From Software had a unique burden on their hands. Their last few games have built up a reputation for being difficult and challenging without being unfair. Fans might argue difficulty is not even the core appeal of these games, but Dark Souls and game difficulty has become so intertwined that discussing one almost always brings up the other. With Dark Souls III’s last DLC “The Ringed City”, being the toughest Dark Souls experience ever was almost the de facto requirement. And Ringed city mostly delivers on that front.
Accessible only after completing most of the base game or defeating the main boss of the first DLC, ensued only those up to the task gain entry to the content. The DLC starts with a linear area filled with set piece falls rivaling Tomb Raider. It is the end of the Dark Souls world, and familiar location from the past games collide and mingle, including an obligatory poison swamp. After the first boss, the map truly opens up, with that familiar Souls routine of opening one sided gate and shortcuts to bonfire. There is much to explore here, with areas having distinct visual flair unlike Ashes of Ariandel. Well hidden secrets and treasures abound, including an easily missed optional boss.
New enemies are a handful to fight, and getting cornered by multiple Ringed Knights or Herald Knights is a virtual death sentence. Unique NPC invaders, and special enemies (creepy angels and creepier tall dudes) hound you throughout the DLC too. To help take them down are new weapons, spells and armor sets: Twin Ultra-Greatswords, Abyss tainted Katana, a sword made of fire.
The highlight of any Soulsborne DLC have always been the Boss fights. Artorias, Fume Knight, Ludwig were all bosses added through DLC, and are now considered some of the best boss fights of all time. The Ringed City certainly delivers on the difficulty part, with two of the bosses providing the sternest challenge in all of Dark Souls III. Whether they are fun is up for debate. These are incredibly well designed boss fights without any cheap tricks, but the bosses are so packed with health that fighting them becomes chore-like at times.
There has been much talk about how Ringed city is the end of Dark Souls. With the games selling so well and other games incorporating Souls elements in large (Nioh) and small doses (Hollow Knight, Nier: Automata), the formula is too lucrative to be allowed to end. The Ringed City could well be the last Dark Souls content for a long time. As such it neatly tells its own tales that also slots into the larger picture of Dark Souls lore. A much meatier and worthier add on than Ashes of Ariandel, The Ringed City is like a greatest hits package of Dark Souls, incorporating Ideas, locales and stories built upon over the years of SoulsBorne experience.