Ed. Note: This is part five of my endless review of the Dark Souls III DLC, The Ringed City. I don’t want it to end, just like I don’t want the series to end. Read part four here.
So. Now that I’m done with the DLC, how do I feel about it overall? It’s hard to say. I played it one more time on my laptop* with the character I started while I was visiting Ian. She’s a strength/faith build because there’s a weapon, Morne’s Great Hammer, that takes 50/30 strength/faith to use, and I want to try it out. Unfortunately, it’ll take at least through the second playthrough to get the stats to use it, and then I may not have enough vitality to use it effectively. Right now, she has 29/40 and 13 vitality. The reason she has 40 faith is because I want to be able to use a lightning spell that takes 45 faith, which I can do with the Priestess Ring (adds +5 faith). The problem is, though, I’m not going to be able to add 21 strength (or 16. I can wear the Knight’s Ring to add +5 to strength) plus whatever vitality I need in order to wear decent armor and heft the MGH. What I might do is respec just so I can play around with it, then respec again to a saner build once I’ve had my fill of the MGH.
I decided to take her through the DLC before writing this review so I could see if I still felt the same way I did when I first played it. This playthrough, I didn’t care at all about soloing the bosses, which made it so much easier, and, frankly, much more enjoyable. I ran through The Dreg Heap with little problem. It’s sounds silly to say, but knowing the way to go cuts out so much of the game’s difficulty. Not all of it, but a healthy portion of it. In addition, the patch that allowed Hidden Body to work was a godsend. The Laser Angels of Death (Technical name, Angels, but that’s my pet name for them) were incidental. They couldn’t harm me if they couldn’t see me, and I liberally used the Hidden Body spell to make sure they couldn’t see me.
Side note: I am not a stealth game player at all, but I love being able to stealth my way through the Souls games. I started another game (yeah, yeah, I know), another tank with a hint of dex, and I’m grumpy because I don’t have my Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring combo yet. I forget how much I rely on being able to sneak around and ignoring enemies that I don’t want to deal with. One of the reasons I use a 10/5 Estus Flask/Ashen Estus Flask split is so that I can Hidden Body my way around the game to my heart’s content. That’s another thing with being in the beginning part of the game–having to actually monitor my mana** use. By the end of the game, I rarely have to keep an eye on it unless I’m doing a specific mana-only fight, such as trying to kill the second wyvern in Archdragon Peak after first taking care of the Rock Lizards. Who, by the way, are probably the most adorable enemies in the game, even though they are so damn aggravating. They’re hardy little fucks, but I love the way they roll. Anyway, being able to run around an enemy unnoticed in order to backstab them is the best. There are a few enemies that are immune to the Hidden Body spell, which is infuriating. Is using the Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring combo (plus the Lingering Dragoncrest Ring to extend the length of Hidden Body) cheating? Hell no! It’s in the game.
I co-oped the Demon Prince, which was as fun as always, but in co-oping, I realized that this character was much more fragile than my other casters. Because I pumped so many levels into faith, I had to shortchange my vigor and endurance, which meant I had to be much more careful about the hits I took. I wasn’t as effective as a phantom, though I still did a decent job most of the time. I was able to beat him with the help of a great phantom and one of the NPC phantoms, Lapp (Patches). It was a relatively easy win, and I have to wonder if I could beat him solo. I don’t have any desire to do so, but there’s still that voice in the back of my head that says it’s not a true victory if I haven’t soloed him. Then, the Mausoleum Lookout. Oh, how the bullshit is still bullshit. Also, shout-out to the asshole who camped in this area solely to fuck up my shit. I don’t think I can say it often or emphatically enough: I HATE the invasion system in the Souls games.
The bullshit was still bullshit, but knowing what I had to do made it much easier. I only died to the Adjudicator Giant’s bullshit three or four times this playthrough, rather than easily twenty the first time through, but I still think it’s bad design. The puzzle aspect of it plus the normal enemies plus the Ghost Archers plus Silver Knight Ledo’s phantom PLUS trying to kill the Adjudicator Giant himself is too much.
Look. I know Dark Souls games are notoriously difficult. Believe me, I know it very well, but there is a fine line between difficulty but fair, and difficult and unfair. I am a huge fan of the Souls game, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re perfect. My initial impulse about this DLC was that it was fan service, and while I’ve soften my feelings about it (I don’t hate it as I did when I first played it), I still think it’s geared at the hardcore fans who do crazy things like no-hit runs, no-bonfire runs, and the infamous onebro runs. I can’t be mad about it because it is Miyazaki’s farewell, and I’m sure he wanted to thank the rabid Dark Souls fans for their dedication. It’s just makes me sad because I love the games, but the feeling isn’t reciprocated. I’ve said it before, but I am a mediocre Souls player. Let me clarify. I’m a good Souls player in the gen pop, but I’m a mediocre Souls player for those who are devoted to the games. If it weren’t for my unreasonable stubbornness, I probably wouldn’t have finished the first game, let alone the second and third. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I probably died to the Nameless King nearly a hundred times, but I finally did it solo, damn it. NG+ with my caster, too. Also.
The DLCs for Souls games (and Bloodborne) are renown for being off-the-charts difficulty, which makes me feel very conflicted about them. Artorias of the Abyss, the DLC for the original game, is considered one of the best DLCs of all time. It’s fucking amazing, but I remember at the time that I absolutely hated it. Black Dragon Kalameet, the optional boss of the DLC, is still one of my nemeses, despite the fact that I’ve beaten him solo twice. I still don’t like the DLCs for the sequel, which were a dramatic spike in difficulty from the vanilla game. The DLCs for DS III are no different, and I have never hated any part of a Souls game more than I did my initial playthrough of The Ringed City. Despite the difficulty of the Souls games, that has never really been the main point of them, DS II DLC, notwithstanding. The games are more about exploration, experimenting, patience, learning how to play in an optimal manner, and improving incrementally with each failure. When the games go out of their way to be difficult, that’s when they’re the least interesting (and most frustrating) to me. One of the reasons I like the games is for their depth, and a mentality of, “Look how hard I am!” seems shallow to me. Again, the line between organic difficulty and artificial difficulty is thin, but I can feel it once I step over it.
Back to The Ringed City. My fourth playthrough was infinitely easier than the first, but that’s partly because I gave up on any hope that I would solo all the bosses in the DLC (or any of them). I know I said earlier that if it’s in the game, it’s not cheating, but the bosses are really meant to be soloed. The fact that I didn’t want to grind through them solo again (or for the first time) is an indication of failure to me. I’m not counting the second boss, Halflight, Spear of the Church because fuck PvP, especially in a non-optional boss, and he seemed like complete fan service to me. I beat him fairly easily in this playthrough because I lucked out with a shitty PvP player as the boss, and I had a fantastic phantom and Patches, the NPC, to back me up. This is my least favorite boss fight in all of the Souls series, and that is saying a lot. I contemplated soloing the Demon Prince, but I just couldn’t be stuffed. Could I have beaten him solo? Maybe. Did I want to put in the time and effort it would take to do it? No. That’s my other marker for a good boss fight–do I want to try to beat the boss solo? It might just be Souls fatigue at this point, but I wasn’t tempted to beat this guy solo. As for Darkeater Midir–I did try him solo a few times with the Lightning Arrow miracle and the Pestilent Mercury spell (his two weaknesses), and I saw how it could be possible to beat him solo. Didn’t want to, though, so I summoned a phantom and the NPC, Shira, and made short work of him. In fact, it was incredibly easy. It’s funny, isn’t it, how fighting is easier with a friend or two by your side? It was also pretty easy to beat Slave Knight Gael with two summons, which is partly because I know Gael so well by this point. I also tried him solo a few times with the Toxic spell and the Snap Freeze spell (poison and frostbite are his two weaknesses), and I could have done it eventually. I just didn’t want to, though, and I felt no shame or guilt in summoning since I’d already beaten him solo.
So, after beating the DLC four times, what are my final thoughts on it? It’s beautiful and atmospheric. The setting is incredible, and Slave Knight Gael is a thoroughly satisfying final boss. I like the way the two DLCs tie together, but there are too many loose ends from the original game that still remain. The difficulty was too artificial for me, and it made me give up on one of the things that make Souls games so appealing–mastering a hard boss. Jolly cooperation is tons of fun, but I didn’t like that it felt like a necessity to me in The Ringed City. Will I play it again? Probably, but that’s just because I’m addicted to Souls games. I think it’s a miss more than it’s a hit for me, but I also think it’s a fitting end to the series. Why? Because it’s a love letter to the hardcore fans who have lived and breathed Souls games for the past eight years,*** and it’s just too bad that the love doesn’t extend to scrubs like me. I would say if you’re a hardcore Souls fan, you should be more than satisfied with The Ringed City as the final installment of this fantastic series. As for me, I cannot wait to see what Miyazaki comes up with next.
*I’ve been sick, and I haven’t felt much like sitting at my desktop and playing. Using my laptop on the couch is much more preferable at this point.
**Yes, yes, yes. Focus Points, I know, but it’ll always be mana to me.
***I count Demon’s Souls as the starting point of the craze, and that was released in 2009.