Dark Souls II is easily one of my favorite games of 2014 and when, after many many attempts, I was finally successful in completing the main story, I couldn't wait for my next taste of the Souls franchise. Fast forward just four months and I've already gotten my wish, in the form of a series of DLC episodes starting off with Crown of the Sunken King. Is this new trial everything a Souls fan could ask for or is it too little too soon after the main game's release?
First thing's first, if you have never played Dark Souls II then I suggest reading our published review for that title in order to understand the basics of how the game is played and what changed from the original Dark Souls. Crown of the Sunken King does not make any large sweeping changes to the gameplay, so there's no reason to go over the base Dark Souls II experience, and this review will instead focus on what Crown of the Sunken King brings to the table.
After you pay for and download the DLC you'll find your character has been given a Dragon Talon, with hints that you should venture back into Black Gulch. It's worth noting that this is an added area and isn't in any notable way separate from the areas of the original game, so if you've brought your character into “new game plus” or “plus plus plus”, that difficulty will carry over to the DLC and you'll have to have defeated The Rotten boss in order to access these new areas. Crown of the Sunken King comes with two major areas, with boss fights attached, and an optional area (in that it is by no means necessary to explore in order to get the titular crown) which contains an extra boss.
Graphically, the open areas are a treat to view, but since the DLC is based on an underground monarch there's quite a bit of time spent roaming corridors which are not nearly as impressive. In similar fashion to the main game, there is a narrative to be found if you decide to seek it out, but there's nothing directly presented to the gamer via cutscenes or more traditional storytelling devices. It would have been nice to have gotten a bit of a primer on why one would care about the crown of the Sunken King, or at the very least a new NPC or two to talk to in the actual area that could have provided background information, but if these were included I never managed to find them. There is a “new” NPC to talk to if you know where to look, but this character doesn't quite fill the need I'm referring to. That said, this is the first episode of a DLC trilogy, so later episodes might expand upon the setting and your overall objective.
It took me 6 hours to beat Crown of the Sunken King, but that's really only indicative of how much I struggled with the final boss fight. The bulk of the new enemies are nothing special, though there are a couple with unique designs that use previously immobile traps and turn them into monsters, or opponents that require a specific trick to make them plausible to kill, and these enemies were novel and fun to tackle. I also appreciated the use of Zelda-like switches that are used to lower and raise platforms in one section of the DLC and open doors to hidden treasure in another part. Usually the environment in Dark Souls titles is very static and the monsters are what provide the challenge and intrigue, so it was interesting to see environmental puzzles play a larger role.
The boss fights in Crown of the Sunken King are something of a mixed bag, but on the whole they provide a good challenge. I'm not a fan of the final boss, whose attack pattern is tailored to make things a nightmare for melee builds, but the boss before that one is challenging and features some nice twists. Lastly, the optional boss fight is by far the most challenging due to a gauntlet that you have to get through just to make it to the boss room as well as having to crowd control multiple monsters that come at you during the actual boss fight itself.
Overall I don't regret buying this debut piece of Dark Souls II DLC, but that's partly because I liked the original game so much that it would have had to have been pretty terrible for it to have left a sour taste in my mouth. I would describe Crown of the Sunken King as a good addition to a great game and I'm certainly interested to find out how subsequent Crown episodes stack up to this first one and continue to expand upon the base game.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dark Souls II: Crown of the Sunken King for the PS3