The Ringed City is the end of many things. While it marks the final instalment of Dark Souls III's short run of downloadable content, it also marks the potential end for Dark Souls as we know and love it. Oh, and it also marks the end of the world. Found within endless fields of ash, The Ringed City plays host to an array of new enemies to face, weapons and armour to collect, and bosses to get your butt handed to you by, all within fresh environments in which to lose yourself. It's metaphorically acting as send off to three of the most notorious titles of the modern era, and somehow The Ringed City delivers a compelling gameplay experience and a climatic end to Dark Souls in both brutal and grand fashion.
From The Kiln of the First Flame, you'll have to approach the newly unveiled bonfire to transport yourself to the Dreg Heap, an amalgamation of all that has come before - an abhorrent assembly of familiar locations mutated and warped. The Dreg Heap is the first of two new locations in this DLC and sets expectations rather high. The space is vast and open - Dark Souls level design and interconnectivity making a triumphant return after its questionable omission in Ashes of Ariandel, the precursor DLC to The Ringed City. Falling is the key action in the Dreg Heap, as players will traverse great distances by simply throwing themselves off specific ledges.
At first, this notion seems ridiculous, especially for veteran players who know falling any distance is usually curtains. The game cleverly shepherds you into these scenarios with little option but to hurl yourself over the edge, your landing cushioned by a mounted piled of ash. The most eagle-eyed of players will also notice that ledges considered 'safe' for hurling oneself off of have a red ribbon tied somewhere around them – good to keep an eye out for those before you attempt a leap of faith off a cliff. While quite a spectacle, this notion of falling also drives home what you're actually doing in The Ringed City, which is travelling down to the end of the world to catch a character that's after The Dark Soul of man itself.
As you'd expect from Dark Souls, this subtly weaves itself into the story laid out in both the vanilla game and the previous DLC. if you haven't played Ashes of Ariandel yet, you should probably clear that before playing this to make sure you get the most out of the narrative - but if you're not into that mumbo jumbo and want to run in straight from the base game, then developer From Software reckons you should at least clear Lothric Castle before heading into The Ringed City. We rocked up to The Dreg Heap at level 140 and everything posed a typically Souls-level challenge anyway, in case you were wondering.
At the close of The Dreg Heap you face your first boss, which provide a welcome challenge and a visual treat, especially in its second phase. What's most pleasant to see with this adversary is that after besting it, you're not met with a dead end and instead the flow continues and propels you through to the next new location. Dead ends were something Ashes of Ariandel kept throwing up and were a real low point of the experience - so it's great to see that aspect absent from this DLC. After hitching a ride from the winged creatures that you met after defeating Vordt of the Boreal Valley, you're dropped into The Ringed City itself.
Visually, it's an immediate shift from The Dreg Heap as The Ringed City could almost be considered lush, what with bright green grass and colourful flowers peppering the landscape. It's a brilliant contrast to the dark, wandering knights that feature a burning ring on their chest, aesthetically akin to The Dark Soul itself. This armour is among the collection of new gear you can find here, which has a few visually cool items but nothing amazing in the stat department - at least in our experience. It must also be said that upon entering The Ringed City, there's a sudden drop in pace thanks to a large character that endlessly summons orange knight spirits. These a-holes pump you full of arrows and you're dead in a heartbeat if spotted, meaning that you have to navigate the walkway by shifting from conveniently placed gravestones in between the ritualistic summoning of the ethereal knights. It may sound reasonably easy, but it really isn't.
It's a shame to be channelled to only one course of action in a game that so wonderfully offers the opposite, and it's an effort in futility that gets very tedious very quickly. Fortunately, once that rubbish is behind you, The Ringed City proves to be a truly challenging area with lots to discover. The location plays host to the other three bosses found in the DLC, and while two are both ridiculously hard and incredibly fun, there's a frankly unnecessary NPC duel that masquerades as a boss fight which seems out of place. It feels like a throwaway confrontation that lacks the grandeur and poignancy that all of the other bosses have, making it wholly forgettable as a result.
While in The Ringed City, the more explorative among you may find some familiar faces. A handful of alternate versions of bosses that you've defeated in the base game can be found wandering parts of the city, hammering home the fact that what you're exploring is indeed somewhere very much detached from reality and the end of something big.
Two locations and four bosses doesn't sound like a whole bunch but don't be fooled - The Ringed City easily clocks in at four to five hours depending on how you fare with the bosses and other challenges. It's a meaty instalment and a welcome deviation from the practices seen in Ashes of Ariandel, while still interlocking with and continuing the complex narrative. The bosses are challenging and visually fantastic - besides a cheap NPC opponent - and the environments continue the Dark Souls tradition of being large, intricate, and engaging. The Ringed City feels like the climatic end that the Souls franchise deserves, even if we find ourselves hoping that this isn't actually the end at all.