After almost every active Souls player migrated to Nioh to face the terrible demonic plague of the yokai (well, those on PS4 at least), we were very intrigued to see how they would react to the return of the classic Dark Souls experience. Team Ninja borrowed a lot from From Software's successful formula, but in comparison Nioh was much more forgiving and quite a few players like the game for that very reason. With that in mind, can From Software manage to rekindle the passion of its players with a new DLC for Dark Souls III? We took a trip to the end of the world, to the Ringed City, to find out.
Talking about the lore of the game is sometimes a complicated thing, because most people play From Software titles mainly because of the challenging combat and the distinctive blend of mechanics, and not the story. In order to keep details to a minimum, then, we will reveal only this much; the Ringed City lies at the end of the known world, buried under debris and the ashes of past ages, and it's in this very place that the dark soul shall be found, a source of infinite power.
The destination of our journey is connected with the other DLC for Dark Souls III, Ashes of Ariandel, and The Ringed City is difficult, meaning you need a high level to compete the challenges that await. A soul level of around 100 was recommended, but we were able to cope with our level 90 character just fine. The DLC offers three separate areas that significantly exceed Ashes of Ariandel in terms of scope, and for our first play-through and the fight against the optional boss, we invested around seven hours, but we were lucky enough to not get stuck on any one boss for too long.
With this last challenge From Software raises the bar, creating a phenomenal end to what has been a long and sometimes exhausting journey. The DLC has some great boss battles (especially the final one), lots of hidden secrets, and it offers one of the most beautiful areas we've seen in the entire series (this is a bold statement when you bear in mind that we've seen the iconic landscape and breathtaking scenery of Irithyll of the Boreal Valley from the main game). We actually liked the setting of the Ringed City a bit more, largely because this new area is so versatile and yet still remains credible and consistent.
The design of the newly introduced enemies are also just as good. Over time nature has taken everything that mankind once created and has thrown it into this pit. Thus the wings of the few living creatures that are there are torn and the armour of the ringed knights is covered with dense roots. It's a distinctive look. The Gods have cursed this place long ago and so the battle of the flames against the darkness doesn't matter for the Ringed City any more.
Dark Souls III might offer a unique gameplay experience, but it still has its problems. Even the base game wasn't flawless, especially with technical hiccups such as the odd frame-rate drop, and of course the two DLCs are also affected by this. Sometimes the sound loop is interrupted as we crossed an area or changed phases during a boss fight, and we also noted the somewhat longer loading times on the standard PS4, at least when compared to our experience with the main game. What actively disturbs the immersion most is that distant objects can sometimes be extremely blurred and fuzzy.
Overall The Ringed City was lots of fun, and even towards the very end the studio succeeds in surprising us with some interesting ideas. However, familiar themes from the series are recycled and partly copied. This didn't have too much of a negative impact on our experience, but we know not everyone sees it like that. Make no mistake, though, this is a grand finale for one of the best video game series to date, and in our opinion a great curtain call. We had a brilliant time with the game in 2016, and with more than 200 hours spent on Dark Souls III, we think we can say that The Ringed City is up there with the very best that the game has to offer.