The one word I would use to describe Ringed City would be bittersweet. It is, for now, the end of Dark Souls. I’m sure FROM will release something similar in the near future, whether that’s a sequel to Bloodborne or a new direction for the same core ideas. I’ll also be shocked if we don’t see anything on Dark Souls 4—or something of a series reboot—before 2020. For now though, Dark Souls is over.
Dark Souls 3, on the other hand, is over for good. I don’t anticipate a remixed version of the game like we had for Dark Souls 2. Ringed City is the end. It’s always a little sad to witness the conclusion of something you enjoy so much, but I think it’s for the best and the break is welcome.
The content of Ringed City is bittersweet in another way. I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve played it around three times now and it’s some of my favorite content for this game. But it comes with a bit of baggage—there are two elephants in the room here, not just one. First, let’s review what exactly is in Ringed City and get our usual spoiler warning out of the way. I’m about to show all of the levels and the bosses, so turn back if you want to play it yourself first. If you’re a fan of Souls then it’s worth your time.
Ringed City has two main areas and four bosses. For levels you have the opening in The Dreg Heap and a large area from which the DLC takes its name. You can break these down into more precise pieces: The Dreg Heap, which players were given a preview of in the base game before the final fight with Soul of Cinder, can be split into two. The first part where you explore one of the most vertically inclined levels in the series—this crushed and mangled mess of Lothric—and then the remains of Earthen Peak from Dark Souls 2 which sits as a swampy mess at the bottom of it all.
Ringed City can be broken down into three areas: the introduction to the city and your descent through part of its streets. Then exploring another swamp which is, to me, visually distinct from others so far in the series. It’s far more moody and thankfully doesn’t poison you or slow your movement. Lastly there’s a cliff side area with a dragon that leads to a short climb through a tower and a grand cathedral.
The difference between these two larger areas is that Ringed City feels more interconnected. The swamp leads back to the streets in two ways, and your climb through the tower loops back to the beginning of the level to reuse a bonfire for some bosses. There’s also a large area that you can explore at the end, but this is more like an arena for the final boss fight.
Of the four bosses, I feel confident in saying that three are well worth seeing for almost every fan of the series. For some they might be among the best in all of the games. The only one that’s questionable is the PvP fight in the cathedral. This is a concept that has been done in both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 2—another player can be summoned to become the boss you fight against.
My issue with the fight is that its quality will largely depend on who you end up fighting, or if there’s anyone available to fight you at all. Aside from the usual connectivity issues that some may face online, you could get someone who has no idea what they’re doing and you get an easy win. Or you could get someone who has prepared themselves to be able to heal with miracles, prolong the fight, and play cleverly with the NPC helpers to overwhelm and destroy you since it’s not a one-on-one duel. At worst this is a glorified NPC phantom invasion if no one is available.
I like the concept of this fight and I think it might be a favorite for some people who love this part of the game. And it also might be a great hook for some players to get drawn into PvP in Souls that typically avoid it. Ultimately I think my disappointment comes from two sources: how epic the cathedral looked when I approached it so I thought it was going to lead to a really cool boss fight. And that I heard ahead of time that Ringed City had four bosses, when in reality this was three for me personally because this was just a PvP invasion with a healthbar.
Having reconciled those warped expectations I like the inclusion of this encounter, but it’s important to say that it isn’t going to be something everyone enjoys.
The other three bosses range from good to great, although one in particular has been the source of some disagreement. The only boss in the Dreg Heap level is a two phase fight: two demons to begin with, and a much larger one at the end. After the PvP fight, Gael in Ringed City is the final boss of the game and is a standard duel that reminds me of a mix of Orphan of Kos and Artorias.
Darkeater Midir is arguably the real final boss however. You can fight him before Gael and the PvP encounter, but I think he’s meant to be done after both of them. Especially given FROM’s comments about this being the ultimate challenge for fans of the series. You fight this dragon twice—the first time is on a cliff above the swamp. When you beat him, he falls away and suspiciously awards no souls, which I think is a clever way of indicating that you should be prepared for his return, or to go looking for him. The real boss fight is through a hidden door in an elevator ride and then a fake wall inside of that area—a secret within a secret.
These are three substantial, new fights that are fairly challenging. I don’t think any of them are quite as difficult as Sister Friede from the Ashes DLC… which is a good way to address the first elephant in the room.
When I reviewed Ashes of Ariandel, the biggest piece of criticism I laid against it was a lack of content for the price. In terms of quality the DLC is good, but there was only one level and only one real proper boss as far as I saw it. Whether or not you agreed with how extreme my opinion was on the matter isn’t all that important anymore, because Ringed City has proven without a shadow of a doubt that Ashes was strangely priced. Even with a generous estimation of the content in the first DLC, it’s undeniable that Ringed City has so much more of everything—and it costs the same amount.
At the end of that review, I proposed that FROM originally planned to have only one DLC pack and that the decision was made later to split them in two—likely so the game could advertise a Season Pass for more sales, or so the game would have two DLC releases to promote the base game instead of just one. I think it’s clear now that this is exactly what happened, especially given how connected both of the DLCs are.
For examples: the NPC that grants you access to the Ashes DLC ends up being the final boss in Ringed City. The reason he’s there is linked to the painter in Ariandel. You can go back there and give her an item after killing Gael at the end of the DLC. If you do Ringed City first, then Gael is no longer at the Cathedral of the Deep in order to teleport you to Ariandel. You have to interact with a scrap of the painting here instead, with a different cutscene that plays.
It feels to me that Ashes may have originally meant to be last. So you start in the Dreg Heap, which would make the DLC have a much smoother transition from that disturbing imagery you saw at the end of the base game in Dark Souls 3. You fight your way through there, travel to the more exotic Ringed City and learn about Gael. After defeating him you would return to something more familiar in the series with Ariandel which, as a single level in a larger DLC, would be a substantial way to end. Friede would be the big tough fight and then you can end the story of Gael and Ariandel right then by talking to the painter.
As it is now, splitting the DLC meant that Ariandel was the only choice to go first since it would have been unacceptable to go with the larger DLC and then end with a much shorter one.
All of this isn’t a huge problem, but I find myself in the unfortunate position of wishing I hadn’t bothered playing Ashes of Ariandel until all of the DLC was out. It’s this really weird way of looking at it that I’m finding difficult to reconcile: individually I think that Ashes is a ripoff, but all of the DLC bundled under the Season Pass is good value. Not great, especially compared to the Old Hunters and the Dark Souls 2 DLC, but still good. I feel like, as a big fan of the series, that I made the wrong choice in being excited for this content as soon as it came out.
That’s all I’ll say on the matter for this video because it’s no longer important. I doubt many will be buying Ashes on its own from this point onward. Let’s get back to the levels and bosses in Ringed City.
Dreg Heap is a cool idea that feels like something new even if the series has done tall vertical levels in the past. What is entirely new, however, is the addition of ash piles that you can land in and prevent fall damage, sort of like those piles of hay in Assassin’s Creed.
This is such a big change that FROM decided to include developer messages to make sure you understand that you’ll survive the fall at almost every point that you have to do it. There’s also a really cool trick that shows you there’s no limit to the damage prevention, when you’re lured to this item and fall far below through a window to a new area.
This caused a shift in perception for me: I wasn’t just looking ahead to where I could go next. I was looking down to see if there were any piles of ash that led to secret areas. Unfortunately this mechanic isn’t used much in the level, likely for the same reasons that FROM included those helper messages. It can be a little difficult to tell what’s safe to land on, and they must have been afraid many players would try to get to places, die, and be angry with all of the trial and error. There were only two “secret” places that I found to fall—one at the beginning which makes it faster to get into the level after dying. And the second was a drop at the end of an optional path to an alternate route to the swamp at the bottom. It’s possible that I might have missed another secret that uses this mechanic, and I still enjoy that the level successfully tried something new, but I think the result is more of a fun gimmick than a really interesting feature.
The major problem with the way this works is that it requires backtracking through the level via bonfire warps or death. So if you want to see everything you are going to have to do the earlier part of the level again. This is fine for a one-off area like this, but it may have also been another reason why secret paths that use the falls were limited, to reduce how many level resets the player would have to go through.
The minor problem is that I think the dust piles themselves look really lame. Your character simply clips through them like it’s a raised part of the floor. Having a unique animation of your character getting stuck and pulling themselves out, like the sand in Mario 64, would probably have been too much work and slow down your navigation through the level too much to be worth it. But maybe landing on top of the ash would have been an easier and better way to avoid this awful looking clipping.
Two other things worth mentioning in the Dreg Heap are the angels, and an unexpected shortcut. Halfway through the level, this winged monster appears in the air and starts spewing lasers at you. The idea is that you run away from it, dodging when you can, and use cover until it takes a break between each barrage. This first angel is fairly simple and you’re urged to rush forward after being prompted to fall from a ledge here.
After you take cover in a church, you have to defeat two of the knights from Lothric, which proves how challenging an early enemy can still be if you pump up their health and damage. A little after this, your presence triggers the collapse of a tower which leads to another opening where the angel can shoot you. This time you’re next to this strange corpse flower thing though and, when you kill it, the angel in the sky withers.
Two things happen here. The first is that, if you die after the tower collapse, you get the surprise of seeing that the back wall of that church with the knights has been busted open to reveal an unexpected path through the level. I’m taking the time to point this out because it helps support something I’ve said in two of the previous videos on the Souls games: I want more unexpected shortcuts like this, instead of the usual locked doors and broken elevators. I really enjoyed this surprise and I hope I’m not alone in that.
The other thing is that the game uses these angels—and teaching you to find their root to kill them—as something that’s almost like a shortcut. That may seem like a stretch but it’s similar to those spectral knights in the Dark Souls 2 DLC. Or the second Crystal Sage fight in The Grand Archives. These areas have a mechanic that makes the level a lot more difficult your first time through which, after you conquer it, makes exploring the level much easier. You have to prove yourself before you’re given the freedom to properly explore the level. It’s not a concept that I would like to see used a lot in the series, but it does appeal to me enough that I think it’s worth exploring more in a few levels of each game. The giant siege weapon in Smouldering Lake is another example, and one that could have been a lot more interesting if the area you’re exploring while it’s shooting you had more to see and do.
There are two more angels in the swamp of the second half of Dreg Heap. I think swamps have been used too much in the series now and I don’t find them interesting anymore. This one is quite small and may have been included out of necessity after deciding that this area would be a collapsed Earthen Peak from Dark Souls 2. Considering how much criticism this level received for not making sense in that game, I have to wonder if this was done out of spite or something. Either way I thought it was cool and unexpected to find it here.
You need to use cover to hide from the angels between fairly long runs to new locations, or you can time dodges to avoid most of the lasers while searching for their roots. Something I like is that most players will find the root of the second angel before the first one. For me, this made this section feel a lot more desperate and substantial, that I was out of my depth scrambling to beat this second angel when I hadn’t even gotten rid of the first one yet—especially since there are other enemies to fight along the way while you’re hiding behind cover, like there isn’t enough room for both of you. Using these branches as paths is one of the best times the series has done this and it was clear what you could walk on and what you could not, and I enjoyed using higher branches for cover and then feeling relief when I finally did kill both angels. Like I had now claimed these areas and had earned the right to pillage them.
Doing this will lead you to the final bonfire in Dreg Heap and the fall to the demon bosses. Before we get to that though, let’s look at the new enemy types that were introduced here.
Unique to the Dreg Heap are the abyss corpses. These appear in a bubbling up from the floor, and can be spawned by the magic wielding versions. These guys are the fodder of Dreg Heap and are easy to defeat. There’s not much to say about them except that they double as traps in an early part of the level to ambush you when you go to pick up items. And that the spell casters can also turn into humanity specters and rush you for a lot of damage if you don’t dodge them.
It’s the larger headless knights that are a lot more interesting to me, specifically because they’re just so easy to kill. They look intimidating and have a lot of health but their attacks are slow, predictable, and leave massive openings for counterattacks. I find this interesting because it makes me wonder what the intention was with these guys. Later on in Ringed City they show up in groups—there are six of them in this area with a staired street leading to the swamp. So it would make sense that they were made to be less challenging individually since you can end up fighting more than one of them here—they’re a larger fodder monster.
But in the Dreg Heap, they’re introduced to you as big threats. They’re guarding treasure. They look like they demand your attention and are tucked away from most of the other enemies so you can fight them solo—with the exception of the patrolling one in the swamp. This is a conflict I don’t have an answer for, other than to point it out as strange. It’s not a bad thing, but because of their large health and bland attacks I ended up getting bored after the first few times. It’s the smaller ringed knights that are more challenging but we’ll get to those after the demon boss.
Demon in Pain and Demon from Below are at the bottom of another long fall. You are given this massive arena to fight them in, which isn’t all that necessary at first. This is my favorite boss fight in Ringed City but not by a lot—I think that Gael and Midir are really good too. I like the demons because the first phase is a really enjoyable fight against multiples that isn’t too challenging but it isn’t a pushover either. The big demon prince in phase 2 has a lot more attacks and it’s that part of the fight that I enjoy the most. It’s also when the big arena is required to compensate for how much leaping around he does, and his massive area attacks.
For the first phase, there’s a flow to this fight that is unique among boss encounters with multiples in the series. At least I can’t think of another that functions this way—both of the demons have the same moveset that they cycle through, but they’re on different timers. Each of them moves between two phases: being on fire, and then burning out into exhaustion. The one on fire will typically be way more aggressive and chase you with melee attacks, whereas the other will favor hanging back and use poison breath and spit.
What I really like about this interaction is that the demon in ranged mode creates a warning line on the floor to let you know the attack is coming, so that you can dodge away from the melee demon without having to constantly look back at what the ranged one is doing. The melee attacks aren’t all that demanding of your attention on their own but, combined with the second demon, can make for some more challenging overlap that feels fair to fight against.
That said, the demons do not always work this way. And I think it could be argued that this is something you might have to make happen yourself by luring the aggressive demon away from the other. Even doing that, I often felt that the exhausted demon wouldn’t always act like it, and that both of them would end up flailing around together. The demons are both large enough that it still feels fair like this, since it’s easy to dodge away and rush back in for some hits when they leave themselves open, but there can be some waiting around for this to happen. The fight feels more fun when it’s you against one demon with the other in ranged mode. The demon switching between these modes can also be punished when you learn to recognize those changes for openings, especially if you hit them enough to trigger a stagger and a big hit.
Both demons have to be killed before going into the next phase, and Demon Prince is different depending on which one was the last to die. The boss’s core moveset is a more advanced version of the two demons that came before—he’s a lot bigger but much of the clawing and rampaging is similar. He can jump into the air for a slam attack, as well as flying away for a fiery dive, or to do one of two special moves.
If Demon in Pain was the last to die, then Demon Prince can summon some fire orbs that spit at you, and then begin charging a massive storm of fire. This takes a while to complete and is difficult to avoid when it’s at full power. As far as I can tell, the test here is to run at him and hit him enough to interrupt the building storm before too many of the fireballs can spawn.
If Demon from Below died last, then Demon Prince can jump away like before, only now he charges a massive laser breath that sweeps over the arena. This can be handled in a similar way as the other move: close the distance between you and attack while he’s busy with the laser. The main difference is that you’re safe once you’re close, whereas the fire attack can still get you, meaning that the fight is easier if Demon from Below is killed last.
Demon Prince doesn’t use these moves often however, so it’s not a big difference, and my guess is that most players won’t realize that the order in which you kill the first demons even matters—they’ll think Demon Prince simply has some moves he rarely shows. Most of the fight is responding to his mix of melee attacks, jumps, and when he starts to fly. He reminds me a lot of Sinh even though he’s not a dragon, which is probably why I enjoy the fight so much.
After this you go through the wrecked version of the firelink shrine pond room and wave another flag in the wind for another blind gargoyle flight to the next area. This is very similar to the journey to Anor Londo in Dark Souls 1 and the visuals here are equally appealing. I’ll be speaking a bit about this at the end but for now this is how you arrive at Ringed City.
Your first encounter is similar to the angels in Dreg Heap. You have to use cover and are unable to fight back until you get through this area first. I like this part on its own, especially the sound the giant makes as it summons these ghosts, but it feels like retreading the same concept too soon after the previous level. Although I think it’s a little funny for me to realize that, if this had simply been another angel, I probably would have just accepted it as a continuation of that monster instead of recycling an idea. So I guess it’s okay.
After this Ringed City feels like a victory lap for the series. You’re going through part of a city and then a swamp. There are some cryptic NPCs that tell you about the bosses you’ll be fighting. There’s a cathedral and some beautiful views. The ringed knights remind me of the darkwraiths. There’s the usual humanoid fodder enemies. Shortcuts are locked doors and elevators. And the bosses are a dragon who breathes fire over a long stretch that you have to run through, and a duel against an armored guy with a big weapon.
And this is good. It really is. I don’t mind that FROM decided to play it safe with this final DLC and make great new versions of content that fans like to see—in terms of gameplay anyway. I don’t know how fans of the lore would appreciate all of this. It ties into why I described the DLC as bittersweet at the beginning though, since there was something disappointing here that we’ll get to at the end.
Having said that, I don’t mean to imply that Ringed City does nothing new. The turtle clerics are a fun enemy that create void zones that damage you if you stand in them. You’re encouraged to keep moving, but they also have high enough defense—and can turtle up for even more—that you can’t reliably rush and kill them without having to avoid at least one void zone. This is especially true if there’s more than one of them around. I would have liked to see these guys used more often with other enemies in areas, or maybe more of them could have been hiding in the swamp and emerge to join in the fight against other enemies.
The insect like humans in the swamp are also one of my favorite twists on the basic humanoid enemy type. They hover in place and have different attacks than the usual weapon swipes with two feet firmly on the ground. Many of their combos are telegraphed so well, but are still dangerous, that I enjoyed fighting groups of this enemy type more than any other in the DLC.
The ringed knights are also enemies you’ll encounter in groups, and it was these that I found to be the most difficult. They can be very aggressive with long sweeping combos when they ignite their weapons, but it was the heavy shield wielders that were the most substantial fights. I think a minor flaw in Dark Souls 3 is that many enemies can be killed as long as you get one hit in—from that initial stagger, you can lock them down into a combo from full health to dead. This is such a reliable way to kill so many enemies that there are honestly a few in the base game that I’ve never seen attack more than a few times, because I can rush in and lock them down. All you need to do is land one hit to sink your teeth in for the kill.
The shielded ringed knights can fight back against that which, when in groups, made them challenging. It was interesting to fight these enemies because of that difference even if they are just stronger versions of the Lothric knights underneath that.
For some enemies that aren’t so great, there are the other fodder monsters. These smaller humanoids come in two flavors. The standard ambush type is fine, if a little samey to the big hat guys from the base game. But the cursed variant is the worst enemy in the DLC because it results in so much waiting around. If you’re a melee build then you will fill up some of your curse bar while fighting these and, since they’re often clumped in a narrow corridor together, that means waiting around for the curse to deplete enough before you can safely go to the next one.
There is no challenge here. This is a problem I’ve had for the whole series and it’s a shame that we’re this many games and DLC in and a simple solution hasn’t been implemented yet. The same problem can be found in frenzy in Bloodborne, or even waiting for your poison buildup to go down when you’re going through a swamp. Waiting is boring, and it’s often done with no enemies to fight while you do so. The most obvious change here is to make it so the status effect bar speeds up its depletion rate with every second that you’re safe, so that the time is reduced.
The final enemy is a giant that roams the swamp. This is similar to the one at the beginning of the level that summoned the ghost archers to shoot you. This one can do the same thing but his army is a lot smaller. I found this guy a little awkward sometimes because it can be hard to see the archers he spawns if he ends up between you and them—especially since if I did get hit that often meant I was stunlocked by their arrows all the way to death.
However I like this guy. He looks imposing as all hell in the distance and the other ghosts he can spawn—melee guys and a few spell casters—felt a lot more manageable. So it’s possible that I just suck at the archers and there’s a trick to it, or maybe you’re meant to run away and use cover when he does summon them.
There’s also a third giant in a secret area that does the same thing in a more cramped environment. This was strangely a lot easier to deal with because of all of the cover available for hit-and-run tactics, or breaking line of sight with the archers.
For the sake of being thorough I want to mention that there’s a rematch against the Dragonslayer Armor at the end of the swamp. If there are any changes to this encounter from the base game then I didn’t notice them, with the obvious exception that he doesn’t have the spinal dragons to provide air support. There’s also a ringed knight that dual wields greatswords before the PvP boss with a moveset that, to me, rivals many of the mediocre bosses in the series. I thought that was pretty funny.
Which leaves us with Gael the knight and Midir the Dragon. Let’s go with Gael first because I think FROM intended for the dragon to be fought last.
Gael has quite possibly the most grandiose introduction of any boss in all of the Souls games, if you view the buildup to his reveal as part of the boss’s package. After the PvP fight in the church, you ride an elevator to a set of stairs, meet a mysterious sleeping woman with an even more mysterious object cradled in her lap. Then, with a flashy cinematic, are transported through time to what appears to me like the conclusion of all of those levels smashing together in the Dreg Heap—the world is grinding itself to dust or ash, and the woman is long dead and rotten.
You’re allowed to roam around this massive area but this is mostly a fight arena for the Gael boss fight—who gets his own cinematic with a very Artorias-like throw at the end of it. All of this is for just one boss. He even has a mid-fight cinematic when he increases his power level.
Mechanically, Gael is Artorias on steroids. His first phase was the most difficult for me since he has a lot of moves, some decently long combos, and some attacks that you really need to see a few times before you get the dodge timings down—especially the one where he attacks and then quickly jumps away into another attack. It’s that jumping that reminds me of Artorias, and it’s the thrashing that reminds me of Orphan.
After this phase the fight becomes slower. Gael starts using some ranged abilities—he has a repeating crossbow and can throw out a spray of projectiles that are then pulled back to him from the same direction a little later. The fight from this point onward is about positioning and not just dodging his sword strikes, although he still does plenty of that. His cloak is now a part of those attacks which acts as a sort of after-trail or a followup to each slash. At first this reminded me a lot of the fire trails in phase two of the Abyss Watchers. It still does in concept at least, but my experience was that Gael’s version didn’t require multiple dodges for each attack but instead a better timed dodge—it was to punish dodging too early since if you avoided the sword then the cloak will get you instead.
Phase three adds some lightning spells that are also about being mindful of your positioning in the arena—just like the spell he throws out and then pulls back. But all-in-all, as you can probably tell, I don’t have many interesting things to say about this fight. It feels like the end of the victory lap that the DLC is taking: here’s this great duel against an armored knight with a big weapon, who has some fun tweaks on that basic formula and some callbacks to earlier fights in the series. It’s the spectacle that stands out to me more than anything. Gael’s animations are fantastic—especially the combo toward the end of the fight that has him jump in the air and fire his crossbow as he drifts by.
He’s not so challenging but I also think that’s the point. You’re not meant to bash your head against him. You’re meant to enjoy the fight instead. That’s not to say he’s really easy but if you’ve gotten this far then I doubt he’ll be too much trouble.
Midir, on the other hand, is the opposite of Gael in almost every way. Although he does have almost as spectacular an introduction as he swoops in to guard his cliff, the path that leads to the boss fight is hidden and tucked away. Even then, the room you find the entrance in is a small, almost forgotten thing. You fall down a long shaft into an arena about the same size as the one for the double demon fight.
Midir is one of the best dragon fights in a series that has a mixed bag of dragon fights. I have a feeling that many players are going to have varying experiences with this boss. There’s a lot it does well, and arguably more it does poorly. For me, it’s in my top three below Sinh and Kalameet. But I didn’t feel that way until I killed him a second time.
The three biggest problems that I have with Midir all interact and compound to make each other worse. First up is his gigantic health bar that makes this an endurance fight even though he has several moves that do an extraordinary amount of damage. Combine that with how ill-suited the camera is to keeping up with all of the moves he can do, and you can find yourself dying to a move you’ve never seen before just because you weren’t able to see what was happening—after you’ve spent a lot of time fighting through that huge health bar.
Thirdly, and perhaps worst of all, the corpse run from the nearest bonfire is a full step over the line named Ridiculous. The distance itself isn’t that long, but you have to run from the bonfire, ride an elevator down to the bottom, wait for it to reset, then ride it back up again and jump through a hidden door partway through. Then you have to run down two short corridors, slide down a long ladder, run across the room, and then go through that fall from before. Even after that, Midir is still far across the room and has a wake up animation he plays as you run there—not to mention any further delay you might have if you want to find your bloodstain first.
The reason I feel comfortable pointing to this as something that feels like an intentionally cruel joke is that there are no enemies anywhere during this run. The elevator and ladder also make it annoying since you have to stop and wait for both of them. And it’s all a waste of time. There’s no challenge. It’s not interesting. There’s no way to learn to do this faster or open a shortcut. It’s this drawn out run to a boss that is drawn out even more with all of his health.
And I say that as someone who only died to this boss about six times when I first killed him. Which is a good way to address the fight. I’ve read some comments that Midir is too difficult. I don’t really agree with that—he’s just awkward and has some cheap moments. As I already said, learning moves such as his tail swipe and his different fire breaths can be an exercise in trial and error because he’s just so big. The only way to keep him in view is to never go underneath him and instead attack his head. Which is where a big judgement call for the fight has to be made.
On my first kill, I religiously ran underneath him and attacked his legs and then his tail. Many of his animations seem deliberately made in order for him to shift his legs and tail away from you after you dodge an attack and get into position to strike. It happened so much that it’s either on purpose or a giant coincidence. Yet you can learn to compensate for this at the end of his tail for some good hits while he’s channeling a fire breath. You can also learn to dodge his counterattack right afterward and then rush back in to keep hitting him. His body takes half of the damage that his head does but this was worth the safety to me because staying locked onto his head made the camera whip around like crazy for too many of his moves, and I could better avoid a lot of his dangerous attacks.
Basically, I compensated and learned to account for the awkwardness and was able to get him down, occasionally sneaking in some hits on his head as I ran back under him.
On my second kill, I attacked the head exclusively, and this is now what I consider to be the superior version of the fight and the way it was meant to be done. There’s a lot of things that support that: the head is the only lock-on point for him even though he’s massive, he doesn’t chain his wide fire breath on the floor as often which can lock you out of hitting him, and many of his swipes and bites leave good openings for his head. The best evidence of all is that if you hit him enough he enters a stagger state that wipes out about a fifth of his health bar—over 4,000 hp—meaning that the fight isn’t as long as it first appears. This doesn’t happen if you don’t go for his head.
However, the game usually lets you choose your own way to fight bosses so for some this won’t be acceptable. Or, rather, it won’t be ideal. I enjoyed the fight a lot more doing it like this but I had also already seen it a bunch and knew what to expect. If I had gone exclusively for the head from the start then maybe I would have had a rougher time—an example being a horrendous decision that, in phase 2, he can start charging a new type of beam breath attack that can kill you outright if it lands. And there’s no real way to anticipate how this is going to move until you’ve seen it once already, after taking so long to get to phase 2.
This is a different pattern than the beam he uses on the cliff or in the first phase of the fight. I had already seen it and knew what to expect on this second kill. Maybe it’s just as simple as that: the fight is one that’s more enjoyable once you’ve seen it enough, instead of one you can take to immediately.
If attacking the head was the way this was meant to be done though, I wish they had made that more clear. Dealing half damage to his body isn’t that bad considering you can often hit him multiple times compared to only one hit on his head. I also had to learn to recognize when I should unlock my camera from his head in order to prevent it whipping around. This is something that could be done for you—before he starts his frenzy, or when he starts a fire breath, he emits some sort of pulse that cancels your lock so you’re not left wondering what’s happening as the camera goes crazy.
I do understand why some people won’t like this boss even if they do click with all of these little oddities. His health is enough to make the encounter grueling, although I personally enjoy it since it matches his large size. This feels like exactly what you’re doing: fighting this massive dragon that you should have no business standing up to, but here you are trying anyway. But some of his moves don’t mesh well with this bloated health, since they encourage a lot of waiting. Many of his breath attacks force you to retreat or run around him until the fire is over. And worst of all is his forward rampage that he can spam. It goes on for quite a while, and you just have to wait for it to finish after dodging the first part of it. I don’t quite understand what the idea behind that one was. His standard claw and bite attacks feel better to fight against, since you can time your dodges and counterattack.
With Midir dead we can move onto the final point, and the second of those two elephants in the room that I mentioned at the start. It’s linked to that bittersweet feeling. Some of you may roll your eyes at this but this is the last bit of Dark Souls content for a while so I won’t have a chance to say it again.
The biggest disappointment of Ringed City came from this part here. You’re given this beautiful shot of the city itself, are set down with this huge open area around you, and can see all these places you’re going to be visiting. And you never get to go there.
This is a tease on so many levels, and I know it’s not realistic to expect the DLC to be even larger, but I also feel justified in being disappointed that I never got to see those distant city streets that the game called attention to. Instead you’re kept on a small part of it that leads to a swamp.
My first time through, I found the dragon and the cliff before I went to the other end of the swamp—which I thought would eventually lead to a connecting area to another part of the city. The one in the distance right now. Learning that this swamp was really all there was made me realize how much potential there was in this new area. There could have been multiple levels weaving to and from this central hub of the tower, the swamp, and the top part of the street where you started. It felt like I was plopped down into the middle of this larger world and that I could explore all of it.
Basically it felt like arriving at Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls One again.
I said in my Dark Souls Three critique that I’m giving up on ever seeing another connected world in the series. Maybe I still need to work on letting go of those expectations because I felt them so strongly here, and was once again disappointed even though I know finding that in a DLC isn’t reasonable. But imagine if Ringed City had been the direction the base game of Dark Souls 3 had went, and that a full game’s worth of content could have spiraled out from this foundation.
That’s why it feels bittersweet now that we’re at the end of the first iteration of Dark Souls—something I’m sure will be continued later. A series that has, in some ways, gotten so much better and more consistent over time. But in other ways, isn’t even trying to recapture the spark that made so many players enraptured to begin with.