A recent statement made by FromSoftware president Hedetaka Miyazaki has indicated that Dark Souls III could be the final chapter in the series, so forthcoming DLC The Ringed City could be our last chance to dip into the unforgiving world that has been so thoughtfully spun for hardcore gamers these past few years. Of course we are still going to see Dark Souls-esque games, as early as sometime this year even (please be Bloodbourne 2), but for now The Ringed City has some pretty hefty expectations to live up to, being the apex of the divisive and storied franchise. Obviously that means it has to be as difficult and frustrating as possible, to live up to the Dark Souls name of course.
Impatience be gone; FromSoftware have quite obviously given The Ringed City a lot of thought. They’re promising a much more open and exploratory DLC than the disappointingly linear Ashes of Ariandel expansion, and from a recent hands-on preview that certainly rings true for me. In some ways, I craved linearity after the first few “what the absolute fuck am I supposed to do now?” moments, but the focus and vigilance required to progress seems like a big, loving back towards the relentless core of Dark Souls. It’s refreshing for FromSoftware loyalists, and the freedom offered from the get-go, a rugged grey area called “The Dreg Heap”, is a nice little showing of what the expansion has in store for players.
The depressingly grey and cold landscape of The Dreg Heap places you on what seems to be a crumbling and barely-there tower with the horizon hinting at progression located far, far below. Here’s where the big difference in The Ringed City comes into play: fall damage is turned off; the player is expected to traverse vertically downwards as if they were descending between layers of hell, and this is where said moments of confusion spawn from. Sure, it helped that my hands-on fast-forwarded me into a generous character powerfully built with a +10 longsword, but when The Ringed City requires you to take leaps of faith all that matters is if you’ve chosen the right spot to fall or not. Again, this requires vigilance and a great deal of exploration.
After clearing the initial floor of enemies, the most annoying of whom spawn hordes of the undead and gently exclaiming “fuck that” after witnessing a behemoth wrapped in chainmail with a deep black hole for a face and a giant sword for a weapon. I ran away, but the point of progression was largely unnoticeable until I carefully walked out onto a crumbling ledge with a corpse at the end, only to find it give way for my character to take an ungodly drop through what seemed like a church window and land far below – no fall damage taken. Turns out this was the way forward, an area filled with enemies and leading to the The Dreg Heap’s main point of tension: a grotesque winged angel who shoots pure white beams of death at me whenever I’m not behind cover.
Like the chain-gun hunter in Old Yharnam or the line-of-sight frenzy door in Nightmare of Mensis, both from Bloodbourne, this is quite the stealth-inducing, patience-testing mechanic to throw at players on the first of the DLC. The “angel” is rapid and hyper-vigilant, demanding you work your damn hardest to outsmart it and work your way around very small windows in which it turns it’s back or you’re able to bypass through other areas, like the church in which you have to fight two very difficult knights at the same time (or run past them on the tenth attempt like I did).
Soon enough you find yourself falling again (though it’s important to note that you can’t just fall anywhere without dying), this time to a second bonfire that precedes another dance of stealth with the winged angel, who this time comes equipped with the ability to shed holy light down on whatever hiding spot you choose, rapidly filling up your ‘curse’ meter and instantly killing you. Trying to dodge the angel’s line of sight while also traversing a poisonous swamp switches the difficulty from the first few areas up quite a few notches; FromSoftware aren’t playing around with this one.
Eventually I found trying to figure out where to do while enemies were trying to kill me in every direction to be much too time-consuming for a quick hands-on session. After the countless times falling victim to the angel’s death beam or cursed light – which can get you no matter what you hide behind – I had to call it a day and wait until i had much more time with the DLC before trying to progress.
From first impressions, it seems like The Ringed City is a love letter to those who welcome the demanding challenge that defines the Dark Souls series. Kicking you right off into a mix of painstaking stealth and grueling action indicates that this DLC is going to be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you, so my best advice would be to ensure you have to perfect build before you tackle this when it’s released towards the end of next month. Even with buffed stats, this is going to be a tough one.
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City will be released worldwide on 28th March 2017 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.