Recently, Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo talked about shifting the company’s focus away from passive gamers, and at one point in his interview stated “they do not know how interesting it is if you move one step further and try to challenge yourself.” It might sound like a bit of an unusual quote to open a Dark Souls review with, but the discussion really got me thinking about this series in particular and what it is I enjoy so much about the experience. It’s certainly not a game for everyone, but I think the same idea applies here. Dark Souls is a game that challenges players at every turn, and while it might seem unforgiving to more passive players, it is immensely rewarding for those who persevere.
Where “Crown of the Sunken King” was focused on environmental puzzles and traps, “Crown of the Old Iron King” is all about new enemies and challenging combat. I’d even go as far as to say this has some of the most difficult bosses in the series yet; albeit, not in a way that feels cheap or needlessly punishing. The reason why the quote above came to mind while playing this particular DLC, though, is because From Software wasn’t simply content to allow veteran players to passively smash through more enemies with just a slightly larger health bar. Brume Tower is a place full of many unique creatures, ambushes and discoveries. You can be prepared to die a lot, but it will be worth it by the end.
Much like the previous DLC, there isn’t any direct narrative to explain exactly why the player is there, but there are answers for those who look; namely about the “Bride of Ash.” As you approach the tower, the first thing players will discover is that the area is totally covered in ash, with the corpses of the previous inhabitants scattered and tragically framed at their moment of death. In the distance, you can see the looming tower standing tall with a single large chain connecting the player over what seems like an endless landscape of molten volcanos. Usually, I’m a big fan of the multiplayer component, but there was just something unusual about Brume Tower that called for me to tackle it alone.
As you get closer to the entrance, you will discover the first new type of enemy; giant skeletons equipped with massive weapons for hard hitting damage. It sounds typical, but what’s different here is that they will often ambush you from beneath the ash, making any outside area an unknown risk. Beyond these skeletons, however, is your first clue to the story of Brume Tower; the “Ashen Idol,” which is actually a remnant of the soul of a woman named Nadalia, who now haunts the tower. The thing about these idols is that they’re either launching devastating environmental attacks or buffing the surrounding enemies, which makes them an absolute must to remove whenever you see one.
Where this DLC gets most exciting, though, is when it lets you know that there is a large ambush ahead, and then forces you to carefully consider your tactics as that one path will be the only way through. It’s not just a matter of cramming lots of enemies together in a room, but the unique combination of enemy types which makes the player’s combat strategy that much more important. It’s the difference between extorting a powerful character class to cheese your way through a battle, and being forced to consider how you can possibly stay alive. These sections where some of my favourite challenges, and I think veteran fans are really going to enjoy them – just don’t forget my advice above.
In appearance, the tower on the inside is not nearly as captivating as Sanctum City, but it does have that genuine dungeon crawl vibe which resonated very well with me personally. There were plenty of gates to open and shortcuts to discover, and lots more interesting enemies to get in your way. A recurring theme you will notice throughout the area is fire, and this can be used to your advantage, as well as your detriment. For example, there are non-aggressive creatures who shift barrels of oil around; they don’t hurt you, but should you or an enemy accidently hit one, the chain reaction can be devastating for whoever wasn’t expecting it. As you would imagine, they often come into strategy too.
If you’re just here for the meat and potatoes, you can hunt down the mechanism that will lead you to the main boss of Brume Tower, the “Fume Knight.” He’s one of the most ruthless bosses to date, and even still when working with other players to defeat him, which was a great surprise. However, for those who want to get the most out of this DLC, there are quite a few optional areas, bosses, and NPC invaders to try and tackle; with some locations that are arguably more exciting than the tower itself. I have to admit I was disappointed one of these bosses was just a blue incarnation of the Smelter Demon, though the other, Sir Alonne, is definitely one of the most memorable battles of Dark Souls II.
Every time I hear the next Dark Souls II DLC is about to be released, I get this unusual feeling of dread and excitement. In the back of my mind, I’m worrying “what if I can’t actually beat it”, but at the same time I crave the challenge as I often wish more games would try to push my abilities. I don’t think every game needs to be difficult in this particular way, and that’s why I liked how Sanctum City was almost Zelda-like in its dungeon design. This time, though, Crown of the Old Iron King is simply a great example of creative enemy design and clever battle scenarios. If the differences between these first two DLC areas are anything to go by, I think we have a lot to look forward to with the conclusion!
Note: This article was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and purchased at retail by the writer for the purpose of review.