Dark Souls III: The Ringed City

From Soft­ware raises the stakes for Dark Souls’ endgame

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

We can’t help but feel a lit­tle som­bre as we take our first steps into The Ringed City, the se­cond and fi­nal ex­pan­sion for Dark Souls III. This is, if Miyazaki is to be be­lieved, the last time we’ll set out into new ter­ri­tory in the Souls se­ries as we know it. The open­ing lo­ca­tion for this fi­nal ad­ven­ture is The Dreg Heap, which ap­pears to be in the fallen city seen in Dark Souls III’s con­clud­ing area, Kiln Of The First Flame, and sits above the tit­u­lar Ringed City. Swathes of a once-tow­er­ing city now sit at 45 de­grees to the rest of the world amid a sea of ash, crum­bling tow­ers jut­ting out like por­cu­pine spines from their dis­lo­cated base. It’s a fit­ting vis­ual anal­ogy for what is to fol­low, as FromSoft­ware leads us down into the depths of this new area.

But be­fore we take the plunge there’s a kindly old pil­grim to chat to, who of­fers us a lit­tle lo­cal his­tory, some ap­par­ently gen­uine con­cern for our well­be­ing, and the op­por­tu­nity to buy or sell items. Given we have no souls to hand, we elect to leap down the first of sev­eral se­vere ledges in­stead – there’s no way back to that open­ing bonfire with­out a Home­ward Bone now. The pre­car­i­ous path­way leads to a large, sus­pi­ciously empty area. As soon we reach it, the floor erupts as a dozen skele­tal tor­sos emerge from the ground and overwhelm us while staff-wielding (and leg-own­ing) skele­tons pum­mel us with blasts of some kind of un­dead magic. It seems that FromSoft­ware isn’t pulling its punches.

A se­cond, more cau­tious at­tempt sees us clear the area with­out too much bother, and after as­cend­ing a curv­ing stair­case into a ruined por­tion of high wall, we en­counter an­other new mon­stros­ity. A bul­bous, void-

faced knight wielding a gi­ant scim­i­tar im­me­di­ately takes a run at us as we raise our shield, look­ing for the first tells. It’s quicker than its size would sug­gest, and an ini­tial flurry of fast at­tacks catches us off guard, ne­ces­si­tat­ing a strate­gic retreat while the stamina bar ticks back up. The hulk­ing crea­ture has a habit of leav­ing its back ex­posed, how­ever, and after a long fight, we re­duce its health bar to zero.

So far, so fa­mil­iar. But any­one who’s spent any time with a Souls game knows that a grow­ing sense of con­fi­dence in­evitably means you’re be­ing set up for a fall. We just didn’t think it would be quite as literal as this. After wan­der­ing about for a few min­utes and fail­ing to find a path for­ward, we de­cide to gather our thoughts and take in the view from the re­mains of a fallen bridge. As soon as we step on to it, the stone struc­ture col­lapses and we plum­met a huge dis­tance – curs­ing the game and ab­so­lutely as­sured of our im­mi­nent death – be­fore crash­ing through the stained­glass win­dow of an up­ended tower and land­ing softly in the now-hor­i­zon­tal in­te­rior. Well played, Miyazaki.

An­other as­sort­ment of skele­tons im­me­di­ately emerges to greet us, and we dis­cover that staff-wielding vari­ants are ca­pa­ble of sum­mon­ing a shad­owy beast that flies through the air and saps a huge chunk of health if it isn’t avoided. But that’s noth­ing com­pared to what waits around the cor­ner. The loom­ing, winged skele­tal crea­ture from the re­veal trailer hangs in the air, screech­ing as it sends criss-cross­ing light­ning bolts our way. We roll for cover be­hind lumps of ma­sonry and wait for it to turn its back be­fore dash­ing to the next tiny area of rel­a­tive safety, even­tu­ally mak­ing it down to a build­ing that pro­vides a greater amount of cover.

Be­yond is a door­way into a wrecked church where two Lothric Knights stand at the al­tar – one kneel­ing, the other bless­ing him with an un­fa­mil­iar-look­ing staff. On notic­ing our ar­rival, the kneel­ing knight gets up and fol­lows us back out­side into what re­mains of a court­yard – thank­fully, the se­cond knight holds off for a while be­fore join­ing the fight – where we dis­cover that the winged crea­ture’s bolts can be used to dam­age both of them with a lit­tle kit­ing.

Be­yond this point, the path splits. One sec­tion leads down be­neath the ru­ins, while an­other area con­tain­ing a se­cond de­mon re­quires an even big­ger leap of faith than our first. After that a poi­sonous swamp awaits, filled with curse-giv­ing en­e­mies and enor­mous stretches of open ground be­neath the light­ning-hurl­ing mon­ster from ear­lier. From Soft­ware ramps up the chal­lenge and in­ten­sity quickly, and clearly has no in­ten­tion of back­ing down for this fi­nal out­ing. We’re cu­ri­ous to see if it can match the ex­cep­tional level de­sign of Dark Souls II’s best DLC, es­pe­cially given that each bonfire we reach is cut off from the one be­fore by a huge drop, but it feels like Souls will be bowing out with one of the se­ries’ great­est chal­lenges.

As we step on to it, the stone struc­ture col­lapses and we plum­met a huge dis­tance

The Dreg Heap is in a sorry state, but still ma­jes­tic in its own ruined way. From this lofty start­ing point, how­ever, the path for­ward de­scends far­ther and far­ther into the dan­ger­ous ru­ins

ABOVE Ru­ins from var­i­ous time pe­ri­ods have ac­cu­mu­lated at the far­thest reaches of the world, re­sult­ing in strata of Dark Souls his­tory. Lo­custs feast on the rem­nants

TOP LEFT This hulk­ing boss has a dispir­it­ingly long reach, can fly, fire a beam of flame from its mouth, and send an shat­ter­ing wave of de­struc­tion along the ground. Oh, and did we men­tion that it comes as a pair?

ABOVE We don’t get the op­por­tu­nity to try this colos­sal shield – as­sem­bled from a pair of wooden doors – dur­ing our demo, but it in­spires me­mories of Dark

Souls II’s great­shields of Reeve and Orma. Other new block­ing op­tions here are more con­ven­tional

LEFT This ad­dled mass of roots and ar­mour is quick on its feet and ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing fast strings of at­tacks us­ing its sword and, through jump­ing, its ex­pan­sive back­side

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