The Ringed City is a bit of a paradox to me. The first DLC, Ashes of Ariandel felt so lonely, it overwhelmed you with the ruins and snow flats. It really felt like you against the wilderness. This time though, it’s different; this in very many ways is all about verticality. You’re constantly trying to get down, but there’s some literal leaps of faith you need to make, as previously the game has always taught you “falling is bad”.
Dark Souls has always been strong in its environmental lessons. It doesn’t necessarily teach you directly, but you learn about the game through the mechanics. Coming into this DLC you need to make a large leap into the snow (or ash, one of the two) and you realise you don’t take damage. That’s the first lesson and the most important, that’s when you know that you need to throw some of your preconceptions out the window.
Next, you move down a ramp and a hoard of cursed knights, all twisted and broken, crawling in a desperate attempt to take you out. This is another lesson. There’s a lot of enemies and they don’t give many souls when they die; they’re almost more trouble than they’re worth. That’s the second lesson: maybe it’s worthwhile avoiding enemies.
This is where the game tricks you. It knows you want that treasure, and you’re going to go get it, but it causes you to start falling into a ruined church, again, massive fall, no damage taken. Reinforcing the lesson. More of those same enemies, just there to annoy you more than harm you. Reinforcing the lesson. You turn the corner and suddenly there’s a new threat, turning the game on its head again; a giant angel-like creature, happy to assault you with a slew of light rays at my person. The only option is to sprint and hide away, because you can’t even target the angel, let alone hurt it.
As you continue to move through, there’s more of these lessons given. More falling, but only onto the ash to avoid damage, huge amounts of enemies that should be avoided, as they don’t really follow you. I get a bit lost, but I make my way to a bonfire; safety. The next scene is interesting too, very non-Dark Souls. Not only are you avoiding two angels launching rays at you, but you’re also lost in a giant swamp so you’ve got to move quickly or you’re going to get poisoned. Everything now is screaming “rush along”, but honestly it’s actually a trick. In truth, the game wants you to look around and find refuge, because there’s only one way to stop those giant angels, and you do need to stop them. Hidden away in these areas in a grotesque butterfly-like creature, and killing it causes the angels to disappear.
It’s funny, because you need to make long runs across open swamp, and across undefended tree roots. You’re either going to take a lot of hits and hope to whatever god may be that you survive, or you’re hunting down the way to stop the angels. That’s the only two options. Getting past all of this leads to the boss, down an incredibly large drop, just to make sure you’ve learned. I won’t talk about the boss though, partially because it completely wrecked me, and partially because that’s the big experience for you to have.
As I said this DLC feels very un-Dark Souls. Skipping enemies, falling down long drops, running for your life from unkillable enemies. I’m interesting, absolutely, and perhaps a more cynical me would wonder if they’re trying something crazy new because it’s the final DLC and they want to see the reaction to these changes for say, a new game in the series. Either way, The Ringed City is quite interesting, and I look forward to trying to more on March 28.