The Souls franchise has had an interesting history with DLC. Demon’s Souls didn’t have any, Dark Souls wasn’t supposed to have any but ended up having a stellar piece, and now, Dark Souls II is set to have a trilogy of DLC available. It’s easy to be slightly skeptical about a company making such a dramatic about-face on the idea that their games simply don’t need DLC, but if The Crown of the Sunken King is any indication, there really shouldn’t be a need for further concern.
Reviewing The Crown of the Sunken King isn’t exactly an easy task. What makes Dark Souls II so fantastic is that feeling of exploration and discovery, and in order to keep that alive for you, we’re going to stay as spoiler free as possible. However, there will be very minor spoilers discussed here, otherwise I’d have literally nothing to talk about. If you want to simply get our final thoughts and a score, scroll down to the bottom paragraph. I promise you won’t hurt our feelings.
Fans of the Artorias of the Abyss DLC for the original Dark Souls all know just how big of a pain in the ass it could be to simply reach the new area. FromSoftware streamlined the process this go around, making it pretty painless on the whole. All you have to do is kill The Rotten down in Black Gulch, and examine an altar behind the primal bonfire. From there, you’re teleported to first room and just go through the door. It really is that simple.
The Crown of the Sunken King isn’t meant to be early game material. In fact, you should probably be getting close to the end of your first play through before heading into it. The enemies are no joke, and won’t hesitate to brutally murder you from the get go. Everything seems to do a ton of damage and insists on poisoning you at any given chance. I’d argue this is one of, if not the, hardest zone in the entire game based on enemy strength alone. That being said, it stays true to the Souls idea of “punishing, but never unfair.”
The enemy types themselves introduce some fantastic new ideas, but also recycle some older ones. The main enemies you’ll encounter right off the bat play out as your standard melee/archers that you’ve seen elsewhere, albeit a bit stronger. In truth, the only enemy that came out of this that I didn’t find enjoyable is a variation on the poison statutes that littered Black Gulch. A congregation of them can be found on the backs of what appear to be some sort of smashed lizard, allowing them to crawl around spitting in every direction. These can be killed with some precise shots, but it was usually better just to get out of their way than deal with them head on.
There’s also a large emphasis on area manipulation in The Crown of the Sunken King, which really is a double edged sword. When you’re playing in your world, it’s a neat little puzzle to play around with. Learning when to raise or lower platforms can give you massive advantages while getting through areas, revealing hidden loot, and in one instance, it can lead to one of the strangest encounters from all of the Souls games. The flipside is that invaders aren’t able to interact with anything in the host’s world, leading to some issues. It’s horribly frustrating to invade a player only to be physically unable to reach them until they make their way to where you are, or even be in a position to simply take potshots at you until you disconnect. Of course, there’s also the ability for cunning players to trap an invader in a small room, leading to an undead petting zoo type situation.
On the topic of invasions, I would just like to applaud FromSoftware for the follower AI found during a particular NPC invasion. After I was mocked, had a series of attacks dodged, caught using a cheap tactic and then mocked again, I was 100% convinced I was invaded by a human. Right until it happened again. This was some of the most life-like AI I’ve seen. This will undoubtedly infuriate some people since it makes a challenging area even more so, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a rush.
Sadly, the bosses didn’t provide quite as much excitemen,t save for one. I’ll spare the details to save you from spoilers, but there just wasn’t anything remarkable about them for the most part. The one that actually does standout may very well be my favorite boss in any of the Souls games, and could be in the running for one of my favorite fights of all time. I know the word “epic” has become so overused by the gaming community to the point where it’s lost its meaning, but there’s simply no other word to describe everything that took place in that room.
One of the largest complaints of the Artorias DLC was that it felt like something completely tacked on, which in essence it was, considering there was no DLC plan for Dark Souls. Luckily, the DLC area is more of an actual extension of the world, and you’ll be able to freely come and go as you please thanks to a bonfire waiting for you at the very beginning. Even once you’ve tackled the final boss, you’ll still be free to explore and invade the area, making it feel like a seamless piece of the world unlocked as opposed to a segregated area.
Aesthetically, The Crown of the Sunken King is well done, but not outstanding. There is a nice green glow that compliments the feeling that everything is dripping in poison without having that nightclub neon glow found in Black Gulch. Later areas feature decrepit ruins that feel like they should cave under your feet with the slightest step. It’s all really well put together, but probably won’t leave a lasting impression when compared to other areas.
The last major concern for most players seems to be size. The Crown of the Sunken King may not be as big as Artorias of the Abyss, but it’s close. Considering this is the first of three DLC areas, it’s safe to assume there’s a massive amount of content on the way. There’s a good chunk of new items and a few new weapons/armor pieces to find that range from ok to outright amazing depending on your build. One ring specifically stands out, as it adds an attack bonus based on your max equip load. The less weight your character can carry, the harder he’s going to hit. It’s the perfect addition to change the standard idea of boosting your equip load to the point where even the heaviest armor pieces don’t slow you down, and should turn lightweight builds into something very capable of winning duels.
The Crown of the Sunken King doesn’t have the immediate lasting power of Artorias of the Abyss, however, this is a very solid piece DLC on its own. There’s enough here to keep even experienced players busy for 5-10 hours, and enough variation in the weapons and items to be found that could switch up the metagame. At the end of the day, this feels like a brilliant and natural extension to the world of Dark Souls II, and if this is any indication of what we should expect with the next two DLC packs, I think it’s safe to say that the season pass is an easy buy for fans of the franchise.