My experience with the infamous Souls series began with Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition for PC. Used to delighting myself with a good challenge, the first Dark Souls completely and utterly destroyed me and my false sense of achievement. Sometime later, I got back to it with a friend who had beaten Dark Souls and its predecessor, earning back some self-respect after hours of exploration, learning, killing and yes, a lot more dying. Come Dark Souls II, which was a little less rough around the edges but as pretty as the game before it. My first and only character braved through the decaying ruins of the old kingdom of Drangleic three times into New Game ++ and I thoroughly enjoyed both the good and the bad (particularly the instances that make you rage) the title had to offer. With that background in mind, I consider myself a decent Dark Souls II player, a fan of the game’s obscure and often multi-interpreted lore, so obviously I was looking forwards to Crown of the Sunken King.
From Software has brought us the first episode of a trilogy designed to expand upon the world’s story and content. In it, we find ourselves transported into a dark cavern, lit only by a huge vessel, and the only path out leads into the ruins of Shulva, a city once reigned by its long-lost king. The remnants of an army of mindless hollows litter the once beautiful scenery, seeking their next victim to feed their soul-craving, withered forms. The visuals are absolutely stunning from the moment you walk inside the city, a common trend in every Souls game. I recommend pacing yourself and exploring the area, not just to gather important new items, equipment and spells, but simply to take in the atmosphere and soak into local colors of an entirely new area.
With a plethora of new enemies to face, traps and obstacles to overcome and its custom-built difficulty, Crown of the Sunken King offers the right amount of entertainment to supplement the main adventure, accessible after beating one of the four early major game bosses. The areas come with fully working co-op and invasion capabilities, and is a very interesting place (to say the least!) to defend against invaders and invade yourself, given the layout comprised of several slopes, deadly pits and long drops that can hurt more than just your knee if unprepared. An interesting design choice was the addition of new types of traps, spiked floors and nearly invincible enemies. While potentially lethal, these can be overcome and avoided by carefully examining and interacting with your surroundings. Solving a few simple puzzles will reward the player with easier exploration.
There are a grand total of three new areas to explore that tie all that happens in the DLC. These include the aforementioned city of Shulva, where we will find no shortage of environmental hazards. Next is the Dragon Sanctum, where an ancient creature rests, and more importantly, a great amount of loot can be found! Guarded by a bunch of very tough enemies and deadly traps, it is no easy task to scour the place for treasure, but that in itself is part of the challenge. Do you have what it takes to conquer the sanctum and make it to the boss in the final area?
Now, I’m not going to become a rampant fanboy that favors cutting the developer slack, because even if I feel the experience was entertaining, it is lacking in certain key aspects that would have otherwise made an extraordinary impact on Crown of the Sunken King’s score. I have no more to say about the visuals, but the craving I had for more gameplay ordeals was met by, shall I say, “artificial” challenge. Let me explain: The Souls series works on the principle of introducing you to a new element (say, a new enemy) and testing your mettle against it. Overcome it or not, you’ll learn about it and apply the knowledge in your next fights. What we have here is a problem with homogeneity. Every enemy (bosses, NPC invaders, fodder) has ridiculous amounts of resistance and they seem to have been prepared to stand tall above you only to just, well, stand there like dumb damage sponges. This doesn’t make the experience more challenging, it just turns every enemy into a time-consuming match of endurance that cannot be circumvented whether you decide to go magic, ranged or outright melee because they resist everything you throw at them. Why did this happen? Was it due to the recent patch that applied calibrations to the game’s stats? I can’t be sure, because every other enemy in every other area still feels balanced and rightly challenging, while these new enemies and bosses feel like THEY should have been the main game’s final challenges. If not for their difficulty, then because of their ludicrous amounts of health and defense.
Players can expect to have an astounding perceptible experience. The music during the boss battles is epic as always, but the juicy meat I came to sink my teeth on was the ordeal these new areas represented. However, I bumped into several things that flat-out bored me. For one boss, From Software uses a reskin of the main game’s final boss whose magic resistance was akin to getting the middle finger back in a staring contest, and no matter how much you hit her with arrows, blades or clubs, I could barely see her health bar going down. I didn’t mind this design choice with the DLC’s final boss, I can deal with a tanky dragon because mothafuckin’ dragon, you just don’t sneeze at those. But his AI is programmed to make him take to the air every ten seconds and stay in the air for ten seconds more, moving in predictable routes that are too far and too fast to aim. One thing that would have been nice if you’re going to have a tank enemy in the air 90% of fight: A counter-measure. The Pursuer had that little ballista, the Lost Sinner had those candles to enable locking-on, couldn’t we have had something to set up in order to punish that Slumbering Dragon for being a gigantic flying douche? It feels like a waste of time, with it resisting every attack, having to wait until it is back on the ground to actually be able to wail on it with attacks that do visible damage. No end of satisfaction to get an air-shot on him, though.
While there were certain aspects of this DLC that felt rushed or outright lazy, the content addition for it felt just right. We have several places to explore, shortcuts to open, eventual invaders to fend off, traps to circumvent, puzzles to solve, three bosses to overcome and it all adds up to hours’ worth of entertainment. Dark Souls’ Artorias of the Abyss felt longer and less disconnected from the main game (this feels more like an extension rather than an expansion, if you follow), but this by no chance makes Crown of the Sunken King any lesser (at least, for the first part of a three chapter add-on campaign). From Software, I want more!