I think it’s fair to say that Dark Souls is a pretty unusual phenomenon. It’s relentless, difficult, and wants to punish you at every turn. And yet, on the other hand, it’s very well paced, fair, and unbelievably rewarding. Dark Souls II was no exception to this formula, and, in my opinion, improved upon its predecessor in almost every way (full review). Now, I’m not usually a big fan of DLC unless it’s a major expansion. As someone who plays a lot of games, I like to fully invest myself in one experience at a time, so the idea of going back months later for an hour or two is quite frustrating. By this time, I’ve half forgotten the controls and have to re-invest only to have it all done and over with just as I get back into it. So, with this thought, you can imagine my reservations for a game as infamously difficult as Dark Souls.
Dark Souls II also happens to be one of my favourite games of all time, though. I love the method to its madness, and the temptation of a return to its dark, punishing shores was just too enticing to resist; especially given its the “dry season” for gaming. Crown of the Sunken King, which released this week, is the first chapter in the newly announced Dark Souls II DLC trilogy; promising new environments, enemies, traps, bosses and a perilous adventure to reclaim the lost crowns that once belonged to King Vendrick. In this chapter, players will be transported to an entirely new world that’s filled with vast underground caverns and ancient pyramids. Death lies around every corner, so you need to be prepared as it is arguably one the hardest areas of any Souls game to date. Prepare to see “You Died”… A lot.
Going in, it was just as I had suspected. I was not nearly as good as I was back in March, I’d forgotten my class configuration, I kept pushing all the wrong buttons, and, basically, got smashed by the game for the first 15 minutes. It was incredibly frustrating, and I loved every second of it. Fortunately, however, it didn’t take too long for me to wrap my head around the mechanics again, and more than anything, I was quickly reminded why I love this game so much, and why, despite only being several hours in lengths, it was absolutely worth my time. The community. I honestly can’t praise how great the multiplayer is in this game, and how satisfying it is to be able to scout ahead by joining someone else’s game first. You help them, and in return, you gain the foresight needed in order to succeed in your own game.
In terms of content, Crown of the Sunken King offers several new areas to explore, as well as several epic boss fights. It’s really great how the DLC confidently stands apart from the rest of the Dark Souls II world as unique, but so comfortably fits with the tone of the original game; as if it was always supposed to be there. The detailed architecture within the level design is as genuinely outstanding as always; offering some truly remarkable sightseeing inbetween all the chaos. The difference this time, however, is that a lot more thought has been put into crafting terrain obstacles. Not only are the enemies out to get you, but the landscape wants to trick you into falling to your death, as well. There is a greater focus on puzzle solving and hidden secrets, and I think core fans will really resonate with this approach.
The enemy design is a bit lacklustre, I have to admit; with the majority of enemies being humanoid in appearance. Although, there are a few exceptions, and those which are different are some of the most terrifying beasts I’ve come across yet. All the new enemies are challenging, and it’s worth noting that attacking will not cause any of them to stumble. You really need to play it smart, circle and roll if you’re to survive the most basic opponents. Additionally, as mentioned, there are so many secrets to discover, so be sure to bring binoculars or a bow as you will certainly need it. If I was to highlight one major criticism, however, its that the narrative is almost non-existent, so it doesn’t really add to the larger scale of things like the DLC for the first game. You’re just there to find a crown, but as its a trilogy, there may still be more information on the way. More than anything, it’s about the battles, and these will be some of the toughest yet. The final boss is incredibly powerful, and will provide an awesome challenge to anyone who can make it that far.
Dark Souls II is a phenomenal game and Crown of the Sunken King, the first of the DLC trilogy, feels as if it was always meant to be a part of it. The areas are stunningly unique in appearance, as well as filled with lots of exciting challenges and secrets for players to discover. This time, however, the terrain is actively working against you and the enemies are more relentless than ever. If you haven’t played in awhile, you can expect more than a little frustration as it’s also arguably the toughest area in the Souls series so far. It should take around 3 hours for average players to complete. Regrettably, there isn’t too much narrative to the DLC so far, but it’s still possible that might come later in the trilogy. What makes Dark Souls so great, though, in my opinion, is the community. It’s one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had, and there is nothing more rewarding than working with strangers to survive in this cruel world. It was genuinely great to go back and share my frustration with others. If you’re a fan, make the time.
Note: This article was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and provided to us by Bandai Namco Games Australia for review.