Review: Crown of the Sunken King – Dark Souls II DLC

Review: Crown of the Sunken King – Dark Souls II DLC

Last updated on August 7th, 2015

Three community members share their experiences, opinions and conclusions regarding the Dark Souls II DLC: Crown of the Sunken King

Dark Souls II is one of the best games that came out this year in my opinion, but I can’t say that everything about it was amazing and breathtaking. The difficulty felt unbalanced unlike in the first game.  Certain areas felt bland and lacking in content, not to mention the inclusion of Soul Memory that punished my character for farming Souls in order to upgrade gear. I never considered the first Dark Souls a masterpiece since that game too had its flaws, but this game broke what its predecessor did right.

I didn’t expect much from the DLC to be honest.  All I expected were some new areas, some items and maybe a boss. I wasn’t really excited about it on the day before release since I preferred invading people instead of progressing through the game. I however decided to try the DLC at least before judging, and it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made yesterday.

The DLC started off great by teleporting me to an enormous hidden cave beneath the earth.  Once I reached the first area I was at a loss of word.  When I saw the beautiful architecture of the Sunken City, all areas that I’ve seen before this one were suddenly dull and boring when compared to this great and beautiful area.

Sunken Crown start

Of course beauty isn’t everything so I decided to slowly finish the DLC in order to see if it was really that good. I was surprised by a large variety of locations, enemies and items.  But the best fact was that the DLC never felt rushed or drawn out, it had the perfect balance between difficulty and easiness, all of the enemies were balanced when compared to the base game making this effectively a fan’s paradise.

The DLC did what Dark Souls II didn’t. It gave the players a huge, open area that can be completed in any way possible, secrets and hidden items in every corner and some great variety in boss and enemy encounters. The enemies are also the part the surprised me most since they have an improved AI that makes them more challenging even to veteran players.

The bosses weren’t plentiful, but they were well thought out, the second boss in the game had me in tears and I’m ashamed to say that I was forced to summon someone to help me out.

On the other hand, the DLC sometimes relied heavily on a certain playstyle in certain areas that would be a living Hell without a particular weapon to help you out.  Also, while the content in this DLC is great, it’s fairly short and can be easily beaten in a few hours if you have two people to help you out. People hungry for a story might also be disappointed since this DLC adds only a few lines of text that aren’t related to the story of the base game in any way. Judging from some descriptions it’s possible that the Sunken King lore is connected to the other DLCs that will be released in the near future.

Overall, the Sunken King DLC for Dark Souls II is worth the price and adds a huge amount of content that somehow surpasses the base game in terms of pacing and originality and makes players feel accomplished and rewarded for completing it. The price is fair and balanced, so I wouldn’t pay anything extra for it, although at a price lower than ten bucks it’s simply a steal, but I wouldn’t buy the Season Pass yet, since this is only the first of the DLCs to come.

With the announcement of DLC coming for Dark Souls 2, I was instantly hyped with the thought of all the unique challenges and rewards that would come with new areas and enemies. Having already finished the normal game enough times to know where most items were and how to defeat bosses, I was looking forward to somewhat of a struggle trying to discover the new content. When I say struggle, I do not mean it in a bad way where the player has to constantly search and grind for new items, but instead that the new content would bring an extra challenge for those player who like to have everything. I knew my character would be well prepared for this, considering all my hours of grinding to upgrade weapons and armor and we all know how annoying that can be. So now, all that was left to do was try not to spoil the DLC for myself until it came out, other than the occasional review of the trailer, because hey, its all speculation anyway right?

When the DLC finally arrived, I awoke early in the morning and went straight to the marketplace to download my copy of Crown of the Sunken King.  This is on Xbox by the way.

I loaded my character who was already set up in the entrance from the previous night. Not knowing what to expect, I dived into Shulva with an open mind. Almost immediately, I was caught off guard by the sheer immensity of the area. It looked and felt like a journey that would surely put my skills to the test. Without going into too much detail right away, lets just say for now that I actually finished the DLC within 3-4 hours. This does not include collecting all the items or co-op/invasions of course.

I felt like the DLC flowed nicely into the flow of the original game. Being a sunken city, it fit well into the Black Gulch area. The poison based enemies were also a nice touch since players did not get much poison experience in the original game, other than by way of traps or annoying PvP spells. I felt the DLC did not necessarily have to be done at any certain point in the game and rather, the player should wait until the end to gain experience of the combat and skills necessary to take on an unknown challenge. Knowing that all players do not take the same path through the game, I would say in my honest opinion that the DLC fits better at the end of the original story because it introduces a new, smaller story that might confuse players who get wrapped up in the original story. Unless you are a lore junky of course.

After spending enough time in the DLC to obtain all items, I came to the conclusion that the DLC offers enough content for players to enjoy for hours on end. The quality of the content in my opinion was amazing. It felt like it belonged in the Dark Souls world, but it had its special qualities that could make it its own game with a little more story progression and added content. One of these qualities being the story behind the DLC. Since I am not that big on lore, I do not know the complete story or how it exactly fits into the original story, which is why I feel like the DLC could easily be its own spin-off of the game. As far as the quantity of the content, I think its enough to be a DLC, but I would have liked to see more armor. That might be the fashion-souls part of me coming out, but I’m certain I’m not the only one who enjoys unique armor and weapons. Overall, the armor and weapons that are included in the DLC fit nicely and I really enjoy the look and feel of them, especially the Drakeblood Armor, which is my new favorite.

Sunken Crown platforms

I cannot say enough about the bosses. They were a challenge to fight for sure, but an enjoyable challenge. Going in completely blind, I had no idea what to expect as far as what weapons/spells to use. My first boss fight against Elana definitely made me re-think my play style. I went in to the fight using me standard PvE setup that was based heavily around sorcery, miracles and hexes. I soon found out that Elana had quite a high defense to both Dark and Lightning damage. I had to rely on my sorcery spells to get me through the fight. Since that was the case, I kept my character as far away from Elana as possible to throw some spells at her. After doing some damage to her and dodging her attacks, I was completely thrown off by what happened next. She summoned a phantom version of Velstaadt, a boss from the original game. If it was not for my summon help distracting Elana, I don’t think I would have survived the fight much longer. She is also known to summon groups of skeletons, but I did not witness this during my fight. The next boss, which came immediately after Elana, was Sinh the Slumbering Dragon. I knew that I would have to fight a dragon at some point, but I did not expect it to be so soon. Again I went into the fight with some sorcery, miracles, and hexes, which turned out to be my second mistake. Although miracles and hexes did some damage to the beast, it was not enough to suffice my needs, so I continued with sorcery, having to pop a few herbs here and there. The dragon’s attacks were not that hard to dodge, but if you are not careful, you will soon find yourself crushed or burnt to a crisp. The last boss that I encountered, which i’m still debating whether it is really a boss, consisted of three NPC-style enemies. One Havel-clad warrior, an Alva warrior with a bleed falchion, and a Lucatiel-looking character with a great bow. This fight was truly the biggest challenge I have had in Dark Souls for a long time. It took me several tries to finally defeat them, but the satisfaction of overcoming such a tough enemy felt amazing. Overall, I think the Quality and Quantity of the bosses was perfect, although some players claim the bosses are just re-skinned characters from previous fights.

I am not the best on lore, but I will try my best. From what I could gather from the story, the player is chosen to adventure into a forgotten land to retrieve a crown that was taken by a mighty beast. I do not know the importance of the crown as of yet, but I feel that will be known by the end of the other DLC extensions. Players who returned to the Crypt in the original game found a nice surprise in the form of lore. The Memory of the King took the player back to the point where Vendrick was somewhat stable and still in decent condition. Upon talking to the “revived” Vendrick, the player was told a short story about the fall of Drangleic, the rise of dangerous beings, and how the crown would be useful in bringing balance to the world. I felt like the quality and Quantity of the lore was enough for most players to understand without diving deep into the background of the game. Lore-junkies will have their own opinion about the DLC, which is probably more detailed than mine, but I do not go too far into the lore to understand the meaning of it all.

Overall, the DLC is an exciting and challenging add-on to the game and is well worth the $10 USC. It has brought me hours of enjoyment already, and I believe I will continue to enjoy it as I get more into the co-op and PvP aspects of the game. To everyone out there still debating on whether the DLC is worth it, I will tell you that it is an experience that challenges even the best Soul’s players.

So we’ve finally got the ball rolling. Most people took it as a bit of a surprise when FROM Software announced their decision to make DLC for Dark Souls 2 (whether it was positive or negative surprise is for some reason still a debate though, albeit a minor one). Having been a fan of this series since Demon’s Souls, no news in all of gaming makes me happier than hearing I will have more new Souls content to play. However, “The Crowns of the Kings” not only have alot to live up to, but also alot to make up for. While I don’t think a fan of the Souls series would call Dark Souls 2 a bad game, the general concensus is that while Dark Souls 2 still stands above the shoulders of most AAA releases, it’s solidly the weakest of the three Souls games so far. So not only is this DLC having to follow in the shadows of its predecessor, the outstanding Artorias of the Abyss expansion, it also has to make up for some of those lowered expectations some fans developed due to the seeming step back in quality of the actual game it’s expanding upon. So does the Crown of the Sunken King show promise for the future? Being the first of three expansions only time will tell, but for now let’s take a look at what it offers.

For starters, the DLC really feels like it’s its own entity. There’s tons of clues scattered all over the place building up to it during the main game, and the entrance sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s almost impossible to miss, but still feels a bit isolated. I suppose this is partially inherent to the nature of post-release content, but until the rest of the DLC episodes hit it does tend to provide a few consistency issues with the rest of the game. Not to mention the game sets up all of this buildup for the area, yet pretty much expects you to have finished the game before attempting it, so all those little clues sit there nagging at you until you can finish your build properly. The Sunken City is easily balanced to be equivalent with end-game content, so if you try to take it on before you’re able to tackle areas like the Undead Crypt or the Dragon Shrine pretty handily then the DLC is likely going to be a bit overwhelming. This is a fact made a little upsetting by the fact that you can access the DLC long, long before you reach those points, though I’m sure this will present a major positive for all those challenge runners out there.

What this DLC lacks in terms of accessibility, it makes up for in sheer quality though. A common complaint Dark Souls 2 recieved was that, unlike its predecessors the levels felt rather linear and straightforward. There wasn’t too much to explore and shortcuts were insignificant or nonexistent, while being able to look on the horizon for details about what could be coming up later (a stylistic staple of both Demon’s and Dark Souls 1) provided inconsistent information at best if you could see anything at all. Right from the start of the DLC, as you emerge from a tunnel you’re treated with a view down a cliff face and can see pretty much the entire level sprawling down below you.  With the way they light this one bridge really making you feel like you want to see what’s across it. Then as you proceed along this sloping cliff you accidentally rouse a huge winged creature who swoops away into the level below. So just in the first few moments it’s takes the time to begin building your anticipation for what’s ahead rather than just dropping you into the level proper. This really invokes feeling similar to seeing the castle of Anor Londo after stepping off the first elevator, or having the Red Drake swoop down in front of you in the Undead Burg.

And then as you proceed, you find a bonfire and start the level proper. And oh my Gwyn if they didn’t finally recapture the series’s sense of level design too. Gone is the linear progression where exploration just means “run down that little cranny off to the side there then come back” or “there’s no way you’d ever find this if it weren’t for player messages.” They went with a very interesting concept in that you have to descend through various skyscrapers and parapets opening up bridges between them along the way, eventually finding your way all the way down to the bottom of the valley. And I can say I got genuinely lost multiple times trying to do this, which is something that only happened maybe twice in the main campaign of Dark Souls 2. In terms of exploration, it made me feel as turned around as the Tower of Latria from Demon’s Souls. They also incorporated a platform-moving mechanic that is put to incredibly good use. There was one little section in the first area of the DLC that I spent a good 45 minutes just raising and lowering platforms, trying all the different combinations to look for loot and it eventually even led me to a bonfire. Shortcuts actually loop around through significant spots of the level and are incredibly satisfying to find (unlike a certain tree in a certain Huntsman’s Copse…). All in all, for the first time Dark Souls 2 really felt like a Souls game.

Sunken Crown entrance

My only complaint about the level design comes during this one point near the end of the area where the game starts having you drop down from platform to platform to progress. I’ll give them points for restraint in that they never forced you to make any jumps (there are some side areas that make you jump to them, but they aren’t necessary for progression), but ultimately the mechanics of the Souls games has never been suited to platforming of any kind, and constantly looking around for where to fall to next while hoping it’s not too far or you don’t mess up just slightly isn’t exactly fun in terms of posing a genuine challenge or promoting exploration. It’s just a series of points you have to hit, relying on execution rather critical thinking. What’s disappointing is that the side areas you can jump to here could have provided a method of descent without relying on falling. They consist of a series of similarly-laid-out hallways which surround square structures, occasionally having staircases to move between floors. The whole side areas feel like they’re set up to make you get turned around on yourself, with only minor differences like “which staircases are broken” or “the torches on this floor are lit in these spots.” These side areas made you pay attention to the details to know where you were and where you needed to go because each floor was mysteriously identical EXCEPT for those details. It was a perfect opportunity to preserve that sense of being lost and needing to explore, but was only used for so little of that section, with the rest being assigned to falling “puzzles.” Ultimately though, that area wasn’t long enough to leave any kind of serious stain on my impression of the DLC, and was really more of a minor annoyance if only for what it could have been.

Moving along, I’m sure alot of you aren’t so much interested in the levels as what you’ll actually be fighting. Sadly, I can say in terms of enemy and boss design the DLC kind of falls flat save for one specific exception. There’s really only 4 kinds on new normal enemies introduced throughout the entire span of the level. A bug thing, a witch that casts some hexes, a bunch of poison knights with a few different weapons, and a kind of non-poisonous knight that only shows up near the very end of the DLC. All the enemies have similar amounts of health and are rather predictable in how they’re going to fight. There is the one exception which I was actually very impressed with where there is a kind of enemy who is almost completely invincible unless you solve an environmental puzzle to make them damage-able. This is used twice to very great effect when you first run through as you have to dodge an assault as it puts you in very tense situations where you have to solve a puzzle under the pressure of a swarm of enemies you can’t fight back against until the puzzle is solved. Short of that, though, normal enemy designs are rather generic and not too threatening after your first few encounters.

Sunken Crown phantom enemy

As for the meat of the baddies, the bosses I have to say sadly follow suit with the enemies. There’s a total of three new bosses you can fight in the DLC, and only one of them provides what feels like a really unique and threatening experience. Of the other two, one has quickly and aptly been nicknamed “the Gank Squad” and the other feels like a watered-down version of Nashandra, who herself was a boss without much too her. They do throw in a summoning gimmick to give this boss a unique flavor, but ultimately the fight doesn’t leave that much of an impression. The final boss of the DLC is truly impressive though, and I’d be inclined to say is one of the best bosses in all of Dark Souls 2. It’s intimidating and challenging, and most importantly NOT A HUMANOID WITH A BIG WEAPON. The final fight more than makes up for the unimpressiveness of the other bosses. Let’s just hope the following DLCs can do a bit better overall.

The last big issue to discuss when talking about a Souls game is the lore. Now I’m not the biggest lore nut, but I do enjoy a bit of digging here and there to see what might work together. From what I’ve gathered, the DLC really just raises more questions than it answers. We learn alot of new names, there’s new implications to what previous things could have meant, and very little is really tied back into what we know. It all feels very self-contained, but for now I can forgive this. A decent number of new content was added to the main game that seems to hint that this all might tie in together somehow, and we still have three more pieces of planned DLC on the way that could simply make this first one a smaller part of a bigger picture. Namco Bandai even made a statment that once all the DLCs were released, we would get the biggest story point in all the Souls series explained to us. So while this particular DLC left me with more questions than answers, for now I’ll just embrace the mystery and hope that future DLCs will steadily provide more direction.

So is the DLC worth the $10 asking price? Absolutely. It really feels like the new team behind Dark Souls 2 listened to what fans had been saying in terms of what makes a Souls game a Souls game. They didn’t quite hit every mark, as they still seem to be struggling to make enemies as intersting as what was in the the previous games, but they showed progress and this was really their first attempt. The fact that they’ve remembered and perfectly executed on what makes a level fun to explore bodes well also. For fans of the Souls series this is much more than just a level pack. It’s a promise for the future of the franchise, and one that I think they’ve shown they can follow through on. FROM just needs our continued patience and dedication, and if this is just the start, Artorias and his Abyss won’t be holding the spot of top dogs of DLC for very long.


 

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2 comments on “Review: Crown of the Sunken King – Dark Souls II DLC”

  1. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this guys! We had a very lengthy thread on the community’s opinions of the DLC and overall I find this a good summary given your diverse takes and styles of writing. Share the post on your social media so we get more opinions on this thread! :)

  2. Avatar AEMIII says:

    Very well written reviews and with very little to no spoilers. Excellent work by the authors.


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