Though some have scoffed at the shift within Bandai Namco towards a more modern downloadable content policy for industry darling series Dark Souls, I personally think the direction is fine, as long as it’s handled fairly. I guess growing up with expansion packs for PC games has long since conditioned me to enjoy post release content, but I can appreciate the concerns of a publisher pushing a game out the door when post-launch content is already in the works if not finished already. Nobody wants to pay for what they perceive to be an unfinished game, and while Dark Souls subverted concerns by having just one rather large and content rich expansion pack with Artorias of the Abyss, Dark Souls 2 is embracing three, smaller packages wrapped up in a season pass to boot.
So, be wary and concerned that Dark Souls as a series is going down the murky path of consumer exploitation if you must, but at the very least give Crown of the Sunken King a chance. Because if the first of these three DLCs is to represent the kind of content found in the upcoming Crown of the Old Iron King and Crown of the Ivory King, then Dark Souls II fans are in for a big treat.
Artorias of the Abyss was a little convoluted to activate and not particularly forgiving towards players to early or far in the game. Crown of the Sunken King is the opposite. Upon purchase and downloaded you’ll find a new item in your inventory (Dragon Talon) with vague clues as to where to take it. Spoilers: It’s in the Black Gulch, just beyond The Rotten. No complicated puzzle or point of no return, as long as you can get here at any point in the game you’ll be whisked off Shulva, an ancient, long forgotten city buried deep in the earth.
The South American, Mayan-like temple gives off very much of a classic adventure feel, if significantly more bleak and murderous. Hunting down Vendrick’s old crown, the temple itself is littered with traps, secrets, and monstrous enemies, the traps in particular standing out as Indiana Jones-like tricks to catch up impatient, reckless players. Especially true since many traps are tied to stone switches that, when activated, can clear dangerous paths of their obstacles, raise and lower traversable pillars, and open up new areas for exploration. This, I think, is one of Crown of the Sunken King‘s highlights, at least for the first half of the DLC. Where Dark Souls 2 doesn’t have a whole lot of world interaction, this mission pack does.
And the emphasis on tomb puzzles is clearly deliberate too. Another highlight found within Crown of the Sunken King is the distribution of bonfires. While Dark Souls II made bonfires plentiful and their use more accessible than its predecessor, Crown of the Sunken King goes out of its way to make bonfires a scarce resource. Easy, checkpoint-like bonfires are few and far between, requiring lengthy stretches of gameplay before that moment of relaxation. Meanwhile all bonfires in between, those essential stopgaps to catch your breath, are hidden within secret enclaves and rooms that require a little puzzling and exploration to discover. It’s a really cool feedback loop for the kind of atmosphere Crown of the Sunken King relishes, forcing you to explore deeper into a trap laden temple and toss up between economising your resources to push further in hope that a bonfire is around the next corner, or gamble on exploring the environment to uncover a secret checkpoint. For the first time in a long time the stretches of gameplay in Crown of the Sunken King are long enough to make item durability an issue. It’s a very intense and mysterious experience.
I was also really happy to see Crown of the Sunken King not reliant on recycling too much content. The package as a whole is exceptionally original in terms of assets, puzzle ideas, and most importantly enemies. Even your standard fodder grunts are newly designed spear, shield and sword wielding grotesques that won’t hesitate to consume their own estus flasks to keep in the fight. As you explore deeper into the city more unique and interesting enemies start to appear, including big toothy mouth beasts that’ll try to chomp grapple, fleshy dark magic witch women, and very cool spectral warriors that you can either take on in high-resistance ghost form or try and work out how to solidify for a damage buff. I’m not going to tell you how, because discovery is such a big part of Dark Souls and Crown of the Sunken King, but it’s yet another cool exploration-encouraging direction for this DLC pack.
Unique content is really what sells Crown of the Sunken King. There’s a handful of crossovers, including one boss fairly similar to another from Dark Souls 2, but for most part the content is fresh, new, and most importantly interesting. There’s some great boss fights to discover, clever enemies to test and learn from, and a world to that requires a clear frame of mind to explore due to a direction that’s distant from the Dark Souls 2 norm. I was worried Crown of the Sunken King would be very much like retreading areas of Dark Souls 2 I’m already deeply familiar with, but thankfully that isn’t so. It is, to put it bluntly, the right way to design, direct, and produce a satisfying chunk of post-game content.
Those still wary might pay to wait for all three packs to release and go through them all as one big expansion pack. Crown of the Sunken King is long enough, for me, but certainly not as expansive or triumphant as Artorias of the Abyss. I get the feeling all three packs will tie together in some form, so playing them as one should have its own charm. That being said, if you’re hungry for more Dark Souls before the likes of Bloodborne hits shelves, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better than Crown of the Sunken King.
Interesting, new content | Bonfire rarity | Exploration
One of three | Tough...is that bad?