Review - Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Sunken King DLC

There's a strange comfort in Dark Souls 2. Sure, it feel impossible at times and has the tendency to aggravate you to controller-throwing fits of rage, but there's such a sigh of relief when you find that bonfire that means you won't have to go through the same series of enemies you've already gone through five times a sixth time. Finding that bonfire is a welcome relief, especially when it's in a brand new area you've yet to explore. From Software's first DLC is called Crown of the Sunken King and it promises bonfires few and far between for your exploration. We checked out the DLC on Xbox 360, courtesy of a review code sent by Bandai-Namco.
Crown of the Sunken King takes somewhere in the neighborhood of six-eight hours to complete. Shulva, Dragon's Sanctum and Dragon's Rest are buried deep beyond Black Gulch, so those of you who either used a Bonfire Aesthetic or have at least one "+" on your game save may have to go through the Rotten again to get to it. Once there though, you'll notice you can use the mysterious new item in your inventory called the Dragon's Talon, which will reveal the path to a series of ruins and buildings that would make M.C. Escher proud. There's an abundance of staircases littered throughout the new area; some complete and offer a "safe" path down, while others require you to jump gaps and stick the landing without rolling off. The world feels like it belongs in Dark Souls 2, which is a testament to the level design. The narrow walkways feel as if they could give away at any moment, while the massive staircases descend lower and lower into the depths. Delving deeper into the ruins in search of the Crown of the Sunken King is, of course, not as easy as just walking down some broken paths.

Aside from the typically painful enemies standing between you and success is something of a puzzle aspect to the DLC. There are switches throughout that you must hit which raise and lower platforms. There are often points where you must hit a series of switches correctly in order to raise and lower the platforms to make a path forward. It's something of a departure from the rest of Dark Souls 2, largely because there is a puzzle solving aspect to the DLC. While it's nice that there are some puzzles as part of the DLC, solving them feels a little haphazard. The platforms themselves are large on their own, but they're dwarfed against the expansive canyon you travel over; this makes it a little difficult to discern the best path forward. Naturally, it's not as simple as moving the platforms and doors (when necessary), as there's quite a few new enemies you're forced to contend with in your switch-hitting.

From Software populated the ruins with some enemies who live up the Dark Souls 2 reputation and are generally a pain to fight. Many of the enemies carry with them poison inducing weapons, but there are three new enemy types which really stand out. The Imperfects are large lizards who are keen on shooting balls of magic at you. Sanctum Knights are entirely ethereal until you find their armor and make them corporeal. Black Drakeblood Knights are extremely fast, keen on blocking and rolling and hit like a truck. There are other enemies throughout the DLC as well, but these three are the ones who will have you offering up your typical Dark Souls 2 angry words of choice. And then there are the two bosses. Elana, the Squalid Queen and Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon punctuate the new area and they live up to the Dark Souls 2 reputation in terms of difficulty. Sinh especially will have you breathing a hearty sigh of relief once you've bested him.

Crown of the Sunken King is very much in the world of Dark Souls 2, even if it's technically an add-on. The world is laid out in a way that encourages exploration; in fact, the interconnected aspect of the area harkens back to Dark Souls in terms of finding (and appreciating) shortcuts. The new enemies offer some fresh combat challenges, although the two bosses share movesets with bosses you've likely already encountered in the game before this point (although Jester Thomas is particularly a pain). Fans of Dark Souls 2 will feel right at home with the DLC as it more or less feels like a microcosm of the larger game as a whole. It's a pretty solid bit of content that takes players back into their own personal torture chamber, clinging to the hope that another bonfire is right around the corner. Or behind an illusory wall. It could go either way.

Crown of the Sunken King is available now for $9.99 on XBLA, PSN and Steam.