The biggest criticism leveled at Dark Souls 2 was that it was too easy. Players who had spent hundreds of hours in the first game found that many of the same tactics worked in the sequel. Maybe you had to dodge left instead of right to get past the Pursuer s sweeping arc, but generally speaking, the old tricks still worked.
I thought about this as I died again while playing Crown of the Sunken King, the first part of From Software s three-piece downloadable content set. My old tricks failed time and time again, forcing me to relearn enemy patterns and try new tactics. For Dark Souls diehards, that s a good thing, though you ll have to slog through some drab environments.
Sunken King adds a new item to your inventory: a dragon claw with a cryptic clue in its description. That item should lead you to the new content area, grafted onto the Black Gulch, behind where players fight The Rotten. That means you can t get into Sunken King until Dark Souls 2 s halfway point, and even then, you might want to hold off until you have better gear. Use the dragon claw at the new altar beyond the Rotten s arena and you ll be brought to the new area. If you drop a summon sign here but don t own the DLC, you can still be summoned in as a phantom. Think of it as a demo.
That sinking feeling
The new content is split into three areas, starting with Shulva, the Sanctum City. I cross narrow ledges, activating platforms to reach areas, and spend more time jumping than in the base game. It never approaches platformer status, but I like the new emphasis on verticality. Enemies attack from above or below more frequently than before, and some of the best secrets in the early areas are discovered by trying to access rooms far above the ground. There are new environmental dangers here, too, and a better focus on puzzles and switches.
Sunken King s enemies are all brand new, too. The basic Sanctum Soldiers are so heavily-armored and tightly grouped that I quickly had to abandon my magic-based build for a sword-and-board approach so I could parry attacks and do more damage. There are insects that spit corrosive gas and are far easier to kill, and undead witches that are strong against dark damage. Massive, blind bipedal dragons guard a later bonfire, and take a tremendous amount of effort to kill. If I aggroed two at a time, one was guaranteed to chew on my bones.
Fighting these new enemies was genuinely difficult. Sanctum Knights start off incorporeal, immune to physical damage quick to hack through you with their dual blades. It wasn t until I discovered how to make them substantial that I could take one more than one at a time, and any time I heard a new phantom baddie, I was genuinely fearful for my stash of souls.
A few of the new knights have movesets remarkably close to your own. Dodging, parrying, and blocking these warriors felt more like PvP duels than cutting down mindless zombies.
Sunken King includes two new boss battles (three if you count an optional group of NPCs). Both are more creative than many of the basic game s guardians, who were often melee-based and easy to dodge in the early game. I won t spoil either fight, but I will point out that there are two NPC summons for each fight, which helps even the odds, and one battle takes place in front of one of the most beautiful areas From has ever designed.
Unfortunately, that s one of only a few standout landmarks in Sunken King. Most of the content is played against grey, monochrome environments that wear down on you after repeated deaths. Aside from a few key moments, the drabness of these areas makes pushing through a slog. Early on, I was concerned that I wouldn t even want to continue to the end. Dark Souls 2 has few moments that drag, but there were points in Sunken King where the momentum slows to a crawl.
But I pushed through, and when the final boss was down and the crown of the Sunken King sat upon my head I had played through ten solid, satisfying hours of new Dark Souls. For the devoted, that s a hell of a deal, and there are still two more chunks of content incoming, with even better-looking environments and a few new lore details. Sunken King won t do anything to convince you to play Dark Souls 2 if you don t already love it, but stays consistently challenging for even veteran players.
Price: $10/ 8, $25/ 20 for Season Pass
Release date: Out now
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: From Software
Multiplayer: Online co-op and PvP