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Dark Souls: Remastered
Dark Souls: Remastered
Hollow Knight
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Recently Played See More

Dark Souls III: The Ringed City
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City

Jul 13

Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel

Jul 12

Penny's Big Breakaway
Penny's Big Breakaway

Jul 11

Dark Souls: Remastered
Dark Souls: Remastered

Jul 09

Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss

Jul 07

Recently Reviewed See More

What… still here?

The Ringed City is meant to be the ending of a never-ending cycle. Not a grandiose one. Not an epic one. Not even a sad one. But it’s profoundly melancholic.

It’s being neigh impossible to not hear at any point people sing the praises of this DLC, I’ve seen it being called the best thing that Dark Souls III has to over, I’ve heard that the bosses are by far the most cathartic and complex ones the series has ever had, and I’ve hear it being referred to as the best finale both DS3 and the entire Souls series could ever hope for.

And, in many, many ways, all those things are true.

If Ashes of Ariandel took some of the worst cues in regard to its design from the original game, then The Ringed City kinda goes in the opposite direction and embraces some of its most defining an better ones. DS3’s world, while never being ‘’hallway’’ based or extremely linear, is very much section based, with one area leading to another instead of all the world interconnecting with one another. It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but it works, and from this DLC isn’t scared to show why from the get-go.

The Dreg’s Heap is he exact kind of area I wished I could have played through in the base game; making the way to Souls of Cinder and design the countless building from scattered eras was a really impactful moment, but only visually. Taking that concept and creating a surprisingly rich area, descending through the rubble and trash, evading the knights and undead as Angels shoot you down and explore a poison swamp is a collection of words that on paper it should be illegal to even string them together, but that in practice results in a fun race to reach the end of the world, and it certainly feels like this is the unseen edge of a land that has existed for way more time than it should have. Capping it off with the battle against the last demons was easily the best choice, not only I feels fitting to take down what little remains of the Chaos at the bottom of the heap, not only the fight against the Prince in the second phase is a super interesting clash that rewards you for your decisions in who you decided to leave for last in the first phase, but finally getting to see and battle the beast Lorian once defeated as a final cry for all of the spawns of Chaos is a narrative callback and continuation that feels earned and exciting.

And then, there’s the arrival to the titular Ringed City. Looking down and upwards to the far off towers and sprawling streets and buildings, meeting the first adjudicator and his legion of ghost archers an knights that cannot be fought directly and demand taking cover or looking for alternative routes, meeting the first Hollow and seeing his disdain for the Gods, as well as the Locust whom invites you to the city, tells you tale of the warmth that the cold abyss can provide, to not fear it.

And let the feast begin

Thematically, visually and design wise, The Ringed City delivers quality in spades; in a game that felt like it dug up concepts and ideas that should have laid down to rest, the Ringed City and everything that precedes it, the idea of a wasteland being the gateway to the world’s end, and in there laying the city made for the Undead and Hollows as a supposed gift by Gwyn and the gods, it’s a compelling one beyond what words can express. It’s a setting carrying fun and innovative ideas, encounters and sections, it welcomes you with arrows and beams of light, but it also with what feels like open arms…


After the second bonfire of the Ringed City, it comes a certain section that I’ve decided to call… the stretch. When your first arrive at the stretch you may notice something… you are having fun! It’s a quick succession of absolutely banger ideas mixed with a wonderful lay out of the city: fending off against cursed Hollows in the cramped tunnels, meeting the turtle priests and their tricks as you go near the chapel, seeing the headless giants walking up and down the stairs that connect to the different paths, and of course the impactful moments of seeing a Ringed Knight for the first time; no music swells and no words need to be spoken, and yet it’s incredibly memorable to watch the first time as it slowly climbs the stairs and meets you in combat, and from then onwards he and his variations become the deadliest enemies in the entire area. But then, something will inevitably happen during your traversal through the stretch, especially if you decide to explore every nook and cranny… you’ll die. No biggie, happens to the best of us… but then you think about… and realize all that you made and that you’ll have to do again… and then it sinks in.

As fun as it may be exploring it the first time, either running through the groups of enemies or defeating them all over again is on the same level as a similar stretch in the Cathedral of the Deep in the base game, but this isn’t any stretch, this is the stretch. In a vacuum, the section of it are still stellar, the way in introduces enemies and the challenges that feel natural and take account the level design in ways more than just enemies hanging from walls or the ceiling, but when put all together, the stretch is a pain to do through and running from the enemies doesn’t make things much better, and it takes away a lot from taking in the surroundings or hearing the Locus Preaching continue telling its stories. But the worst part by far about the stretch… is that it leads to the swamp.

The funny thing is, that swamp isn’t even a poisonous like the one in Dreg’s Heap, and somehow the latter is way more fun and 10 times more interesting to explore and traverse through.

I guess there’s one secret which may be my favorite of the series, or at rather the small riddle to unlock it is, and the enemy locus and the way they say ‘’I SHALL PARTAKE’’ is both funny and threatening as hell, but other than that… the swamp feels like a waste. there scattered items, there are enemies, that’s for sure, but when the most interesting thing it has to offer is a way less cool Adjudicator encounter and a repeated base game boss turned into a normal enemy, I can only see it as nothing more than a gigantic wast of space that doesn’t feel connected to the Ringed City in any major way, and the idea of a marsh consumed by the abyss and darkness could have been realized in so many different and more interesting ways that the fact this made it into the final area at all feels so fucking weird.

The Ringed City still cannot fully escape the problems that were already present in DS3 and its combat and enemy placement and in a way that swamp is emblematic of how having empty, plain spaces with enemies doesn’t make for a interesting experience and it doesn’t add anything to the narrative or history of the city, in fact I’d argue that this swamp is a more egregious case of this than many of he parts in Ariandel were.

I guess the reason I’m sounding so negative about these section it’s not so much because they completely ruin the experience, even if they are still not great… but because, when the rest of the experience can be so captivating, the stumps and flaws the Ringed City has contrast with what the rest of it accomplishes.

Being done with the swamp finishes off the last segment of DS3 I could call a ‘’nothing burger’’, and from the onwards we are back on track. In here I felt once again deeply engaged; trying to evade Midir and taking him down on the bridge after Shira puts us to the task , climbing the tower until finally reaching the Church of Fillianore, and meeting the princess in her slumber. It’s exciting, opening paths and facing mighty dragons and knight as you go towards the finale is almost… celebratory. You’ve reached the highest peak, you’ve gone farther than the gods themselves, the end is close at hand…

But there’s only ash awaiting you

I was already noticing what the Ringed City was really trying to tell me as I went along, but it was there, at the end of the world, where I truly realized it. Dark Souls III as a game, as a story, is meant to be about cycles, how the decision made by Gwyn ages ago doomed this world’s hope for a real tomorrow, how oir pursue can only end in yet another undead diying to the fire or the death of all hope. In practice, DS3 falls into many traps that a story like that poses, at times feeling more celebratory than anything, this cycle not repeating endlessly, but with a vivid memory of the original one.

But then The Ringed City does something interesting.

The city at the end of the world is forever stuck in time, its people bearing the curse that the scared God of Sunlight put upon them long ago, its servants and judges still fighting for gods that have been dead for ages upon ages, trying to fight for a cause as empty as a Hollow.

A once unbreakable hyena cannot even remember his name

A dragon eats away at the darkness for those that killed its forefathers, and now that same darkness eats away at him.

And now, at the end of times, a knight of Fillianore still seeks those that wronged a meaningless Oath…

And two Undead fight once again a meaningless battle, one watched by none, and that means nothing… and yet still, it can still spell a brighter future by this.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Abyss, the Furtive Pygmy and the gift he gave all humans and how Gwyn used it against them, and The Ringed City exploring those ideas in a way that doesn’t just feel earned, but in a way that truly loops the series around, it ties everything and says the sad reality about it.

The Ringed City views the player with an almost judgmental look; Vihelm was right, there are no more bells to toll, and yet we walk aimlessly. Aldia’s words resonate, there are no paths ahead, and yet we seek it insatiably. And dying kingdom of Lordran utters no words, and yet is there, its shadow still looming, even when no fire casts its light.

I feel like I finally understand what DS3 was trying to say, what was trying to be, or maybe it realized just what it needed to be at the finish line.

And it does so while having some of the most fun sections in the entire series, and even beyond that, a bunch of the most incredible and cathartic boss fights I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience; the catharsis of the final clash against Gael that only feels important to us both, the boss fight against the greatest foe to ever exist, the rage of the last living demons… and facing Midir in the deepest cave, watching as the might of a dragon consumed by darkness fills and echoes through the chamber, and somehow, in a way I still do not understand, managing to win first try, finishing the fight actually shaking and trembling, that’s only something the best of the best of Dark Souls can achieve, feel that happiness and sadness in its fights, in its story… but it’s time to move on.

Be it painted, of ash or a dream, it’s time to leave Lothric behind, the lies of Kings and Gods, fights that amount to nothing and will be remembered as celebrations that should not be.

It’s time to leave it all behind.

It’s time to move on.

If the DS had to go in this direction, then, at the very list, I’m glad this is the way it caps things off. Aware of its world. Of the atrocity its lands could end up being. Of what it could and in some ways, has become.

This is indeed the perfect finale for the Souls series.

It’s flawed, it’s sloppy at times, confused even.

And yet, it’s the best possible note to end on.

Then, I will name this painting …"Ash"

If Ariandel is meant to be a callback and deconstruction of Ariamis, then it’s the equivalent to one of those shitty art restorations everyone laughs at.

It’s genuinely so sad to see how they took such a fascinating concept like the idea of a painted snowy world, one that was already fulfilled excellently in what was a completely optional and secret area in the original Dark Souls, and stripping from every single creative and interesting design decision that made Ariamis incredible in the first place in exchange of… basically nothing. Welcome to snowfield land, home to groups of enemies, downward paths and very little else!

I’m kind of inclined to believe that Ashes of Ariandel and its contents were meant to be part of the base game or at least it started as such, and that doesn’t have to mean anything bad, DLCs are a great opportunity to realize ideas that couldn’t make it in time, but in this case, it just feel like they took everything they already made and didn’t bother to finish it. I know the reality is probably way more different than this, but it’s what it feels like; passing through he forests of settlements of Ariandel doesn’t inspire awe or sadness the same way the decaying original painted world did, and if I’m comparing Ariamis and Ariandel so much it’s only because Ariandel wants desperately to evoke the same feelings that the former did.

Arriving to Ariamis, we begin to do what we always do: plowing through the entire area, battling and slaying every enemy which we come across, an immense variety of Hollows, Crowmen, Skeletons and infected, probably the most varied assortment of enemies in any singular area of the game. Some may have realized it as we they along, by I only learnt it once I meant Priscilla. This was a safe haven, a home to the forgotten and the vanished, a world in which we’ve nothing but destroy the moment we stepped into the painting, and killing Priscilla merely reaffirms that, as much as our deed has noble intentions, we aren’t innocent of how our pursue for our goal makes us forget who we are slaying along the way.

In here Gael just says ‘’Hey there ol’ chap, could you by any chance show some fire and kill a final boss while you are at it?’’ before kicking you into Ariandel where the literal NPC you come across immediately says ‘’Yeah, this is a refugee to the forlorn’’…. Welp! Back to killing!

There’s no build up, no moment where your surroundings or your actions sink in, you arrive and then you go on and run around, beat up enemies and find bonfires ‘cause… that’s what you do in a Dark Souls game, I guess. There’s not even the tension of being stuck at the painting, which I guess it makes sense considering how leveling up depends entirely on the Firekeeper, but being able to leave the painting until you arrive at the chapel was a horrendous decision, if they weren’t going to make a interesting world through visuals, narrative and enemy encounters, then the least they could do was adding tension to find a way out as you also try to progress through the quest it has been imposed upon you.

Because another thing; as much as the entire DLC insists on how rotten and decayed the land of Ariandel is… we really don’t get to see that. It’s snowing, that’s for sure, and there are some infected trees here and there, some scattered ruins and towers with Vikings and what not but… IT’S NOTHING! The only location when we can truly see this and there’s a resemblance of place is the crow settlement, which is probably the best part in the entire DLC, but that’s not saying much when it’s still nothing to right home about, with many of its ideas done way better in other areas in this very same game, and it also has one of the most annoying enemies to fight in the entire game (tho I’ll give the Corvian Assassins some credits, their design and animations are cool as fuck).

There’s a mechanism to activate and a statue to rotate ‘cause I guess not having obvious callbacks that don’t really make much sense would make our feeble minds explode, but there’s none of the tension of going down the well or directly to the sewers, walking through the narrow passages and rooms in what’s probably one of the deadliest parts in the entire original game, we only have a wide basement filled with flies that I’m still not sure what’s really is its purpose both as a challenge or to show us the state Ariandel is it.

And I haven’t gotten to what what makes the core of the DLC, the open areas!. I’m not gonna act as if this type of exploration focused area isn’t present in the rest of the series, two out of the three main areas in Artorias of the Abyss fall into that description, but that Ashes of Ariandel lacks when compared to those is far more interesting enemy variety and placement, an emphasis on secrets and visual story telling and a MASSIVE shift between the atmosphere of the areas. Ariandel is constantly the same, over and over again, without anything meaningful to say. By the time you defeat a mandatory miniboss and rescue the painter, it’s almost as if I could hear the designer go ‘’AW FUCK’’ and realize they forgot to place every remaining new weapon and spell, so they crammed in all together alongside all enemies in the DLC in a section that doesn’t feel fun to traverse, who invites to run past anything unless you want to slog through gank fight after gank fight, and that the only thing that adds are trees you can take down to access pretty pointless shortcuts.

Ashes of Ariandel HAS good ideas: I like it’s basically a descent into the deepest parts of the painting before arriving at the chapel once again, I like how the cultist’s snarls sound like wolfs and vice versa, I like the idea of the howling of the wolves to warn others so they can overwhelm you, I like how there’s a giant Wolf that attacks you as you progress and if you defeat it has les health in the boss fight it appears in. These are some neat concepts shrouded in a mist of the most wasted potential and uninspired sections, resulting in a haven nor for the forlorn, but for Dark Souls III’s worst traits. And it’s not like these good ideas can have much time to shine; the wolfs being able to call others just ends up being an excuse to have more fights against multiple enemies at the same time, and the optional boss’ optional mechanic, while cool, doesn’t change the fact you are going up against the most boring NPC and Wolf fight From has ever made.

And there’s the final fight, the fucking final boss against Friede, and………………. I kinda like it. Maybe it’s because I decided to finally beat Nameless King before doing the DLC and my brain is forever fried as a result, but despite being a three-phase fight which should be by all accounts a terrible idea, I didn’t mind it at all. The first phase is almost a tutorial in how Friede operates and a super cool battle on its own, the second is a 2v1 which, despite both enemies being aggressive as hell, gets balanced by them sharing a health bar and being manageable all things considered, and third one is a final test against everything Sister Friede has used plus some new tricks. Don’t be confused, if you hated the boss design of DS3 and it’s more aggressive approach, you’ll fucking despise this fight, but for me, it was the clear the stand out of the expansion, a sentiment which seems to be shared by many… but It’s not enough.

One cool boss fight and some neat ideas can’t make me forget the sheer boredom and nothingness of the overall experience. Those at best deserve a golden star, money and hours of my time. I do not dislike Ashes of Ariandel because it’s terrible, but because it’s nothing, and it doesn’t even dare to use that nothing to make something interesting. We’ve seen its best ideas multiple times in other better, more engaging areas, and this left me feeling like I just played though a bung of poorly tied together scraps. You could say that kinda fits in a way. You may be right. But I also cannot care. I do not feel nothing towards Ariandel that isn’t Gael and the Painter or its finale. For once, maybe it’s for the best of us to let this world burn.

God I fucking hope I enjoy The Ringed City more…

Also I lied, the most memorable part of this DLC was getting to see the Count Lemongrab I made, which I completely forgot both its face and armor… honestly I don’t know how I could have forgotten, he’s magnificent!

… and only Dark will remain

Dark Souls would eventually lead into an entire trilogy worth of games, DLCs and millions of sales, catapult the studio behind it to the forefront of the entire industry and its roots still being visible even in their latest titles, inspiring dozens of both big budget studios and indie creators, to the point that it would spawn an entire genre of its own. And despite owing its base to the studio’s previous work on Demon Souls, a well regarded an loved title that would garner its reputation by its own merits, its popularity still pales when compared to the phenomenon Dark Souls and what came after…

And yet, I still cannot believe it’s real.

It puts a trust on the player like no other game dares to do, not because of its challenge or because the bosses hit hard, but because it dares to be quiet, it dares to be broken. I cannot conceive a Dark Souls where Lost Izalith isn’t a valley of misplaced demons and empty plazas, of small passages and lakes of lava that lead to a boss that completely change the way you approach enemies. Is the way Izalith is because they lacked the money and time? Absolutely. Would I change it for anything else? Absolutely not. But even focusing on Izalith feels like a disservice, even if it is to defend it, when there genius and nature of this world shine in every single part of it. I even struggle sometimes to call the boss fights… well, boss fights, ‘cause more often than not, they feel like encounters, natural clashes against tremendous foes that feel sad, epic, grandiose, beautiful, and sometimes even funny. And I cannot be happier that I decided to experience them again.

The memories of when I played it 4 years ago are still vivid, and yet, I had almost forgotten just why I found the decaying world of Lordran to be so ethereal and inspiring. For a while, I began to though it was just the result of this being my first Souls related experience. But now I see that it goes far beyond that.

We only really see a fraction of this kingdom, the cities and buildings that we may never see melding in the distance with the ruined churches and burgs we just clawed through. A drake soars the sky and its roars and fire fill the skies. Not so far from it, a once everlasting dragon, or at least what remains of It, clings onto dear life at the edge of a precipice, defeated and rotten… but just as that the magnificent drake in the bridge, it fights on till its last breath. Even if it’s for naught.

The map of Lordran doesn’t just use verticality to create one of the most engaging, deeply interesting to discover and fun to replay maps I’ve seen, one that’s a masterclass of pathways and secrets, of perfectly calculated checkpoints and runbacks: no bonfire appear out of thin air or feel too close or too afar, the feel like natural resting points, created by those who tried before you to oppose adversity, and I think the fact only new ones appear after defeating a bearer of one of the great souls says more than enough— it’s not only because these are the four logical limits of the map, they celebrate the true accomplishment you’ve achieved, even if its dethroning a disgraced lord. Here the world and areas speak louder than even the enemies, and learning its world and how to traverse it is enough to overcome its dangers, the little knowledge you gain as you go along being your best tool to defeat the dreadful road to the Ash Lake or the roofs of Anor Londo… it also uses it to say the tales of he kingdom, and the reality all of it must accept.

The deeper you go into the ruins of drowned citires and forgotten catacombs, the more obvious the terrors are; the Undead Burg was bad enough, but the lower part of it is in shambles, home of bandits and demos from a land afar, and things only get worse as you reach the Depths and eventually you make your way to Blightown. It’s like peeling beyond horros that only get worse and worse, finding answers that are more abhorrent than the question. And so, reaching the highest points of the world may seem like a moment of respite. The magnificence of Anor Long, the elegance of the Archives, even lower parts like the Firelink Shrine that may not be on the glory days, but they offer peace, like if in this broken world, there are some places to call sanctuary…

But these, of course, are just lies.

The incandescence of Anor Londo is nothing but an illusion, an attempt to hide that even the Land of Gods cannot be saved from the end of an era, and casts aside what sees as impure to painted world or far off asylums. The archives and Seath’s caves hide the most fouls secrets of all, the crimes of a dragon that aspired to eternity and in return only offered pain to every corner of Lordran. And Firelink Shrine, home of the Undead and travelers, where the last hope lies, is built on top of where the furnace that fueled the world once burnt, now only home to ash and the phantoms of the ones that died in the name of Lord that they thought they could trust. A Lord that doomed everyone. Forever.

Now matter whether its high or low, Lordran is shattered, to its very core, and at least its depths are sincere about it, while the capitals and bastions of life hide away from reality and shun those in need of salvation. I think it’s no coincidence that, after Gwyn burns himself, the one to continue his accursed tradition is an Undead, so easily forgotten and feared. Maybe the Chosen Undead prophecy was nothing more than an excuse of the old kingdom to have more fuel to the fire.

Or maybe, just maybe.

It’s a spark to allow a bit of hope.

The comedic irony of the peeps scattered around this depressing Land isn’t lost on me. Maybe the reason so many of them laugh, ironize or keep moving forward to impossible objectives is because those who did not became one of the many Hollows we fight. From the contagious optimism and sleepiness of the Knights of Catarina, the unending desire of all blacksmith to keep on work and always happy to help or chit chat (except for Vamos), the curious desire of learning from both apprentices of magic and pyromancy to even the likes of Big Hat Logan, and of course, the Jolly cooperation offered by Solaire, a Sun in the middle of the night… or the hope that Oscar puts on us in his final moments.

Not every face is a friendly one. And most, if not all, of these stories, end in tragedy, even when you prevent the horrible fate that awaits some of them. Lordran is still a cruel place to those that dare to dream. Yet they dreamt, nonetheless. And it’s through their dreams that we also move forward, we learn, and we find refugee even in the middle of a poisonous swamp or at the doors or ruins plagued by fire and chaos.

Dark Souls is tragic, but it also finds ways to make you feel at home.

And to reminisce old faces.

Once you obtain the Lord Vessel, only the great Lords remain. In the process, you may find the truth behind the Age of Fire and the sins of Gwyn. Or maybe you won’t. By this point, what’s left is to see the visible truth. But even that may be hard to understand. There’s a clear story in Dark Souls, but seing it in its entirety is practically impossible. The first time, each player will reach its own conclusions, its own ideals, or maybe none at all. And that’s what’s so special about it. One way or the another, the bearers of Lord Souls remain, and the most tragic secrets to be found.

And after that, only one remains.

I think it says a ton about the final clash against Gwyn how, even when its theme has reached an unbearable meme status, even when I can parry it no problem and turn the fight into a complete joke… that it still hits hard. It still makes me emotional. It still makes me feel the weight, not of Gwyn himself, but of the faces I’ve seen and help, or the impossible trials that I found a way to overcome. Even now, I still feel it.

It still saddens me in many ways that, for many fans and outlookers, the thing that’s only worth to be talked and valued about Dark Souls is that it’s hard, how in many ways its more toxic side has left a mark that may never leave, it pains me because Dark Souls is so much more than that. Hell, it’s even more than a videogame. I miss its clunkiness and how it adds to its more methodical combat, I miss not getting certain answers, I miss how magical and unique it feels.

But I’m also happy to see it come this far.

I’m happy that, despite everything, I still love every single singular moment Dark Souls offers. Because it’s way more than its shell, even if that alone it’s good. It’s a story, it’s a legend, it’s a world. It’s an experience.

It’s beautiful.

There’s one exception to what I mentioned before, about the horror of the lowest dpeths and highest peaks. Because at the bottom of Blightown and its swamp, there lies the Ash Lake. And it’s gorgeous, and it doesn’t matter that there are enemies and a Hydra. This is a true sanctuary.

One where the dragons can be eternal one last time.