Prepare to die once again. We've visited the depths of the first piece of DLC for Dark Souls II.
To date we've played Dark Souls II for 198 hours - divided on 6 different characters. The game has been completed 4 times, and still there's no end in sight. As the first DLC pack - Crown of the Sunken King - arrives, it's naturally an event of significance for us, a short, but sweet second Christmas.
Crown of the Sunken King is the first part of three in the Lost Crowns trilogy - and takes place in a massive underground cave. For the most part you're surrounded by rocky walls and weird contraptions that can be raised and lowered by means of various pylons. These are used to create bridges and elevators so that the player can reach their objective - a pyramid in the middle of the cave. Inside the pyramid there is a new set of challenges in the shape of various traps, a new enemy type (that will make the most experienced Dark Souls player scream in frustration, that is until you come up with a simple solution to its puzzle). The new area is very pretty as a whole, especially when you reach the first bonfire and you're able to see the entire level from a high cliff. It's not a visual revolution, but the view is breathtaking, and a little overwhelming as you can see the challenges that lie ahead.
The new content caters to the most experienced Dark Souls players. Something that is clearly noticeable from the level of challenge, as it has been dialed up with more difficult enemies that attack in larger packs. And, as icing on the cake, most of the combat takes place on narrow bridges and cliffs where every misstep equals instant death - something that's purely a negative in many other games, but in this context it really works. You're forced to adapt your playstyle a little from what you're used to even as far as handling the easiest enemies is concerned. Almost all of these easy enemies use poison or gasses that degrade your weapons and equipment. Protip: we would advise you to bring a healthy amount of anti-poison items as you head into the DLC, unless your character has a lot of points in poison resist.
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In addition to grunts, there are naturally some boss fights. We won't go into details, so as not to spoil anything, but we can reveal that they have gotten better at handling fights with more players - something the original bosses weren't always good at. This means you can no longer simply bring along two other players and be sure of victory simply by staying away from the combat. It's a welcome change, and the developers have realised how much the players use the co-op feature. Unfortunately it also means that the bosses are nearly impossible to defeat on your own - so if you're not a fan of playing with others or you don't go online with your console - you may have to make use of the less than stellar computer-controlled helpers.
In terms of co-op, the developers have introduced a rather interesting feature. It's possible for players who don't own the DLC to enter and play with those who own the DLC - with the aid of certain statues found outside the door leading to the new area. You simply place a summon sign at the feet of one of the statues and your sign will appear at one of the similar looking statues inside the new area. This way players with the new content have plenty of access to help, while players who have yet to purchase the DLC get a taste of what lies on the other side of the door. A very clever move by the developers.
Crown of the Sunken King is challenging, and that's a big plus in the Dark Souls universe. It took us around 7 hours to complete, but had we been able to complete it without dying it would have been half of that time. It may not sound like much, but it felt like an appropriate amount of content for this sort of DLC. With significantly more focus on co-op the developers have been able to keep the difficulty up, even with two helpers, something that the original game wasn't able to do at times. A small piece of fan service that we won't spoil here shows us that the developers listen to their fans (even if it is just a cosmetic easter egg in this case).
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If you're a fan of Dark Souls II we'd certainly recommend this new content. The new area is interesting, the enemies are more challenging than ever before, and it's long enough that you'll feel you got value for your money, especially if you've invested in the Season Pass. We cannot wait for the second chapter to arrive this August.
9 / 10
More challenging than ever, Great fan service, Clever and well balanced co-op.