Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date(s): July 22nd
Regardless on your thoughts as to how Dark Souls II ranks among the Souls collection, the Dark Souls II DLC collection seems to at least have a clear and concise plan from the get-go, with an excellent backstory into the all-encompassing lore of the overall game. Whereas Dark Souls enjoyed its added content almost a year after its initial console release as part of the “Prepare To Die” Edition on PC, this time From Software is ready to drive home hours of new content home, with plenty of extras included.
Crown of the Sunken King has players venture into the depths of Shulva, where a bevy of foul creatures and menacing bosses lying in their wake. The Sanctum City acts as the main hub for the first in a slew of three DLC arenas, the lair beneath the realm of Drangleic. The goal is to obtain the Crown of the Sunken King, as the title suggests, which is being protected and guarded by a toxic dragon named Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon.
To enter the first Dark Souls II DLC area, one must examine the obelisk beyond the primal bonfire in the Black Gulch, which transports DLC owners to the new zone that can only open access with a DLC-provided item. A feature worth mentioning is that the door leading to Shulva allows players who do not own the DLC to drop soapstone signs in order to help a host player. By doing so, Bandai Namco are essentially allowing players who do not own the DLC a glimpse into the content by providing co-operation to others that do, up to the first boss battle or until time is used up.
While most publishers like to restrain and hide content as much as possible behind pre-order bonuses and Day 1 DLC, instead we see that players get the chance to test out a new zone before they get the chance to buy it. I mean, you don’t get to pick up the items on the floor as a phantom, but how often to publishers provide a try-before-you-buy service for a video game? I have to applaud Namco for this decision, and I hope it continues on in the next two zones.
Conceptually, the layout and level design for the Dark Souls II DLC had me impressed from the start. The slow reveal towards the cavernous city surrounding the foreshadowed temple built up anticipation as I went along, even if it meant dying several times due to the poisonous and the item-degrading gases slowing my progress. Crown of the Sunken King focused not on the flashiest of monsters, but on a setting that put monsters on the upper hand. Caution and patience is required at every turn, as per series tradition. Precision is also required to make the necessary jumps and falls required to get all the desired items.
As much as this Dark Souls II DLC was set in its very own specific place, it felt very much like an area built within the standard game. With several hours full of new content, it’s hard to argue that this extra zone is not worth your time.
That said, when it came to the Cave of the Dead, I did feel my first sense of familiarity. Similar to the Black Gulch, petrify-status-blasting statues (instead of poison) are littered throughout the cave, forcing players to dodge or defeat them in a careful procession. It does break up the regular gameplay flow, as its sends the player in an almost-mandated defensive mode that restricts the player’s natural movements. I understand that’s what From intended to do, but it would have benefitted from not using the same kind of tactics that already played out at mid-game content.
One of the biggest complaints about Dark Souls II is that the bosses are plentiful, yet plain. A great number of them involve the same circle-strafing tactics with a singular large humanoid taking you down. This first Dark Souls II DLC section challenges this notion by twisting previous boss archetypes and making them more difficult.
The Squalid Queen, Elana, serves as a Nashandra stand-in with a Skeleton Lords twist. In addition to dark melee damage, combustible fire orbs and powerful hexes that could stun lock and kill an unsuspecting victim, she summons both a crew of skeletons and a weaker equivalent of Velstadt mid-battle in order to turn the tides. Graverobber, Varg, and Cerah serve as an intriguing trio that makes it difficult to fight without summoned backups, despite their player-like ability to be parried or backstabbed. Finally, Sinh brings toxicity to its fire attacks, as well as its landing fog, serving to be more than a nuisance than what a dragon already provides.
Crown of the Sunken King kept me constantly on edge, whether it was from bosses or regular enemies in a tight area. It seems built to catch you off guard at all times, staying true to the Dark Souls name, with creatures dangling from ceilings, armored foes hiding behind walls and powerful invaders that use pyromancy and their setting to take advantage of your position. The numerous puzzles included at the temple not only generates intrigue in design, but provides a varying degree of new weapons, armor, spells and rings.
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The main question I had going in; was it going to be difficult? Comparatively, perhaps because I played Dark Souls first, but Dark Souls II is a bit more streamlined and easier to play than past games. I am proud to report that not only did I prepare myself to die and die again, but I learned from my mistakes and adapted on the fly. For the record, it took me a bit to learn how to defeat those spectre-like enemies because I played through PvE offline and then for a great deal of time of online PvP, meaning I could not see any message hints on the ground. But that’s half the enjoyment of this DLC: learning how to avoid succumbing to the darkness.
As much as this Dark Souls II DLC was set in its very own specific place, it felt very much like an area built within the standard game. With several hours full of new content, it’s hard to argue that this extra zone is not worth your time. Balanced for PvE and PvP, playing how you want is crucial to the experience. Plus, it builds upon the already-intricate story lore by further expanding upon the tale of King Vendrick and the downfall of Drangleic. There was never a time I felt that the game dragged along, as Crown of the Sunken King will ebb and flow with an expert craft. Outside of one segment that felt like a retread, this DLC felt fresh and renewed my confidence in what the rest of the DLC series holds in store.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)