Release Date: September 30, 2014Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PCDeveloper: From SoftwarePublisher: Bandai NamcoGenre: Action-RPG
It has been a long, uphill battle for many gamers these past few months in traversing the uncharted territory of Dark Souls II to retrieve the legendary three lost crowns. From Software first unleashed the Lost Crowns Trilogy DLC for their popular RPG dungeon crawler at the end of the summer, and since then we have scoured the poisonous ruins of Shulva, Sanctum City, and played with fire in Brume Tower. But now we must take to new picturesque and snowcapped heights in Crown of the Ivory King, the final installment of the Lost Crowns Trilogy, and some of the finest Dark Souls II gameplay to date.
Much like Crown of the Sunken King and Crown of the Old Iron King before it, Crown of the Ivory King builds its foundation around a few exciting additions to the core mechanics that push the series’ meticulous dungeon crawling gameplay into fresh new territory. This time, there are more or less three main new mechanics to master: first is the seemingly invisible enemies and bosses; next is the changing weather conditions which cast and render your torch all but useless amidst a windy snow drift when outdoors; and finally the NPC allies you can enlist to fight alongside you in the world.
The new gameplay mechanics are intriguing to say the least, but they are escalated to wondrous new levels by their placement in the breathtaking environment of Frozen Eleum Loyce and its shimmering surrounding areas. Never before in a Souls game have we seen a pure winter wonderland such as this, not even in the Painted World of Ariamis from the first Dark Souls, and to say the stunningly white world is a breath of fresh air for the grim and dim series would be a grave understatement. You’ll find banks of snow that hide invaluable treasures, alluring ice blockades that glimmer in the sunlight, and a powdery dusting of snow that covers your armor whenever you roll. Praise the sun? Praise the snow!
In addition to the beautiful vistas you’ll encounter on your way through Crown of the Ivory King, the actual level designs themselves are incredibly complex and creative when compared to some of Dark Souls II’s base areas. For as much as I loved Dark Souls II during my initial few playthroughs, From Software has shown us once again that they have clearly saved some of their best material for this DLC trilogy, and I think if some of these areas like Frozen Eleum Loyce had been placed within the main game from the start, then Dark Souls II would have been a stronger experience overall because of it.
I even found the boss fights to be much more inventive and memorable this time around, especially in light of Crown of the Old Iron King’s rehash faults, though the usual Souls tactic of throwing multiple boss types at you at once still manages to rear its ugly head on occasion. By far my favorite boss encounter is Aava the King’s Pet, a vicious ice tiger who reminds me of a smaller and more agile version of Dark Souls’ Great Grey Wolf Sif, but set in a curving outdoor arena akin to your first clash with the Tarus Demon in Undead Burg.
In the end, and regardless of your feelings on the final reward for retrieving all three crowns, Crown of the Ivory King is a more than fitting end to the Lost Crowns Trilogy, and to the entirety of Dark Souls II, for that matter. With breathtaking environments, new gameplay mechanics that are sure to keep you on your toes, and mammoth boss fights that speak to some of the Souls series’ most memorable encounters, this is the From Software that we all know and love. The only thing left to do know is lick our icy wounds until February, when the studio’s ravenous Bloodborne comes out.