete each section, the amount of joy you receive justifies the amount of suffering you went through. Dark Souls fans know the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the next bonfire. Or better yet, defeat a boss that took you a hundred tries, multiple summoning's of other players, loss of all of your souls, loss of all of your embers, a broken monitor, a broken keyboard, a broken mouse, uninstalling the game, reinstalling of the game later, and a part of your own souls to go with it. As you finally beat that godforsaken scum bag the desirable surge of satisfaction makes this title, unlike many other genres.
Which brings me to my next point, and probably one of the most important factors in the Souls titles: the boss encounters.
The first and last bosses are painstakingly difficult, as it should be for a Souls title. I perished at the hands of these two a lot. I noticed what makes or breaks these experiences is whether or not they challenge you to learn from your opponents attacks. A few of the bosses in the base title lacked this. When you are on your twenty-fifth attempt, and you finally understand what to watch for and when to roll out of the way, or block, from a boss' tell. When fighting the first and final boss, your dodge timing needs to be spot-on should you wish to be victorious. I recommend fighting them on your own, first. Going head-to-head against a creature wrapped in a giant hunk of steel, swinging a sword at you that is three times your size is gratifying. You can run these instances with friends or random players, but doing so seemed to be a lot easier to cheese the fight. For some, this may not take away from the fun factor of the fight. For those seeking a challenge, go it alone.
The second boss encounter can be comparable to one of the laziest bosses I've ever experienced, Champion's Gravetender from Ashes of Ariandel. At least that's what I initially suspected. After part way through I had realized it had similar elements ripped off from the Old Monk fight in Demon Souls. It may be a pleasant surprise to those that do a lot of PVP and could bring longevity to those who enjoy it. But for those who enjoy PVE, it could be viewed as a rather annoyance. Although this boss is still challenging and brings something new to the table, putting a PVE players into a forced PVP situation may hinder one's experience.
The optional boss battle is an enjoyable experience and one of the most epic fights I have encountered in the series. I will say that sometimes the camera angles can be a little finicky during the fight, but this did not take away from my enjoyment, it's just a bit irritating.
One of the most important decisions FromSoftware had to make was the direction of the final boss. There's no other way to say this: they nailed it.
Ending with a bang was surely what they had in mind. The final boss has a lot of unpredictable attack patterns that will take some time to learn. Overcoming his phases will be a real test of your skill. When compared to other bosses, he has a spot up there regarding most challenging yet fair battles to date. Even on my twentieth try I wasn't scratching my head or screaming out of pure frustration wondering how I died. I knew that my dodge timing was off or I didn't roll properly and in the right direction. They did a good job balancing toughness versus fairness and honestly ended on a high note here.
Dark Souls lore is woven into the game's NPC dialogue and items that you find along the way.
The DLC is no different and if a player is curious enough they can collect gear to understand this newly develop world. If this is annoying to some, don't fret because the title is not held back by this. The enemy encounters and boss battles bring the player an excellent service that is well worth the few annoyances. The nooks and crannies and hidden pockets throughout the levels hold a bit of the most badass and comical items in the release. I found this an item called "Giant Door Shield," and yes it's a Giant Door Shield! I was laughing pretty hard trying to swing this massive door at enemies or putting the dual shields together to form a double door and charging enemies head on. It's moments like these that create some exciting gameplay moments where having a friend to play with can be a good laugh for both of you. One of my favorite weapons is the Ringed Knight Paired Greatswords. Your character will be look pretty intimating wielding these beasts that are about the size of your character. I can imagine many new builds that are capable with these and other items you find along the way.
Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City brings exactly what the series needed drawing to a close. This installment does feel like "just another Souls game, " but it's a good one that capitalizes on what FromSoftware does best. I would suggest picking up this DLC if you already have Dark Souls 3. If you are new to the franchise and are into nail-biting, heart-pounding, blood-rushing, sword-slashing experiences, you won't be disappointed.