Release Date: August 26, 2014Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PCDeveloper: From SoftwarePublisher: Bandai NamcoGenre: Action RPG
From Software is back to kill you once again (and again) in Crown of the Old Iron King, the second of three new downloadable installment for Dark Souls II. Whereas the previous DLC, Crown of the Sunken King, had us braving a systematic temple and its surrounding areas, this time you’ll need to navigate the massive Brume Tower on a quest to retrieve the Old Iron King’s crown, who you might remember as that giant hell incarnate boss of the Iron Keep in the main game. But do the striking environments and gameplay mechanics do enough to offset the lackluster boss fights on your way to the heart of the tower?
It certainly helps that the new locations in Crown of the Old Iron King are absolutely breathtaking to behold. I would have thought that an area designed to branch off from the Iron Keep would be slathered in flames at every turn, but there’s actually more snow and ice to be found here than fire: a welcome throwback to classic Dark Souls areas like The Painted World of Ariamis. While the cold innards of Brume Tower are all about ancient machinery and a dark descent, I actually enjoyed exploring the outer ledges of the tower more, where the sun shone down on the glittering snow as my footsteps crunched along the narrow pathways. And, of course, nothing compares to the feeling you get while traversing a massive chain suspended in air to reach a neighboring tower on more than one occasion.
Besides these pretty vistas, there is one new gameplay mechanic that defines the Crown of the Old Iron King content, and it’s an interesting one to see at play here in the Souls series. As you maneuver throughout Brume Tower, you’ll start amassing new items called Smelter Wedges. Each wedge is required to defeat a stationary Ashen Idol, which has the ability to heal your foes in battle or even cause devastating area effects, such as curses. It is certainly thrilling racing through a room of enemies to reach the Ashen Idol and use a Smelter Wedge before you get an axe to the back. And without giving too much away, you’ll want to scour every corner of the tower to make sure you eliminate each one.
The enemies, too, feel like a breath of fresh air: both in their design and combat mechanics. The most menacing ones are the massive knights who spew lava out of their sides during battle. Other new enemy types include self-destructing toxic monsters that crawl along the ground, and I can’t remember a time when I’ve had more fun in a Souls game than fighting the little Hollows who carry giant explosives barrels in their arms. You’ll be rewarded with a nice array of new weapons and spells for your efforts in defeating them all, and the new rings offer some particularly desirable effects in Crown of the Old Iron King.
The level design in Crown of the Old Iron King is fairly linear at first, but once you activate the vast machinery in the heart of Brume Tower, then the DLC escalates into that same kind of complexity you would only expect from an area in Dark Souls, with a head-spinning network of elevators and underground tunnels for you to cautiously explore. For die-hard fans, you’ll also get to debase yourself again with a challenging side area called the Iron Passage, which functions similarly to the Cave of the Dead in the Crown of the Sunken King content. What’s more, there’s also another harrowing memory to fight through if you can muster up the nerve to access it.
Unfortunately, Crown of the Old Iron King falls short when it comes to the boss fights, even more so than Crown of the Sunken King. Upon reaching the end of your journey through the vast and complex Brume Tower, all of that rising action just seems to fizzle out when you meet the forgettable boss who’s guarding the crown. What’s worse, another of the optional bosses is literally taken directly from the main game, despite a slight costume change. You know that something’s not right when the battles against red phantoms are more interesting than the boss encounters themselves.
While the Crown of the Old Iron King feels a bit shorter overall than last month’s counterpart, Crown of the Sunken King, it’s still able to make up for these shortcomings through excellent level design and intriguing new enemies and gameplay mechanics. If only there was a more thrilling conclusion lying in wait at the end of the harrowing tower.