Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date(s): August 26th
Having just finished the first of three episodes of Dark Souls II DLC, Crown of the Sunken King, not too long ago, I had imagined that From Software had an uphill battle to climb going forward to match its success in future DLC content. Not only did Crown of the Old Iron King suffice, but had me writhing in (good) pain as I died over and over again against a slew of menacing enemies and cruelly tough bosses.
In Crown of the Old Iron King, players navigate their way through a wonderous machinization of a spire floating high in the sky, all the way to the very bottom. The ultimate goal is to acquire the Crown of the Old Iron King in order to learn more about the history of Drangleic and its horrific past by returning to its rightful owner after repossessing it from the Fume Knight that sits in waiting. He’s a hell of a threat, one that may require a little help from your friends if you are stuck in a rut.
To access the Crown of the Old Iron King Dark Souls II DLC area, proceed beyond the primal bonfire in Iron Keep towards an obelisk. Examining the device transports you to the DLC area, leading to a grand door that takes you to your bonus content hub: Brume Tower. Again, Bandai should be praised for continuing to allow regular, non-DLC-owning players to visit the location in order to be summoned into play.
Brume Tower is a magnificent location not just because of its design, but because of its practicality. When playing through Dark Souls II with my first, faith-based character (more on that later on), I noticed that the overworld had succumbed to using impossible space, with little care for how location and placement put each area up against each other. Looking over to Heide’s Tower of Flame from Majula versus actual progression to the location should be proof enough of this concept. This DLC tower, however, utilizes its impressive height without any of these physics tricks, while hiding some of the most valuable items in all its nooks and crannies.
A new concept brought into the newest Dark Souls II DLC was a twist on the collect-a-thon. Instead of finding items to collect to offer up on some sort of altar, Ashen Idols are present throughout the level to impede your progress. 11 in total, each drops a shard of a grand soul (name withheld for spoiler purposes) that is not only used to aid the defeat of another boss, but to provide a sweet offering of items and other applicable bonuses when traded in. Based off the inner mechanical workings of the Tower, it made for quite an enjoyable hunt whilst completing the main quest.
When it comes to monster offerings, there were some interesting beasts amid a collective not worth writing home about. Besides a heavily-armored army of soldiers with swords and double-fisted axes (and boy, were there a ton of them) were some interesting combat mechanics. Invaders continue to inch closer to mirroring human players by using Estus, running away while losing into a curse-effect area, drop voice carvings (“Hello!” and “Very Good!” after defeating a boss was a lovely touch) and popping taunts after your defeat, if they’re not too busy quadrupling up on you. Plus, those lightning assassins can throw spells, teleport behind you and slit your throat. Delightful!
That said, something has to be said about the lack of boss creativity. There are three in total for this single Dark Souls II DLC section, and one of them is straight-up a reskin of another optional Dark Souls II boss. The second non-compulsory boss is, conceptually, just a common enemy with a lot more health, grander in size and a moveset similar to The Pursuer with a katana. As much as traversal through the Brume Tower is a pleasure due to its artistic and level designs, the bosses are a mismatch due to their plainness.
It’s a disappointment, mainly because it is fun to play. These Dark Souls II DLC packs have put back the emphasis on spacial recognition, by using and memorizing your surroundings before and after altering its limitations. The only way to find everything Crown of the Old Iron King has to offer is by using makeshift elevators and other mining lifts to your advantage; to leap extraordinary bounds is a challenge set by the player. By gunning for the exit you will miss out on solving the puzzle that is the Brume Tower in motion. Finding those Aishen Idols not only takes guts, but takes patience, determination and sacrifice in order to come out with an intact soul.
With the second Dark Souls II DLC hitting all platforms, so too comes the “balance” patch. While not taking them into consideration when it comes to grading this DLC segment (as stat balancing exists beyond it, in the standalone game), it’s painful to see Faith builds continuously deteriorate over time. Great Lightning Spear is lucky to take out some enemies with a complete slot, let alone two or three attunement sections, even at 58 Faith in my PvE character. Not to say that magic isn’ts nerfed, as well, but it’s weird to see that From Software has effectively made an entire section of players underpowered against almost everything and everyone else.
Whether it’s venturing to the past in a new memory, fighting off tricker invaders, painstakingly defeating bosses or adapting and building upon the story of Dark Souls II, the Crown of the Old Iron King seems to keep a fair amount of good will going, in terms of justifying three sets of DLC segments. Although it is a blast to observe the gorgeous surroundings across several vantage points, I could do with a lot more enemy and boss variety. That said, playing through Brome Tower was one of the most excruciating experiences in the series, as it took a while to adapt to a difficulty preserved for previous games. It’s a frustration that equals jubilation and a sense of accomplishment, one that only a Dark Souls game can provide.
(A copy of this game content was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)