Well, I finally managed to beat the final Dark Souls DLC, the Ringed City. Ironically enough, I was able to finish it off not a few hours after I posted my article explaining why it was taking me so long: maybe all that self-reflection got me in the mood for some good old fashioned masochism, or maybe I was sick of dying in the Killing Floor 2 and I wanted to die doing something else for a change… regardless, after many trials and using the Dried Fingers for the first time ever, I was able to beat the final boss and enjoy the anti-climax that topped off the series.
So yeah, spoilers, if you weren’t already prepared for that. Although the DLC is old enough at this point that you’ve probably already finished it yourself, if you’re the type who may have cared.
First, some thoughts on the DLC itself: I like how From has taken a “screw it” policy on the loot, and finally gave us enemies that routinely drop the end-game materials you need to upgrade your gear to the highest rank, making it easier than ever to explore with your build. The two new arenas they introduced are fun enough, but not enough to make the game’s PVP anything competitive in today’s day of age. The boss fights are good enough: The Demon Princes are surprisingly hard, the Spear of the Church didn’t exactly blow my mind (it’s stupidly easy when you can’t get another player to fight against) and the final boss, which I’ll talk more about below, was certainly memorable, one of the “fairest” bosses the game has ever produced, with a wide variety of widely telegraphed and varied attacks that leave you scrambling to find the best solution and optimal way of playing. Never before in a boss fight have I switched rings mid-battle and planned out my spell use ahead of time, but this boss made me do that and I loved it.
Like the first DLC, it was surprisingly short. While it took me about 15 hours or so, a lot of that was because the character I ran it through was using a dark build, and every boss and most of the major enemies in this DLC had a strong resistance to it. So much so that I never even got around to beating the fourth, optional boss, which had a HP bar like a freight train and took my strongest abyssal spells as if they were nothing more than stiff breezes. I had to re-spec myself for the entire DLC, which wasn’t a good feeling: I liked my abyss magic. On the bright side, a lot of fan favorite armor sets and weapons have returned, so if you thought the game didn’t have enough fan service (for whatever reason), this will cover you nicely.
All in all? Having finished it, I’d rate it with a resounding “okay”. Dark Souls 2 may have had many problems, but it was unparalleled in the quality of its DLC, and it’s inevitable I would compare this game’s DLC both to that and the superb Dark Souls 1 DLC, Artorias of the Abyss. A comparison that is, sadly, not flattering: while gameplay wise, Dark Souls 3 might be the strongest in the series, it’s DLC was the weakest. And while weak Dark Souls 3 DLC still makes it better than most games, when I finally beat the final boss, I found myself saying “That’s it?” in more than one respect: “That’s it?” for the end of the DLC, and “That’s it?” for the end of the series.
That’s not strictly a bad thing, I want to stress.
If you haven’t gotten there yet, or you don’t mind spoilers, the final boss of The Ringed City is against Slave Knight Gael, a friendly face who has guided and fought beside you through both DLC packs. He was never a talkative fellow, only having a few lines of dialogue, but he was spoken highly of by the white-haired painter and his messages and phantoms scatter the Ringed City, offering you guidance and a friendly blade for tough fights. The boss fight itself takes place in the distant future, where Gael has gone mad in his search for the dark pigment needed for the Painter to finish her art, and the two of you cross blades in the ash-covered ruins at the very edge of the world. The sun has died, almost nothing of civilization remains, and a hollow, dry wind is the last remaining signs of life. The world is empty and cold, and the last two sparks of life that remain in the wasteland are trying to kill each other for nothing more than the other’s blood.
But what’s telling, for a fight that’s supposedly the final clash of the game, is that it ends with a whimper, not a bang. When you finally strike him down… nothing really happens. You get his soul, and the pigment the painter needs… and that’s it. There’s no cutscene, no reveal, nothing by way of closure… he dies, you get souls, and you’re left standing alone at the end of the world, surrounded by dust and ruin.
Thematically, it’s appropriate. Why would there be any fanfare, or the lore-changing revelation that Dark Souls 2 offered for people who finally found the Crown of the True King? There’s nothing to celebrate, no one to revel in your accomplishment. It’s the end of the freaking world, by slaying Gael, you literally become the last undead standing, with nothing ahead and a broken world behind. The last being to watch a dead world deteriorate beneath your immortal heel.
Ruining that somewhat, you can use a bonfire to go back in time, and turn in the pigment. But even that doesn’t offer much more than a hope spot: a promise of a kind, cold world being created with your help, and the possibility that somewhere in that lifeless future, there exists another world that still thrives. But even that’s a forlorn conclusion, a suggestion more than a promise, and a rather unsatisfactory conclusion of a promising plot thread started in the first DLC. A thanks, a promise it’ll be named after you (or Gael), and something resembling hope. Not what a lot of people were expecting, but then, Dark Souls 3 has never been so much about meeting your expectations as it has been about expecting you to meet its own.
Of course, the theme of ending is underlined further more in that this being the final DLC for Dark Souls 3, it also means the end of Dark Souls. Sure, we’ll probably get a remaster, or a collector’s edition, and a sequel to Bloodborne certainly doesn’t seem too unlikely, but for the game that actually turned an entire generation of gamers into battle-hardened warriors ready to die is finally coming to an end.
I’m okay with that. In fact, I’d say it’s about time.
Dark Souls 2 & 3 has proven, perhaps better than From Software had hoped, that while the lore of the Dark Souls universe was certainly deep, interesting, and compelling, it was far from sacred or unique. And while familiar names, themes, locations, and plots will finally be put to rest, the thing that really made Dark Souls special, the gameplay, the tone, and the willingness to let the player work for every scrap it has to offer, will live on in new stories and with new faces. I commented as much when I first wrote about Dark Souls 3, and how it would always sit on the throne of the kingdom it had helped create, but it’s certainly worth reiterating now. Dark Souls will be king for a long time, and I can’t imagine anything taking its place in my heart, but all things need to end.
And while I loved the final boss fight in Dark Souls 3, the actual endings you could pick didn’t seem all that compelling. You could either make the same choices as you always made, steal the fire, or taint it and usher in a new, true age of undead… which was fine and well and good, as far as endings go, but they either offer “more of the same” or “a vague future that could theoretically lead to future titles or another age of Fire, because cycles”.
While it’s not an official ending, I like what this DLC does better. It seems like a far more appropriate way to finally close the series. Not with a cinematic bang, but a quiet, empty, sigh. One last undead standing alone in the lifeless wastes, what’s left of humanity and the dark soul writhing in their palm, wandering aimlessly through the emptiness for time immortal. The cycle, for better or worse, is finally broken. The unkindled is finally unchained.
And now, with nothing left to do but walk away from the series, I can say I’m glad for that. That will be a strangely comforting image for me years from now, when I think back on the series that has given me so much.
Rest in peace, Dark Souls. You’ve earned it.
...but don't rest too soundly, we're going to revisit you one last time next week.