I love Souls games. I'm not the greatest player, but I've completed most of the games in the series, loved Bloodborne, and prefer to play with fist weapons (despite the difficulty spike), because I think it's amusing to punch giant bosses. At a recent Namco Bandai event, I had the opportunity to play a demo build of Dark Souls III's final piece of DLC, The Ringed City. Once I sat down and checked my equipment, I was told I had thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes, sure. I mean, I usually like to take my time and explore in Dark Souls, but with a pre-leveled character I was pretty sure I could at least pay the boss a visit.
<WARNING: SPOILERS FOR DARK SOULS III: THE RINGED CITY BELOW>
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I was thrown into a location called "The Dreg Heap." It's the grey, ruinous area featured in the announcement trailer and includes a stunning horizon filled with collapsed castle towers, as well as the occasional Londor pilgrim gazing out over the sheer cliffs. The first enemies I encountered were a couple of summoners that would conjure groups of ashen undead. They rose out of the ground and crawled towards me, but it was easy to dispatch a few at a time since the demo build equipped me with a +10 Zweihander and a +10 Longsword. As expected, if I didn't take out the summoners, the numbers of undead got a little harder to manage.
The next enemy I encountered was slightly more intimidating. It was a rotund, and headless humanoid over twice the size of my character, covered in brambles. A conveniently-placed platform in this area allowed me to get the drop on him from above, which resulted in a custom attack animation as my character mounted his huge body and plunged a longsword into the enemy's exposed neck. When there was no height advantage, however, his attacks consisted of broad horizontal swings with a large, curved sword, and a humorous butt-push when I attempted a backstab. Killing him rewarded me with a piece of "Herald Legion" armor which, when equipped, caused my character to look like he was wearing a giant beach ball. Things were going well so far.
But I was quickly stumped. I had killed every enemy in this starting area, and could find no forward path. I spent a few minutes circling the perimeter, finding a few souls in the process but nothing that looked like an obvious trail. Eventually, I noticed a small, rocky outcropping on one of the cliffs. There was a withered corpse on it, but due to a previous player's exploration, there wasn't a white glint shining from it. Knowing there was no item on the body, I had no reason to go out there. Still, I decided to take a closer look.
As soon as I stepped onto the outcropping, it collapsed, and my character plummeted to what I thought was his death. But before I could throw my hands in the air, he crashed through a stained-glass window and landed in a pile of white ash, taking zero damage. Surviving that fall was surprising to say the least. Another pair of sorcerers engaged me immediately, but instead of zombie creatures, they shot large, blob-like ghost projectiles at me. I was startled, but once I dodged the initial attacks, they didn't pose much more of a threat.
Making my way through the ruins, I found myself on another rooftop where I was quickly blasted with a barrage of white beams from a skeletal angel in the sky, a creature featured briefly in The Ringed City's announcement trailer. With only the smallest of pauses between barrages, I had to run from cover to cover until I made it to safety.
But in safety I only found more confusion. Once again, I couldn't see any obvious way to proceed forward as I carefully examined every abnormal protrusion in the new outdoor area. I retraced my steps back to the hostile bombardment zone, but found nothing. After about five more minutes of running around in circles, a Namco representative tapped me on the shoulder. Everyone else had given up, so he wanted to see me succeed. I felt a little inadequate.
He directed me to an unremarkable cliff edge and said, "Jump off there." I looked down and couldn't even make out the bottom. I thought he was kidding. "Trust me, just jump off." I did so, and once again, I fell for a painfully long time before my character landed in another puff of white ash, right in front of the next bonfire. I was annoyed at first--this section was telling me to forget everything I'd internalised regarding Dark Souls and fall damage, and this passage was not telegraphed at all. But I later came around to how clever this idea was, especially given how people would need to trust the seemingly unhelpful soapstone signs from other players in order to get ahead. I was fortunate enough to get a helpful, in-person soapstone recommendation with this demo. Hopefully, the DLC will provide a few more twists like this.
I was soon met by a couple of Lothric Knights in a church, but my time with the demo was running out. I decided to run right past them, and as it turns out, the next section was fun to run through. I sprinted through a gauntlet of ghost-shooting summoners and past groups of clawing zombies as the church came crashing down on top of me. It narrowly missed, and I continued sprinting towards an amazing landscape drenched in red by a blood-colored eclipse.
I found myself in a barren, rocky field littered with wooden structures and another skeletal angel hovering above. This one seemed to patrol the area, so traversal became a little more like a stealth game. I would move out of position when its back was turned and take advantage of cover. Occasionally, the angel would get distracted by the small, imp-like Hollow Slave enemies from the main game, startling me as it attempted to blast them out of existence with its beam attacks. Exploring this area took more time than anticipated, and while I collected a few items, I eventually learned that the way forward was literally right next to where I had entered the area.
And here's where things got really frustrating. I dropped into a vast, open, poisonous swamp with enormous tree trunks sticking out majestically at different angles. This location very much reminded me of Farron's Keep in the main Dark Souls III campaign. I found more Hollow Slaves and numerous groups of Poisonhorn Bugs, the slow-moving mushroom-like creatures common to Souls games. And, to top it off, yet another skeletal angel thing blasted me with beams every time I was out in the open. Again, I ran from cover to cover, but traversing under fire and finding my way was made even more difficult by the poison and the clusters of Poisonhorn Bugs that would sometimes block my way. If I stood still for too long, the angel would summon a dust that rapidly filled my "curse" meter, which meant instant death if it got full.
After being killed by just about everything in this area, I realised I needed to run up a particular set of tree trunks which led me to a larger, hollowed-out log. I found a Pyromancer and two Hollow Slaves looking for a fight in there, but because my time with the demo was clearly drawing to a close, I sprinted past the the enemies and back outside. But as I ran to take cover from the angel's barrages, another set of beams creamed me from the other side--there were now two flying sentinels laying down fire in the area. I spent my next few lives trying to take down the angels with Lightning Spear spells, which had no effect, and a bow, which did such insignificant damage I quickly gave up. After a few more runs of trying to dodge both sets of barrages, my time was up. As I left the room, I asked the Namco representative how close I was. "About a few hundred meters from the boss bonfire."
So here's what I learned: The Ringed City introduces a few new alarming enemy types, one of which seems impossible to kill. Although there was seemingly a single path through the demo, there were a few moments where the essential do's and don'ts of Dark Souls rules were twisted. I remembered how much scarier Dark Souls can be when you don't have soapstone messages to help you along, and learned that it's a little harder to fully appreciate Dark Souls with a time limit hovering above your head. But the obvious takeaway from the Ringed City demo is: Yes, this is more Dark Souls III, and the new environments are breathtaking. Maybe that's all you need to know.