Avoid the icy grip of death.
A lot of early Dark Souls II discussions centered on comparisons to the previous two entries in the series (including Demon's Souls), but FromSoftware managed to regain some control of the post-release narrative with its DLC trilogy. While there are still people out there who lament the feeling that Dark Souls II doesn't quite live up to its predecessors, the recent downloadable content allows players to appreciate Dark Souls II as an enjoyable experience in its own right. Though Crown of the Ivory King features many of the same issues as the last two pieces of content, it contributes to that overall experience and provides a fitting end to the recent Souls saga.
Once again an element provides the central foundation for the DLC, and this time it's ice. Whereas the elements in the previous two DLC releases—poison and fire, respectively—pose an immediate threat, the ice motif hints at something more subtle in which the environment itself and the questions it raises plays a more pivotal role. Why are there giants and mimics trapped in ice? What exactly is the history of this place?
The specific place is Eleum Loyce, a frozen city that houses plenty of mysteries and threats. It strikes me as a mix of Anor Londo and the Painted World of Ariamis with its simultaneously grand and snowy structures. In fact, the abundance of snow does more than just create an unnerving white backdrop. It lowers the visibility and poses its own challenge, as if fighting off giant ice enemies isn't enough. The snowy terrain also works as a refreshing palette swap from Crown of the Old Iron King and its focus on fire and explosions. Artwork and environmental design are two of Dark Souls II's greatest strengths, and the transition from one piece of downloadable content to the next showcases an impressive amount of versatility.
Unfortunately not all of Crown of the Ivory King touts that same amount of versatility and inspiration. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but recycled enemies and uninspired boss fights once again stand out as the biggest negatives in an otherwise great release. I was specifically reminded a lot of familiar crystal enemies while playing through the DLC, and the few new enemies made brief and rare appearances. The bosses do little to impress, with two fights against “pets” and a more traditional foe. The circumstances surrounding those fights provide Crown of the Ivory King's most memorable moments, though.
Players will want to find an important item before taking on one of the aforementioned pets, and a descent into chaos will require the help of some friends before the momentous finale. I don't mean summons, though—players have to free a series of knights to aid them in a large-scale encounter against multiple enemies. All of this occurs amidst the backdrop of a more detailed narrative, in which an ominous voice warns the player to not venture further. These little touches signify a willingness to branch out within the familiar Souls formula, and the recruitment process/ensuing battle in particular represents my favorite moment in the entire DLC trilogy.
It seems fitting that FromSoftware ends its DLC trilogy in the snow rather than some hellish landscape or poison-infested shrine. Sure, I died plenty of times while playing Crown of the Ivory King, but I also remember the sense of accomplishment that contrasts those deaths. The reward: a quiet moment of solitude in the snow, as I reflect on my victories and my time spent with the DLC trilogy.