Get that flame quartz ring ready.
The Crown of the Sunken King DLC for Dark Souls II provided 6-8 hours of death and despair, and From Software delivers a similar experience with the latest content pack, Crown of the Old Iron King. The second entry in the DLC trilogy contains many of the same strengths and flaws from the first, but the change of scenery and new weapons and items still contribute to an overall compelling experience. It may lack inspiration in spots, but at this point the simplicity of well-produced content is enough to bring Souls fans coming back yet again.
Players gain access to the Crown of the Old Iron King DLC through Iron Keep and the new levels feel like an extension of that area. Whereas the opening temples in the Sunken King DLC focus on poison-based enemies, the Old Iron King content is all about fire and explosions. Let's just say players should bring some flame resistant equipment with them. Iron Keep was one of my favorite hubs in the main game, so I'm happy to see From Software exploring more content that centers on the danger of flames and pyromancy.
The opening area—Brume Tower—provides a unique juxtaposition though. Upon accessing the environment, players will immediately notice snow on the ground. Distant flames contrast the bright white of the snow, which creates a picturesque image. The opening view alone commands the players attention, with its mix of orange sky, flaming cauldrons, and gentle snow. Dark Souls II has always been great about evoking atmosphere and tone with its environment, and Brume Tower is no exception.
The beauty soon dissipates with horrible enemies and devious traps. Once again From Software unleashes a substantial challenge with its DLC, though I did find it a bit easier than Crown of the Sunken King. Nevertheless, players will have to do more than admire the snow. Enemies pop out left and right from the seemingly tranquil ground, and deeper into the DLC awaits even more challenges, especially in the optional Iron Passage. The area concludes with a boss fight against another Smelter Demon, but this hints at some of the issues with Crown of the Sunken King.
I found the boss fights in the previous DLC pack underwhelming and the sentiment remains the same this time around. Nearly all the bosses appear remarkably similar to past Souls enemies, right down to attacks and strategies. There was one boss fight involving a gigantic katana-wielding foe which I loved, but for a game that places so much emphasis on awesome bosses, I was hoping for more.
In fact, some of the environments and enemies in the rest of the DLC suffer from the same issue. A lot of it feels like recycled material and in turn fails to make a strong impression. A significant exception comes in the form of environmental puzzles, which the first DLC introduced. I prefer the verticality of the pillar system in Crown of the Sunken King, but Crown of the Old Iron King establishes its own unique level design in which some areas cannot be safely accessed without finding items or operating devices. It's the kind of obstacle that adds to the experience and helps create some novelty within the new content.
From Software isn't changing the landscape of downloadable content with these additions to the core game, but both Crown of the Sunken King and Crown of the Old Iron King feel like logical additions to the rich and expansive world of Dark Souls II. Old Iron King's focus on fire is a welcome change, and despite some uninspired moments, it has the atmosphere and challenge we've come to expect from the series. Souls fans will likely find something to enjoy here.
Code provided by publisher. Based on PlayStation 3 version. Also available on Xbox 360 and Steam.