Review: Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City - Ups and Downs

Dark Souls 3's final DLC expansion has dizzying highs and frustrating lows, but does a serviceable job carrying the franchise across the finish line.

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Over eight years and five games, it's fair to say that no piece of Dark Souls content represented to me the proverbial roller coaster of emotions than Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City. I viewed the DLC expansion's launch with mixed emotions. I'm always game for more Dark Souls content, but after this, that's it. Unless Miyazaki-san changes his mind, or unless Sony and Bandai Namco license out their properties—the products of which would likely be viewed as bastard heirs by the fan base—I'll never again get to anticipate exploring a new Souls world.

After my venture through Ringed City, I feel comfortable saying that I enjoyed the ride, but have no desire to get back in line anytime soon.

Going Up

The Ringed City plays with verticality better than any previous SoulsBorne area. Entering the first zone, you progress by dropping down cliffs and ledges onto mounds of ash and following any paths that unravel from there. Ringed City's heights are dizzying. There were times, such as standing at the tip of a narrow outcropping of rock and looking down and out at buildings jutting out from the sides of cliffs, when my stomach did flips.

That vertiginous sensation works well, especially in areas mostly devoid of enemies. Their conspicuous absence reinforces that the terrain is as much your adversary as any twisted monstrosity.

Having said that, The Ringed City's level design fails to impress in other ways. Permanent, developer-wrought messages tell you when and where you can safely fall, but the expansion's reliance on dropping is unintuitive in a series where falling traditionally has been punished. Utilizing it so heavily in this expansion teaches bad habits. When confused as to where I should go and faced with sheer drops on all sides, I assumed the game was teaching me to "take the plunge," as the developer messages say—only, not every surface can be dropped onto safely. Where I could and could not plummet became clear eventually, but I still experienced more moments of confusion and doubt than I'd have liked, especially in a series lauded for encouraging and rewarding exploration.

Finding my way would not be so tricky if not for enemy placement in many regions. FromSoftware designed The Ringed City as late-game content, and recommends that players wait to venture forth (or rather, down) until they're around level 125. Fine by me, except the developer's definition of "difficult" in Dark Souls 3 often meant mob after mob of enemies. Ringed City is no different, and often worse.

The most egregious offenders are angels, winged enemies who hover at a distance and rain endless barrages of golden spears down on you. Angels respawn when you kill them. They are linked to certain other enemies stashed away around the level, and only by killing those monsters can you prevent their charges from appearing. Until then, you've got to deal with angels pelting you—while trying to find a path, and steering clear of swarms of smaller but no less ferocious enemies biting at your ankles.

Angels aren't all bad. Until you can kill them, you have to avoid them. You do that by dashing for cover behind boulders, or cabins, or other obstacles until they lose sight of you, at which time you want to leave your hiding place and race to another safe spot because your celestial foes open fire within a heartbeat of you showing your ugly, undead curse-addled mug. These stealth sections add a layer of tension to the proceedings, compounded by the angel's chilling croaks of vexation as they search for you.

Closing the Loop

Angels comprise one patch on Ringed City's quilt of ideas, most of which we've already seen. One area is a retread of Dark Souls 2's Earthen Peak region, much like Ashes of Ariandel and Irithyll of the Boreal Valley are homages or returns to areas from the original Dark Souls. You'll venture through yet another poisonous swamp, climb up and down gigantic, winding tree roots, explore more castles, cross swords with more knights.

Dark Souls 3 was chockfull of beautiful yet derivative zones—as if building the game using Bloodborne's engine was an excuse for Miyazaki to go back and remake old areas. The Ringed City is gorgeous and haunting, but did little to disabuse me of the "been there, seen that" feeling that pervaded its base game. Credit where credit is due: The Ringed City shines in other areas. There are four bosses for you fight, and they're some of the best and most challenging of the series. NPCs play a bigger role, including a final boss that provides some closure regarding Dark Souls' pygmy.

Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City is fine–just fine. I wish I could give higher praise to what is, for now, a coda of both the Dark Souls trilogy and the SoulsBorne franchise, but "fine" is as good as it got for me. The Ringed City's new ideas end almost as soon as they begin, and the rest take you over familiar ground. How eager you are for more of the same will determine how much enjoyment you get out of this bite-sized expansion. 

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

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    April 3, 2017 1:50 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Review: Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City - Ups and Downs

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      April 3, 2017 2:34 PM

      So, I just got a little ways into the first DLC expansion: Ashes of Andariel but turned back because, when I got to Friede's Chapel the NPCs there told me to turn back because I was one of Yuria's Lord of Hollows. So, uh, in a weird twist of not wanting to break in-game character, I did just that.

      Oh well! Onto Lordric Castle!

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        April 3, 2017 2:35 PM

        Haha, that's a great story. You should definitely wait to come back until after finishing the main game; the DLC bosses are brutal, in a good way, and the designers expect you to be as high level as possible.

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      April 3, 2017 2:34 PM

      Have any Shackers finished Ringed City yet? What did you think?

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        April 3, 2017 2:43 PM

        I can't kill the dragon and the final boss seems pretty ridiculous. I thought the Orphan of Kos was aggressive but this guy....LOL

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          April 3, 2017 2:51 PM

          Dark Souls 3: Where inordinate aggression equals difficulty. The game has some memorable boss fights, but many of them are so frustrating and cheap.

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            April 3, 2017 3:09 PM

            I think Bloodborne had more inventive and memorable boss fights, overall. It also has better boss fights than Dark Souls 2.

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              April 3, 2017 3:35 PM

              I don't see it as a case of better or worse. Rather, From employs two schools of thought on boss design.

              The first, seen in DS1, 3, and Bloodborne, centers on the boss itself: its attacks, movement, and AI. The arena may come into play, such as the pillars in Ornstein & Smough's room that you can put in between you and the bosses to bait them or catch your breath, but most battles boil down to a test of strength: the boss's might versus your build and weapons. Some bosses are tougher to kill for certain builds, but that's a product of that approach. All bosses can be beaten; you may have to modify your tactics, however.

              DS2 roots boss fights in environmental design. You fight the Ruin Sentinels in a large chamber with one broken platform. Staying on the platform is difficult; the bosses have swinging attacks able to knock you to the ground, and once you're down you can climb back up. If you can hold the platform, however, you may notice that the first boss fights you one-on-one. Drop down, and his buddies will join in. Kill the first boss and the second Sentinel steps up. The third will join him, so you may have to abandon the platform--ah, but if you can kill the second Sentinel quickly enough, you'll get to fight the third mano-e-boss-o as well. Risk, reward.

              Dragonrider is one of the simplest bosses: big knight, armor, slow, powerful. His arena defines him as well. En route to his lair you'll come across levers that raises the outer edges of his arena-like ring. Doing that is safer; those edges hug the arena walls once raised, giving you more room to maneuver and lowering your odds of accidentally rolling out of the ring and falling into the water. But! If you skip the levers, you can bait Dragonrider into attacking as soon as you enter. He lunges, stepping forward--and right off the platform you neglected to raise. The fight's over in less than 10 seconds. Big risk, big reward.

              This is not to say that DS2 only relies on environments, or DS1, 3, and Bloodborne don't utilize environmental design at all. Rather, those games use their respective approaches more often than not, and that majority rule goes a long way in defining their approaches and giving them unique identities.

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          April 3, 2017 3:35 PM

          Optional Boss is harder than Main Boss. Yeah Main Boss is very angry. VERY.

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        April 3, 2017 3:33 PM

        Yes and they went the One Touch Combo And/Or Kill and SUPER HIGH Health Pool route. I had to uparmor a couple of times for both poise AND physical resists. Still an Instadeath Mexibeam in there.
        I liked the AREAS a lot, though not so much the new enemies. Judicator was neat.
        The actual Boss fights were good, I'll give them that, though they kind of went on that same Frieza pattern used so much in DS3.
        Still the combined pair of DLC seems a bit small for a "complete" package of DLC. ESPECIALLY compared to the size of DS2's, but even just in a vacuum there's a bit of "that's all?".

        I couldn't decide whether to spoil that, because it's really not, but then again, maaaaaaaaybe... (apologies to Loius CK)

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        April 3, 2017 3:42 PM

        I liked it more than Ashes of Ariandel, but I don't think either DLC really works as post-game content by themselves, or together. It should be nice to have some extra zones and content for those playing through the game for the first time, or again in NG+ though.

        I wasn't really a fan of some of the world design with the constant long drops and falls, it just seemed forced to me after a while. Better than elevators all the time I suppose, but I would rather have had a real descent here and there and more to explore. I dug the boss fights quite a bit, and figuring out some of the more obnoxious enemies in certain areas was actually entertaining and satisfying. Some new gear and loot is always fun. Enjoyed the aesthetics and little bits of story in there.

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          April 3, 2017 4:06 PM

          I *think* I liked Ariandel a little better overall. The Hordes were more interesting to me than the Uberfoes (particularly the Ringed Knights and Effigy Giants (Harold Legion Knights)) of Ringed City.

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            April 3, 2017 4:22 PM

            No way! Was bored of the hordes after the first few death runs, felt like a chore rather than a challenge. Hated how short and basic it all was, seemed more a teaser than solid piece of content. Ringed City had a decent variety of enemy types, changed up the moment to moment gameplay more, more boss fights, more exploration, more difficulty, more of everything else I like.

            Had a far better time playing it for sure, but Ashes was decent enough to get me back into the swing of this style of game, having not played one in so long. It's kind of ridiculous that they cost nearly half as much as the main game. I really was expecting a bit more from a last Souls hurrah, from both of them.

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        April 3, 2017 4:32 PM

        I've been watching my kid play and I like pretty much everything I see. I just need to finish Horizon so I can play this!

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        April 4, 2017 11:48 AM

        I finished it last night. Overall I was pretty disappointed with it. It felt more tedious than anything.

        The bosses were good though and the final boss was the easiest boss in the entire Souls series for me, I one-shot it without ever getting hit. Not a brag as there are bosses that I see people have no trouble with that I do.

        Unless I'm missing something else, that "ending" is easily one of the worst I've seen in a game.

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      April 4, 2017 4:38 AM

      This summer I'll probably buy all DLC and start a fresh build - my last build was great sword, any recommendations for something fun?