This impression piece contains very mild spoilers (light boss descriptions and thoughts on locations, encounters, and more).
The conclusion of Dark Souls III takes place in the Ringed City, a desolate ashen-swept realm out of place and time. If you came to this final chunk of DLC expecting all the answers to the Dark Souls mystery, you’re in the wrong place – while tantalizing clues are provided to many of the queries that link all three games together, you’re in for more of the same riddles and half-truths Souls fans should know all too well by now. You can put some of the pieces together in interesting ways (for instance, those who continue to cry that Dark Souls II isn’t a canonical part of the universe will have their hopes dashed upon the rocks based on many of the delicious lore bits tucked into The Ringed City), but if you’re coming to this DLC looking for an explicit answer to your lingering queries, you won’t find one.
The Ringed City provides three to five hours of content depending on how decked out your character is and how much you explore. While the areas can seem small and short, they’re chock full of secret areas for those that want to experiment with items to solve riddles (Hint: the Chameleon spell might be very useful for some insightful discovery). There are four bosses (one optional) and a handful of sub-bosses you can track down as well. The fights are tuned to be quite difficult compared to some of the others in the franchise, so it’s wise to bring an end-game character to the DLC, which you can access from a bonfire right before the final boss in the core game (If you’ve purchased the Ashes of Ariandel DLC, you can access it from Father Ariandel’s boss room).
In many ways, The Ringed City parallels two of my favorite From Software DLC packs, Artorias of the Abyss and The Old Hunters. It almost seems like a sort of aberrant homage to the Artorias DLC, with little references peeking out for the hardcore fans, and some of the boss battles “sync up” with offerings in the original Souls DLC.
The first area can be mildly frustrating, even for someone used to the tricks, traps, and hurdles of Dark Souls – you can find yourself making a mad dash for safety, and it simply doesn’t feel that great. This is echoed at the start of the second area, where you’ll have to play some red light/green light. These slightly annoying areas make it so that you’ll often have to backtrack to clean up areas after you’ve taken care of pervasive threats later in the zone, but they are the only notable missteps in the Ringed City.
The first boss is fairly traditional for the series and a solid fight. The second and optional (don’t miss it) is fairly forgettable, despite being this DLC’s version of franchise favorite Kalameet. The third boss you will love or hate, as it’s of the Old Monk/Mirror Knight variety. What does this mean? Other players can be summoned in for you to battle, and the mechanics of the battle can absolutely be twisted to that player’s ends. You’ll have to battle NPCs as well as a player, and depending on their skill level the fight can seem decidedly one-sided – but at least the run back isn’t too bad. This also provides something cool for you to do after you’ve finished the DLC, as there is a covenant associated with this encounter.
The final boss is good. Not great, just good. It’s a suitably epic fight, but I mean, this is the close out of Dark Souls III, and I was expecting just a little bit more. If you’re a fan of fights against Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower, Gehrman, Artorias, and other “sort of human opponents that do human things” it’s a pretty neat multi-phase encounter, and the arena that you battle in is cool. I suppose no “final” encounter can live up to expectations here as the series is flooded with amazing and memorable bosses, and as cool as the fight is, it feels a little bullet-spongey (you’ll have to battle for quite some time unless you have incredible gear or many, many levels). It’s an acceptable final encounter, but doesn’t live up to some of the series’ best.
A questline available in the DLC reveals a franchise “favorite.” Pull on that thread and expect to see a familiar face and a recognizable situation.
The equipment and spells available in the DLC alone make it worth picking up, as there are few things that can match the power of lightning arrows or the sheer coolness of bowling over enemies with an actual giant door. There are quite a few new sleek armor sets to enjoy as well, so the package is almost worth getting just for the new gear options.
The Ringed City gives you plenty to chew on lorewise, including an incredibly obvious “a-ha!” moment near the end that anyone paying attention to the series has probably long already figured out. It’s a great part of the Dark Souls III experience and I highly recommend picking it up, but doesn’t rise to the heights of some of From’s top-tier DLC like Artorias of the Abyss or The Old Hunters.