Release Date: July 22, 2014Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PCDeveloper: From SoftwarePublisher: Bandai NamcoGenre: Action RPG
Just when I thought I was all done dying until next year’s Bloodborne comes out, Crown of the Sunken King showed up to put me in my rightful place, serving as the first of three new installments of Dark Souls II DLC, collectively titled the Lost Crowns Trilogy. I began playing Crown of the Sunken King towards the end of my New Game++ cycle, with over a hundred hours logged into the game and the Dark Souls II platinum trophy proudly in tow, but that still didn’t prepare me for the decrepit city and puzzle-filled sanctuary that make up the bulk of this brisk and perilous journey.
The new content is certainly intended for players who already know their way around the realm of Drangleic, and thankfully, accessing it is not nearly as obtuse as it was with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC in the first Dark Souls. Upon purchasing the DLC, you’ll be given a new item in your inventory with a simple description of where it can be used. Crown of the Sunken King isn’t some of the most treacherous ground I’ve ever had to traverse in a Souls game before, but it certainly isn’t a walk in the corpse-ridden park either.
While the new areas in Crown of the Sunken King play off the same gloomy and hurried feel of the main game, their openness and nonlinearity are a breath of fresh air, and call to mind the expert level design of the first Dark Souls (New Londo Ruins in particular, for me). Each area is a labyrinth of pathways and interconnected shortcuts, and there is a big emphasis on environmental puzzles this time around: from triggering switches that raise or lower entire buildings in Shulva, Sanctum City, to deactivating death traps by finding hidden buttons in Dragon’s Sanctum. The areas are also decently sized, with new items and treasures to find throughout, and five or six hours of additional gameplay in all, depending on how often you die, of course.
But while the maze-like new areas offer a slow and rewarding means of exploration, it is the handful of new enemies that will really get your adrenaline going and make that “You Have Died” screen flare up in full force. There is an air of clever deception in these new enemy types, as a few of them look like familiar assets that you’ve seen before in the main game. But upon closer inspection, the devilish new foes will fully reveal themselves, and there is no bigger thrill than discovering how to take down a seemingly invincible phantom for the first time. There are also some giant and unexpected friends waiting for you at the watery bottom of Dragon’s Sanctum, but to say anything more would spoil the surprise.
Of course, Crown of the Sunken King still manages to fall into a few of the same pitfalls that plagued the latest sequel back in March. For starters, most of the hair-pulling difficulty is derived from an overabundance of enemies swarming the player all at once, particularly in the optional Cave of the Dead challenge area and boss fight. The boss fights themselves are also very tame and forgettable compared to others in the long line of standout Souls encounters, from a watered down version of Queen Nashandra, to a band of weary adventurers that use numbers to their advantage. There is also a return of the aggravating sound popping that happened for me during my review playthrough of the main game on PS3. Bottom line: if Dark Souls II isn’t your favorite in the series, then Crown of the Sunken King probably isn’t going to change your mind.
But for those who enjoyed the relentless and narrow crawl through Dark Souls II, then Crown of the Sunken King will stand as a fine extension to the already lengthy main game. With a strong focus on desolate new areas that are structured around environmental puzzles, and a throng of new enemy types that will test your determination as much as your reflexes, Crown of the Sunken King feels right at home in the eerie quiet beneath the ground. A great reintroduction to the game, I’m looking forward to seeing how Crown of the Old Iron King and Crown of the Ivory King will build upon this promising start in the months down the road.