This has been a long time coming—the end of the Dark Souls franchise. An eight year journey, through literal hells and back. From the filthy and brutal Tower of Latria to the tainted mires of Blighttown, to the blinding, snow swept wastes of Eleum Loyce, and finally the vicious, abyssal beauty of The Ringed City—Dark Souls is complete. A franchise I’ve gladly thrown countless dollars at, not to mention dedicated hundreds of hours to; a pilgrimage filled with blood, sweat, tears, and bellowing cries of victory. It’s a series that has spoken to me on so many levels—not even just as a gamer—but as a person who has made mistakes and paid for them. The end of the franchise—for the foreseeable future, if not forever—is like the end to a saga in my own life. One I will be eternally grateful for.
Honestly? I expected perfection from The Ringed City. I wanted to see Miyazaki and company freed from their franchise shackles to quite literally end the universe I love is dearly, to really go for broke. But surprisingly, my insatiable desires have largely been fulfilled—a huge breath of fresh air from the disappointingly lightweight Ashes of Ariandel. The Ringed City is packed to the gills with incredibly worthwhile additions—from weapons and locations, to characters and lore. But interestingly, it’s a package that intentionally pays lip-service to every game in the series (even its predecessor, Demon Souls). You quite literally descend from game to game—from the high wall of Dark Soul 3‘s Lothric to the Earthen Peak of Dark Souls 2 until finally, inevitably, the Firelink Shrine from the original game. It’s a design feat only Miyazaki and From Software could pull off. Some of have tried in recent years, but the fact remains—From Software is king.
To step into the Dreg Heap, at the start of The Ringed City, is to step into a land that is at its end. The dregs of humanity are surfacing from piles of ash, a place where the forgotten and useless have wasted away for millennia. You can’t help but feel sorry for its hollow, ever wandering inhabitants. This initial area eventually gives way to the jaw-dropping mythic beauty of one of the most breathtakingly rendered areas I’ve ever seen in a video game. The Ringed City, to be clear, is absolutely gorgeous—in stark contrast to the frail, withering Dreg Heap above.
But fear not ashen one, within the Ringed City lingers ancient and powerful guardians of the land, who will strike you down in the blink of an eye. Dropping your guard inside the city walls means death. The Ringed Knights themselves, perverted Darkwraiths, are ferocious combatants whom I absolutely adored squaring off with in sweeping fields of flowers or tight corridors, for hours on end. Their gear, I noticed, was dipped in the murky, destructive tendrils of the abyss, the very source of humanity. It’s all so symbolic and deific that I would often just sit in awe, drinking in every part of this beautifully dangerous city.
Tightly packed into 5-10 hour run time are three incredible bosses and one slightly uninspired encounter. The first fight culminates in the shambles of old Firelink Shrine itself, the heaving monsters being quick, merciless and loud. The second being an overt throwback to the Old Monk from Demon Souls, letting players fight against players as the protectors of an ancient church. The final fight, however, culminates in a sea of ash, as the world collapses on itself, and an age ends. Its breakneck pace, haunting soundtrack and wondrous visual aesthetic balled together into what may be my favorite fight of the entire series, only rivaled by the corrupted knight Artorias and the father of the abyss himself, Manus.
Visually, the Ringed City is a treat. From its cobblestone, burnt red rooftops, or the pungent oil-like pools of abyss, to the lovely fields of pure white flowers—all parts of its varied palette are equally pleasing. The dreaded silence of the grander area is both peaceful and frightening, while the DLC’s welcome verticality lends itself to both interesting level design and a symbolic plunging through each Dark Souls game as the universe collapses into itself. The skillful execution of this high-concept DLC totally revitalized my appreciation for From Software’s attention to every detail, however small.
The Ringed City is brimming with interesting and varied weapons and armor sets, which aside from being reliably crucial to the DLC’s storytelling, also shake up the currently (honestly quite boring) multiplayer meta. Yesterday I spent a good 4-5 hours just invading and punishing fellow players in the Ringed City, something I can honestly say I haven’t done for quite some time in Dark Souls 3.
The Ringed City feels like a fitting final chapter in a long running, perilous saga about humanity, gods, and those few in between. We’ve seen the beginning of the age, and now the end. We’ve watched men rise to power and fall. Blanketed in ash and abyss, The Ringed City is the finale I wanted out of Dark Souls. So many fans have wondered what happens at the end of the age of fire…well, it’s all here. Packed with some of the series best bosses, weapons, locations, lore, songs, and style, The Ringed City is the culmination of everything From Software has built and learned over the past eight years. I simply couldn’t put The Ringed City down, it got its hooks in and didn’t let up until I had seen the end. The Ringed City is the worthy conclusion to a series that defined not only a genre, but built a following of ravenous and passionate fans I’m proud to be a part of.