(PlayStation 3) Dark Souls II: Crown of the Sunken King

Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Genre: Action / Role-Playing Game
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: Ryan Newman

Overall: 8 = Excellent

Crown of the Sunken King is the first downloadable content pack for Dark Souls II, and it is also the first part in a downloadable trilogy titled The Lost Crowns. Each add-on opens up a new area for players to explore, with the first being a subterranean maze of ziggurats known as Shulva, Sanctum City. Within it, players will have to navigate a series of ruins as they descend further into the depths towards the final battle with a mighty dragon. The inaugural post-launch adventure makes for a fine supplement to the base game, even if some of the engine’s rougher edges make themselves known from time to time.

Accessing the new content will require that players have spent some time going through the original story. There are no level-limit restrictions, but the new enemies will definitely require a character build that’s felled more than a few of the original bosses. In particular, this pack requires that players have already defeated The Rotten in Black Gulch, a massive beast that resides in a hellish antechamber to the portal that leads to the new area. Especially perceptive adventurers might recall this area being hinted at by a merchant within Iron Keep. After spending some time underground, it becomes obvious why he set up shop in the castle.

Reaching the dragon resting below the city will require battling all manner of enemies, including equipment-destroying insects, hollow infantrymen and archers, and spectral knights. The new enemies are standard fare, save for the dragon and its spectacular entrance, but the real standout is the level design. The spacious cavern in which the city resides makes for a foreboding backdrop, and it offers its fair share of dangers, given just how much of the navigable pathways are flanked by a seemingly endless void. Making it through the upper city will require interacting with a variety of switches, each of which lowers or raises mini-temples. Long-range combat also comes to the fore because of the ability to manipulate switches and plates with projectiles, and that’s in addition to some damnably placed enemy archers, specters whose corpses must be destroyed before solidifying, and environmental hazards that make close combat even more dangerous. In true Dark Souls fashion, the elevating platforms and structures don’t just offer a means to progress but also add to the tension by housing ambuscades and the sense of exploration by providing access to hidden or difficult-to-reach areas. Little safety will be found indoors, either, as pressure plates require dodging traps, hidden enemies, and one-way entrances. Confining hallways and narrow rooms not only limit perception but also make evasive maneuvers more difficult, further adding to the tension.

Similar layouts appeared in the original campaign, but not to the degree that they do in Crown of the Sunken King. The effect is that the designers have made maximum use of the relatively small playable area, while also injecting a sense of traditional explorer-style adventuring back into the series. Just how difficult players will find the new quest will depend on their level when entering the city, but even hearty characters should be prepared for a fight. Co-op fans will also find one boss fight against three rather nasty warriors particularly right up their alley. There are also some sweet rewards, one of my favorites being a stylish whip-sword hybrid, the Puzzling Stone Sword.

The increase in tight hallways and paths, pressure-sensitive devices, and mobile structures means that the already strained camera will often have a difficult time offering suitable views. It isn’t uncommon to find the screen filled with the corner of a room or a close-up of a creature, leaving the player to frantically attempt to reorient themselves before taking too much damage. Another common occurrence is the tendency for arrows to become lodged into an invisible buffer zone around objects. This is especially pronounced whenever the buffer extends far into the player’s view, which will leave arrows stuck mid-air despite being several inches away from the nearest object. Given the increased amount of columns, small temples, and hallways, all offering excellent sniping spots, there is a greater tendency to rely on arrows of bolts, but all of those edges mean an equally greater opportunity for collision mishaps. As someone with a ranger-type build, this particular quirk had me cursing like an especially drunk sailor. Given that the engine is set, I can assume these issues will carry over into the subsequent download packs, so those who enjoy the fine art of archery should be prepared for pain.

Dark Souls II: Crown of the Sunken King marks the beginning of what looks to be a great side story, complete with increased explorative elements, interactive environments, and sense of adventure. Most of the problems with the new journey lie with the engine’s handling of the camera and collisions, which were also problems in the original game but are much more so here due to the new focus on tighter and more concentrated environments. As it offers a welcomed twist on the Dark Souls II formula, fans will be well served by the add-on.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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