Dark Souls III: The Ringed City
From Software raises the stakes for Dark Souls’ endgame
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