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Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Map and world design is creative
  • Puzzle-oriented design
  • A PvP boss fight!
  • Interesting call-backs to both previous Dark Souls games
  • Closes plot threads from Ariandel
  • Swamps don't restrict movement

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Lack of creativity accessing DLC
  • Very rushed pacing
  • Laser-shooting angels
  • NPC conversations happen within aggro range of enemies
  • Darkeater Midir feels very unfair
  • Isn't as conclusive as I'd hoped

Overall Impression:B-
Traps and ambushes rush the player through a vibrant gauntlet

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City

Developer:
From Software

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 4 (via PSN),
XBox One (via XBox Live)

Original release date:
28 March 2017

Genre:
Action RPG

Player:
single-player, with asynchronous multiplayer and up to 6 players in co-op or PvP

Official site:
darksouls3.com/us/

FROM Soft has an erratic track record with how cryptic it can be to find the DLC in the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games. The first Dark Souls required an absolutely arcane process that you'd probably never discover if you didn't already know how to do it. Dark Souls II apparently had its three DLC planned form the beginning, as the vanilla game included shrines for accessing each DLC - at least one of which is in plain view and can't be missed. Bloodborne put a prompt on the screen telling you where to go, but accessing the DLC still required the player to counter-intuitively interact with a specific entity in the game world. And Dark Souls III's first DLC added a character that you could talk to who teleported you to the DLC.

So how would The Ringed City implement its entrance to the DLC? Would it require some arcane process of killing optional enemies in optional areas? Would a dialogue box just pop up to tell the player where to go? If you ask me, The Ringed City might have the laziest and most boring access point of them all. An extra bonfire just appears at one of two specific points, which teleports you to the new area. It makes the whole thing feel like a very detached afterthought.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Ariandel bonfire
If you don't want to wait till the end of the game, you can access the DLC early by beating Ariandel.

If there's one common thread for the DLC, it's that it always requires the player to be teleported across space and/or time. Continuing that tradition is disappointing. I was really hoping for the DLC to be integrated into the actual game world -- that it would reveal some previously-blocked-off path in some obscure or interesting region of the map that would simply allow the player to walk to the DLC, thus revealing the game world to be much larger than originally believed. Like maybe defeating the Stray Demon gatekeeper above Farron could have opened the gate and revealed a path to the DLC. Or the Kiln of the First Flame could have a new path leading down into the Dreg Heap. Or you could descend into the chasm below the Profaned Capital. Something like that.

Maybe as a fun easter egg for fans, the access point could have been hidden behind a statue sitting behind Andre the Blacksmith in Firelink Shrine. But no, it's just an extra, out-of-place bonfire. Further, the fact that this expansion is an extension of the plot from Ariandel, and the very anti-climactic nature of Ariandel, makes it seem like Ariandel should have been the first act of this expansion, but was separated out into its own expansion for ... whatever reason.

Dark Souls II nostalgia trip

On the way into the Ringed City proper, the DLC throws in some Dark Souls II fan service in the form of a monster who looks like an overgrown Human Effigy, a Desert Sorceress ["Desert Pyromancer" now], and a reference to Earthen Peak. Pyromancer Zoey (the Desert Sorceress) was one of the hardest encounters in the game for me. She was harder than many bosses. She's very elusive, and her Flame Fan pyromancy spell is very quick, very deadly, and put me in a stun lock that prevented me from avoiding the follow-up combo. I did better in my first attempt against the Demon In Pain / Demon From Below / Demon Prince boss than I was doing in my sixth attempt against Zoey.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Desert Pyromancer Zoey
Desert Pyromancer Zoey's Flame Fan pyromancy makes her more difficult to confront than many bosses.

Despite the difficulty dealing with the Flame Fan spell, I still enjoyed the duel with Zoey. I'm not sure if I'll enjoy it as much when human invaders start showing up with Flame Flans.

The Earthen Peak cameo was a bit more disappointing. I was really hoping to get to go through a version of DSII's Earthen Peak level, but revised and re-imagined with the superior aesthetic and level design standards of DSIII and Miyazaki's direction. Sadly, that didn't happen, and what we get instead is a small poison swamp that would be virtually unrecognizable if the game didn't outright say that it's Earthen Peak. Many players would probably see the windmills, the poison swamp, and the Desert Sorceress and figure out the association to Earthen Peak, but it would have been a nice nostalgia trip to revisit a more recognizable location like we did with Anor Londo.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Amnesiac Lapp talks about Earthen Peak
Earthen Peak probably wouldn't be recognizable if the game didn't tell us it's Earthen Peak.

It doesn't help that this area is protected by one of the most obnoxious "puzzle" enemies in the entire series. The Angel / Butterfly (which seems to be a less skeletal version of the Pilgrim Butterflies in Lothric Castle) hovers over the area and rains down lasers of death upon you whenever you're in the open. And if you stay exposed too long, the angel eventually shoots a continuous volley that results in unavoidable death if you aren't in convenient rolling distance from complete cover. They can be killed, but they are a lot more annoying than, say, the Ashen Idol puzzle enemies from Crown of the Old Iron King.

On top of that, PvPers have apparently adopted this area as a new invasion hot spot. So we've got a poison swamp, giant effigy monsters, a butterfly angel raining lasers of death, and near-constant dark spirit invasions, with a very formidable NPC Desert Sorceress blocking the tail end of the level! That's a lot to juggle. Fortunately, the swamp isn't one of those waist-deep ones, so movement isn't overly restrictive. Additionally, the angel lasers do thankfully seem to affect invaders (and also all enemies in general). So the invaders are putting themselves in just as much danger as the host when they decide to try to pull the host into the swamp.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Angel of death
These laser-spitting butterfly / angel things made for an obnoxious set of obstacles.

Overall, the entire Dreg Heap level feels like it goes very far out of its way to try to rush the player through the experience. The Angel puzzles, the respawning murkmen, the Judicator-summoned archers, and so on all punish the player for moving slowly and deliberately through the level -- which is completely counter to every instinct that the entire series has conditioned into the player. Some fans might see this as an interesting new challenge, but I didn't like how it prevented me from exploring the levels and absorbing the visual and environmental narrative aspects.

Face-to-face with the Dark Soul

And once you're in the Ringed City proper, the rushed pacing does let up a bit, but the puzzle set-pieces don't end. You'll have to avoid a deadly barrage of arrows from a horde of archers summoned by a giant (unlike any giant we've seen so far), track down pilgrims that cast area-of-effect spells on you from hidden positions, dispatch pygmies that afflict you with curse from mere proximity, and find a way to survive a close-encounter with yet another fire-breathing dragon on a bridge. All this is on top of navigating the maze-like streets of the Ringed City. It's not quite as confusing as Yarnham in Bloodborne, but it can be easy to get lost and stumble into a deadly trap.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Judicator archers
A true "Welcome to Dark Souls" moment.

The Ringed City is a treacherous place, indeed. The Ringed Knights are also very formidable enemies that forced me to eat through my estus. The previously-un-threatening effigy monsters suddenly patrol the streets in large groups that also makes them thoroughly dangerous. The danger is just amped up across the board, but nothing ever gets as cheap as those stupid laser-spitting angels from the Dreg Heap.

One thing that did frustrate me was that NPCs kept showing up in very inconvenient places. They weren't inconvenient in that they were hard to get to; they were inconvenient because they were always in un-safe locations amidst enemies. In fact, my introduction to the Ringed City was being invaded and killed by a player dark spirit while I was trying to talk to the NPC that greeted me -- and before I had activated the bonfire, no less. In the invaders' defense, he was at least kind enough to kick me for no damage to make sure I knew he was there. Later in the level, another NPC shows up overlooking a ledge. I tried to stop to talk to him, but enemies came up behind me and attacked me mid-conversation. Yet another NPC conversation takes place within the aggro range of some Harald Legion (Effigy) Knights. I hope that getting ambushed mid-conversation didn't cause me to miss any dialogue.

NPCs like to show up in annoyingly dangerous places. I hope it didn't cause me to miss any important dialogue.

The Judicator summons one last opponent...

Perhaps the highlight of the expansion, however, is one of its new boss fights. Late in the Ringed City, a Judicator will summon a Spear of Filianore to battle you as a boss. It's almost the same setup as the classic Old Monk in Demon's Souls, except that the Judicator (sadly) only summons members of the Spears of Filianore covenant, rather than summoning any individual attempting to be summoned or attempting to invade. So it doesn't quite meet the level of deviousness as the classic Old Monk boss, but having a PvP duel as a boss fight is still a welcome inclusion.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Spears of Filianore
By joining the Spears of Filianore covenant, you can be summoned as a boss in other players' worlds.

FROM also spoiled the duel a bit by including NPC enemies that get summoned in as well, so it's not a one-on-one duel. I understand that this was surely an attempt to balance out the likelihood that the host had one or more summoned phantoms (including an NPC one who is available for this fight). But the way to handle that would have been to only spawn in the other enemies if phantoms are present. If the host enters the battle without phantom allies, then the one-on-one duel should be maintained. So even though I love the idea of including another PvP boss, the implementation here is far inferior to the classic Old Monk duel on which it is based.

Unfortunately, my first encounter with this boss was also kind of spoiled by the fact that my opponent was apparently AFK. I thought that the summon was an NPC, so I went in halberd-a-blazing as soon as he spawned, and struck him down with a four-hit combo without the phantom even doing anything. It was only as he knelt over dying that I realized that it was another player, and that the poor sod probably wasn't even at the controls.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - AFK Spear of Filianore
I didn't realize that this boss was an AFK
player until I'd already struck the killing blow.

I was so disappointed that I'd missed out on what should have been an epic boss fight that I actually surrendered about an hour and a half of progress to reload an earlier save from the PSN cloud so that I could have another go at this boss. Such drastic measures were unnecessary, however, as this boss actually has a way to reset the encounter so that you can play it again -- without having to go into New Game+! That's a pretty awesome allowance for FROM Soft to make. However, forfeiting my progress allowed me to go back and attempt to complete the expansion's optional side quest.

The Storm Drake on steroids

That side quest was a pain in the ass though, and delayed my progress considerably. The optional dragon boss feel very cheap and unfair to me, and severely disappointed me. You actually fight this dragon twice. The first time is on a narrow bridge in an encounter that resembles the battle with the Undead Dragon in the Valley of the Drakes, except without the safety cushion of having your back against a wall. Here, it's very easy to accidentally roll (or walk) off a ledge in front of or behind you. It wasn't hard to figure our the patterns of the dragon's attacks, and this battle was actually pretty easy. It was the second encounter that really drove me nuts.

This boss isn't difficult because it adjusts to your tactics or requires novel strategies to defeat. Heck, it isn't even hard because its attacks have especially-precise windows for evasion. This boss is hard because for most of the fight, I just don't really know what's happening. It's one of those classic Dark Souls fights where you're battling the camera even more than you're battling the actual boss, and the sheer size of this boss might make it the worst of all Souls bosses when it comes to camera issues and general lack of situational awareness. It's even worse than the camera issues in the Nameless King fight, which is especially troublesome considering the large AoE fire and dark spells that he repeatedly employs.

You'll get to fight Darkeater Midir twice, and the second fight felt like one of the cheapest in the series.

This wouldn't be so bad if the dragon had some good, distinctive audio cues. Audio cues are something that the Souls games have always been good about providing. But I haven't noticed many such cues with this dragon. If they are present, then they must be getting drowned out by the loud background music because I'm not hearing them -- at least not in a timely enough manner that I have time to avoid the incoming attacks.

The size and scale of the boss and the arena also make it difficult to get a feel for distance when it comes to avoiding attacks or rushing in to try to get a hit in. Stuff like this is why the Dragon God boss in Demon's Souls was a set-piece puzzle boss instead of something that you actually fought. And in fact, maybe including such a puzzle-boss would have been a satisfying change of pace compared to the bosses in this expansion that feel so rote. Midir feels like a more agile reskin of Ancient Dragon from Dark Souls II, and just isn't fun at all.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Slave Knight Gael stunned
The camera work for the other bosses is respectable, and the fights are pretty good.

Gael doesn't feel that much different from all the other dudes with big weapons. Admittedly, however, he's a much more fair boss to fight. The camera generally works, his attacks are better telegraphed, and he can even be stunned and staggered and have his attacks interrupted. I don't think he can be parried -- not even in the first phase -- but whatever. I guess the Demon In Pain / Demon From Below is also pretty good. Again, the camera actually does a commendable job of tracking the individual bosses. Even when the boss does a jumping attack, the camera seems to have a way of pointing at where the attack is going to land, allowing the player to escape without taking a cheap hit. But the camera for Midir -- and his insane amount of health -- is just garbage, and it almost single-handedly soured the experience of this entire expansion for me.

So much left unseen

And so concludes the Dark Souls series (at least until Namco/Bandai decides to revive it in order to cash in on the I.P.). It's somewhat fitting that the end of the series would involve a quest to find the Dark Soul itself, but I do have to admit that I was hoping for something a little bit more "final" -- something that would feel more like it completely and thoroughly wraps up the series.

But there's still so much more to this world that remains mysterious and unseen. We've never actually learned what happened to the real Gwynevere (who's absconded at least thrice now). We've never met any of the other gods and goddesses like Caitha, the elusive Flame God Flann, or the ever-intriguing Velka. We didn't meet Yuria's third sister. We don't know if the corpse in the cage in the Archives is Gertrude (though I guess we can now assume that it must be). We've never visited Astora, Carim, Zena, Londor (assuming the Ringed City isn't Londor), the desert lands of Carthus, or the desert home of the Earthen Peak pyromancers. And there's still debate over whether Manus is the Furtive Pygmy, or just an early human who turned into a beast. There's also nothing in here (that I've found) that expands upon the idea of the "Age of the Deep Sea" referenced by Aldrich's Soul. And most importantly, we still don't have a definitive answer about what actually happens during (or after) the Age of Dark.

Gwynevere, Velka, Caitha, Fina, Flann, and the other gods remain mysteriously absent.

Some of these are probably things that are better left mysterious, and if Miyazaki himself didn't want to explicitly reveal them, then I certainly don't feel comfortable letting other developers try to fill in the gaps (lest Dark Souls turn into the post-Team-Silent Silent Hill games). Those last two items, though, seem like pretty sure-fire sequel hooks when Namco / Bandai inevitably decide to cash-in on a Dark Souls revival.

In any case, The Ringed City is certainly a much more substantive DLC than Ariandel. It's not huge (or at least, I didn't think it was huge), but it's at least on par with the standard set by previous Souls expansions in terms of size and content. To be honest though, I think I prefer Ariandel's more deliberate pacing and more open, exploratory structure. It's just a shame that both expansions feel more like a side-story than a conclusive finale for the series.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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