"This is truly the end of an age, but unlike the first flame which has waned countless times throughout the trilogy, the fire of this series will burn for a while longer. "
It was going to take something special for me to really come back to Dark Souls III. After spending countless hours on it after its release, Ashes of Ariandel didn't do much to keep my interest after it dropped last October. But, being the slave to the series that I am, I nonetheless dusted the game from my Steam library and gave it another whirl when The Ringed City, the very final piece of Dark Souls related content, was released. I'm pleased to say that this DLC really is something special.
The DLC starts off innocently enough, as you get teleported to what appears to be yet another part of the world that is getting sucked into the chaos going on in Lothric. Dreg Heap looks and feels just as decrepit as its name suggests. Ash covers the ground like snow, the friendly lighting is betrayed by the ominous looking sun, and buildings topple over at the slightest touch. FromSoft really did nail the feeling of a world gasping for its final breaths with just the humble opening, and that feeling certainly carries on throughout the rest of the DLC.
Those who've played through the trilogy will be pleasantly surprised at the areas that come after Dreg Heap because they offer some of the most refined level designs to date. Twisting pathways and smart shortcuts are found aplenty throughout your journey, and the DLC really does feel like a natural extension of the main game rather than an offshoot sidequest like Ashes of Ariandel. There is even a nod to Dark Souls II, a game that was seemingly completely forgotten throughout the main game in Dark Souls III.
Do be warned, though, that The Ringed City very much keeps in line with the time-honored tradition of significantly higher difficulty than the base game. Admittedly, that might have something to do with me having only New Game +4 save files available to play through the DLC with, but even my level 200 characters with the heftiest of ultra-great class weapons were having a tough time getting through some of the areas. There's a gauntlet in particular that's right around the halfway mark that awakened the kind of dread and fear in me that I haven't felt since my first time through Blighttown in Dark Souls I. Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends entirely on how much of a masochist you are, but it was certainly a change of pace from the uncharacteristically frequent bonfire placement in Dark Souls III. You have to really put in some serious work for each and every bonfire, and the relief that you feel as you crawl your way to the comforting light on a sliver of health knowing that you bested the game's attempts at ending you is exhilarating.
Bosses are also brutal and unrelenting, yet dying to them never feels particularly terrible. They have extremely high damage and are lighting quick, but their attack patterns can be read and you always learn something to take with you into the next fight after you die. Although one boss did feel a bit too much like a damage sponge, it was nothing on the level of Ariandel's hellacious nonsense that just devolved into an unnecessarily drawn out fight that preyed on human error more than it relied on actual difficulty.
I will say, though, that The Ringed City ends with a fizzle. There are a couple of things you can do once you finish the last fight for a tiny bit of extra closure, but not even having a thirty-second cutscene to end one of the most popular RPG series of recent years feels like a letdown. I understand that thematically it is very appropriate for Miyazaki to simply end the game like that, but up until this point, this DLC had done such a great job at tying up the loose ends that have been around since Dark Souls I that I can't help but feel a bit disappointed at the lack of a proper ending.
The Ringed City is a worthy send-off to one of my, and many others', favorite RPG series to have been released in recent years. Beyond just having a fantastic amount of content in and of itself, with a plethora of new equipment and areas, the DLC also tackles many questions that fans have had since Dark Souls I, and for the most part it does an admirable job at providing satisfying answers. This is truly the end of an age, but unlike the first flame which has waned countless times throughout the trilogy, the fire of this series will burn for a while longer.