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

In Dark Souls 2, the areas where there are some environmental variables that impact your character's health are some of the more trying. One such area was the Iron Keep. The area was rife with molten lava, flame-spitting statues and rotating platforms. You may think one visit to the area was enough, but From Software doesn't seem to think so. The second DLC for Dark Souls 2 sends players to the sweltering landscape for the Crown of the Iron King. We checked out the DLC on Xbox 360, courtesy of a review code sent by Bandai-Namco.

Accessing the area is relatively straightforward, assuming you've previously paid a visit to the Iron Keep. If so, then returning to the site where you defeated the Old Iron King grants access to the new area. And boy, is it massive in appearance. It may be simply because Crown of the Iron King takes place high up above the lava below and you're in open air, but this DLC feels so much larger than the claustrophobic labyrinth that served as the setting for the Crown of the Sunken King DLC. Brume Tower serves as your introduction to the area and it offers rather sweeping views of a fiery vista. It's part of a series of decaying structures held together by mammoth iron chains large enough for traversing even larger, perilous gaps. The design of the new area feels a little straightforward at first, but about halfway through you get an item that opens up quite a few branching points for exploration.

Most of those new paths simply end up with new items, but one is a completely optional section (Iron Passage) that revisits an enemy previously encountered in the main campaign. Some of the items you find are pretty cool and do add some freshness to your inventory so to speak. You certainly won't really find anything completely gamebreaking, but there's some pretty interesting items nonetheless. The Simpleton's Ring for instance seems to be pretty intriguing, as it makes you invisible through your roll. That ability pays dividends later on. There are quite a few Pyromancy items/spells, which makes sense considering the environment you're exploring.

Enemies are pretty varied and many of them capitalize on the less than temperate settings. Many characters leap from the ash, wielding swords and double axes. Others crawl towards you and explode. And there are others who sport great bows and aren't afraid to use them. Additionally, there are Fume Sorcerers, who are proficient with lightning, teleporting and slowing you down. The barrel carriers transport large explosive barrels and are largely non-threatening, save for the time you're too close to them and a flame-throwing statue. All of those pale in comparison to the bosses of the DLC though, both of whom are very interesting to combat. There are also Ashen Idols polluting the ashen landscape, some of which curse you and heal the enemies around you. There's even a couple of NPC invasions that keep you on your toes.

The Fume Knight is a classic Dark Souls character. He's not extraordinarily hard, but he feels like a boss you would find in the first incarnation of the game. He punishes you for mistakes and demands you learn his timing; otherwise, you're on the wrong end of a mammoth sword swing. The second boss is a little similar in some regards, but demands a different tactical approach to defeat him. With both bosses though, you're going to have to roll. A lot. The optional boss is a different colored version of another boss you previously encountered. His moveset is largely the same (save for some slight timing variations) and the fight feels a lot easier than the first time you fought him. All three bosses emphasize brute force and require the player to time their blocks and evades perfectly, lest you get hammered.

Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Iron King DLC feels much bigger and more open than Crown of the Sunken King, but a lot of that might be psychological based on the overall level designs. The area feels longer than the first DLC too though and the way the area is designed gives way to plenty of exploration. Enemies more or less follow previously seen Dark Souls 2 attack/defense patterns, not really offering too many surprises. The bosses though are worthy of being included in the franchise, rewarding the player for meticulously plotting out a plan of attack and exuding patience. Overall, Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Iron King DLC is a pretty welcome return to the world of Dark Souls, even if it is at the expense of yet another fallen king.

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