The cobblestone pathways and towering cathedrals of the eponymous Ringed City twist and melt into one another as they fall into oblivion. Here, at the edge of the world, an old woman quips that she feels like a god, looking over all creation as it races toward the end–of everything. These twisted landscapes make for a surreal backdrop and a fitting metaphor for the final chapter of Dark Souls. It’s fortunate, then, that the Ringed City doesn’t waste any of that creative energy.
As weird as the worlds of Dark Souls can be, their brutality tends to keep them grounded and tangible. With the Ringed City, however, those pretenses fall away. Your introduction shunts you through a series of monster-packed corridors interspersed with steep, bizarrely nonlethal drops down cliffs. These show your gradual descent into the nightmarish plane of the Ringed City–an apparent mosaic of the series’ past settings now caked in ash and dust–and balance moments of desperation against bursts of fatalism. It’s striking, tense, and emblematic of the expansion as a whole.
The Ringed City takes all of Dark Souls’ ideas and presses them to their extreme. In previous games, high-risk, high-reward play was advantageous–but it’s essential here. You won’t find your first bonfire (a shelter from the universe’s grotesque monsters) for quite some time, and even then it doesn’t seem too useful. You’ll rush out and die, without a chance to learn much.
Angels guard much of the area, and they can spot you from some ways off. The subsequent salvo of golden light-spears can tear through your health in an instant if you’re not careful. And these angels can’t be killed directly. At first, that seems like a breach of the series’ guiding mantra of “tough but fair.” However, it’s there to upend expectations and encourage new styles of play–in this case, stealth–that the series had yet to explore. Once you know where and how to move, the area’s still a challenge, but in true Souls fashion, it’s far from insurmountable.
It’s a shame, then, that The Ringed City’s brisk pace just isn’t enough to give these new ideas the attention they deserve.