Ed. Note: This is part three of my review of the Dark Souls III DLC, The Ringed City. There will be spoilers, so if you are going to play the game and want to do so unsullied, turn back! Part two here.
Returning home from my vacation, I sat down to The Ringed City, determined to finish it. I still wasn’t looking forward to it, but I had already decided that I just wanted to finish it with my utility caster, no matter what. In addition, I wanted to see what my NG++ caster could do. She’s my darling, and I had her int/faith stats pumped up so I could use all the spells. I’ve complained many times about how people think magic is OP in souls games, but not in NG unless you pump one stat to the detriment of all the rest. In addition, in DS III, pyromancy scales with both intelligence and faith, but the faith perks don’t kick in until you hit 18 intelligence. I didn’t know this, of course, but I was wondering with my current character, the one I started on my laptop while I was on vacation, why my pyromancy wasn’t doing as much damage as I would have expected. I was gunning for a strength/faith build because there’s a weapon, Morne’s Great Hammer, that needs 50 strength and 30 faith. It’s similar to the Grant of the original game, which I could never use. It was such a weird build, I wanted to give it a try. However, there’s no way to reach those stats on NG. Well, very little. I’m currently level 84, and I started as a level 8 pyromancer.* Do the math. I was curious about the low damage output and Googled it. Found out you needed at least 18 int. for the faith perk to kick in. I pumped my int. to 18 and sure enough, that did it. I currently have 20 int.
Anyway, my first character, mulan (what I always name my first character), finally feels strong, and it only took until NG++. I wanted to take her through the DLC for a few reasons. One, she’s my girl. She’s been through everything in the game with me, and it felt weird not to play the game to completion with her. Two, well, I’ll get to that in a minute. I have to backtrack. I saw the next boss at Filianore’s Rest before I went on vacation. Much of this post is going to be devoted to him because he’s amazing, for many reasons. After I beat the Halflight, Spear of the Church with my utility caster, of course I went to the next area, which immediately transported me to a different place altogether. The fabled Ringed City in the title, the cutscene is breathtaking. I ended up at Filianore’s Rest, and I wandered through a beautifully terrible and desolated area. There’s sand. So much sand. And a furtive pygmy crawling on the sand, pleading for help from Filianore. He mentions something about the Red Hood coming to eat them, to eat their dark souls. As far as I know, this is the first specific reference to the dark souls of the titles, but I could be wrong.
I moved towards the obvious boss space and girded my loins. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the original furtive pygmy from the first Dark Souls seemed appropriate. Instead, it was someone eating the furtive pygmy’s dark souls, and that someone was…Slave Knight Gael????? What the hell? My buddy from the first DLC, the one who’s been guiding me every step of the way in this DLC, he’s the next boss? I have to say as much as I love the Souls series, there’s very little that surprises me any longer about them because I know them so well. This, however, surprised the hell out of me, and I applaud FromSoft for knitting the two DLCs together in such an ingenious way.
A little backstory: Slave Knight Gael is the NPC who tricks you into entering the Ashes of Ariandel DLC (through a painting) because he wants your ash to inflame the next painting of his niece or some such. (It’s more that he wants to end the endless cycle of flame.) That’s the condensed version of the first DLC, and at the end of it, his niece says, “Soon, Uncle Gael will bring me the pigment. I wonder if he has found it, the dark soul of man?” I also summoned him for the final boss fight of the first DLC, and he was invaluable in that fight.
In this DLC, his phantom shows up along your journey and literally points out the places you can drop safely. He also leaves pieces of his red hood/cape to mark the spots. He’s the only friend I have in the DLCs, and to have to face him as a boss in the second DLC is emotional for me. In the cut scene, he is eating the dark souls of the pygmies, and he is grotesque in size and appearance. His regular self is not a prepossessing or noticeable in any way. He’s slender and small, and the most notable thing about him is his devotion to his niece. As a boss, he’s huge and radiates menace, and he his dark sign on his chest is huge and burning brightly. He started his mission as a noble one, and it ended with him being corrupted.
Once I had my emotions in check, I tried to fight him and promptly got wrecked. For a plebe like me, he is a brutal fight, whether as a caster or a tank. He wrecked my shit over and over again, and I decided early on to summon as a caster. It still took me several tries to beat him, and I put my White Sign Soapstone summons sign down to try him out as a phantom with no cost to myself. Even as a phantom, I lost more often than not. When I played as a phantom in the vanilla game, I probably helped my host beat the boss ninety-five percent of the time. With Gael, I think my success rate was closer to thirty percent, but at least I got to see all his phases as a phantom.
Side Note: There are several stages to fighting a boss as I have mused about before. One: “No fucking way I can beat this boss.” This happens in the beginning when a boss decimates me from the face of the earth over and over again. I rage. I tremble. I shake my head. I curse. A lot. And I go back for more until I’m exhausted. This can last anywhere from one attempt to twenty, and in rare cases, even more. Two: “Maybe I can beat this boss? I don’t know.” This is when I first make a serious dent in a boss, and I see a glimmer of hope that I can actually beat it. This stage is very fluid and tenuous as a few bad attempts can shove me back to stage one. Three: “Hey, I can beat this boss!” This is when I start to get the timing down, and I know I just need to buckle down and do it. The problem is with Dark Souls III, Miyazaki fell in love with multiple-phase bosses, so learning one phase doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do well in the next. Four: “I MOTHERFUCKING BEAT THIS BOSS!” Obviously, this is a very short-lived phase as it’s only experienced after the last try. This is the best phase of all and why I keep playing these games.
Side Note II: I became obsess with the health bar of Gael during this fight because it seemed unusually long, and I did relatively little damage, even as a tank. I finally looked it up, and he has 14,985 health on NG. For context, Manus, the final DLC boss of the first game had 6,666 health. Which, while funny, is less than HALF the health Gael has. Sister Friede, the final boss of the first DLC, has 18,877 health total for all three of her phases. Two of her phases has more health than Manus. No wonder I didn’t feel at all guilty for summoning Gael for that fight. I started looking up the health bars for other bosses, and it’s not my imagination that DLC is pretty jacked. The DLCs for DS II also had bosses with pretty big health bars, which is probably one reason I didn’t enjoy them as much, either. I will say that I felt as if Gael had unusual high defense as I did about a third of the damage on him that I did on other sizable enemies.
I was wiped out by this point, and I summoned phantoms to help take him out. I also read up on his weaknesses, and I learned that they are frost and poison. As a caster, I equipped Toxic Mist (which is super-duper hearty poison) plus Snap Freeze, and I used them liberally throughout the fight. Even with phantoms, it wasn’t easy to beat Gael. His first phase is so long and grueling, and if he caught me in a combo, I was done. One of the downsides to being a caster is that I can’t wear very heavy armor, so two hits of his massive sword, and I was dead. I wanted to continue the game with my caster, which is why I decided to summon with her. Even though I was trying to care less about beating the bosses solo, I still felt bad that I had relied on summons so much. However, I also wanted to see the rest of the game, and I told myself I could do the solo fight against Gael with my tank if I really felt compelled.
Between bouts with Gael, I remembered that I had forgotten the dragon that I had promised to kill. I stumbled across the way to kill it when I was looking for something else, so I went and accomplished the first part of the fight with both my caster and tank. Once I was able to fight the dragon properly, I went in to give it a try. Nope, nope, nope. Not gonna happen. I don’t like fighting dragons in FromSoft games for two reasons. One, I love dragons and don’t want to fight them in general. Two, they are as hard as balls in FromSoft games, and are always endurance checks. The hardest boss for me in the original Dark Souls is Black Dragon Kalameet, even though I’ve beaten him twice solo. Anyway, this dragon is called Darkeater Midir, and you have to beat him to become a part of the covenant that allows you to be the second boss. Spears of the Church. Fuck that covenant, and fuck that boss.
I was so exhausted by this point, I just didn’t care. I summoned for both Gael and Midir with my caster, and I had two fantastic phantoms who helped me beat each boss. (Different phantoms for each boss, obviously.) To my surprise, Gael was the final boss. Midir was optional, which I knew, and he’s weak to Pestilent Mercury and lightning. I used Pestilent Mercury and Lightning Arrow while my two phantoms smacked that ass, and it was relatively easy. I also finally decided to take my original caster through the DLC in part for reasons I mentioned above, and partly because there is additional dialogue from the Painting Woman (Gael’s niece) after you defeat her uncle, and I didn’t want to wait until I beat Gael solo to see it. I haven’t done the first DLC with my utility caster, and at some point in this DLC, that path was closed to me. (ETA: I just discovered that you can access the DLC in another way. Wish I had known that earlier.) I whizzed through the DLC with my NG++ caster until I hit the Halflight, Spear of the Church boss again. Since I had done Lapp’s/Patches’ questline, I could summon him for the fight, but he was useless. One of the problems with playing NG++ is that there aren’t as many summons, and there were very few for this fight. I decided to try it offline so I wouldn’t have to face an actual player as the boss, but the AI boss ain’t no joke for me, either. I suck at PvP as a caster, as I’ve mentioned a million times. I was having serious doubts I could beat this boss, even the AI version, or even with phantoms. I finally did with help from two phantoms, and I handled Gael and Midir fairly easily with awesome phantoms as well. One thing I have to be careful of is that as a host, I feel responsible for keeping my phantoms alive, and when I was fighting Midir, I died with about a tenth of his health left because I was concerned for my phantom. I have healing miracles, and I wanted to try to reach him/her, but I have to remember that as a host, my responsibility is to beat the damn boss.
When I got the Blood of the Dark Soul from Gael with my caster (after beating him), I took it back to Painting Woman, and I gave it to her. She thanked me, talked about the painting of the cold and gentle world she was going to make, then wondered if Uncle Gael was coming home soon. It was a gut punch, and I went back to Gael’s bonfire to leave a message of sorrow. What was my feeling after beating the whole DLC for the first time? Relief, honestly. I didn’t feel elated or jubilant after I beat Gael for the first time, in part because I didn’t know he was the last boss until I killed him, but mostly because the whole experience was so exhausting. There was also more than a little bit of sadness that my Dark Souls journey was over for good. I can’t say for sure there won’t be another Dark Souls game, but for me, this trilogy is canon, and it’s time to turn the page.
I have more to say about the Gael fight, which I decided I wanted to take on solo as my tank. Not to prove anything, but to end the series the way I’ve played it all along. I also have many more thoughts on the DLC in general, but it’ll all have to wait until the next post. See you then!
*If I’m playing a caster, I always start as a pyromancer because she has both intelligence and faith stats, plus fire. She really is a good utility caster.