Stace Harman strays back into the gaping maw of Dark Souls 2′s DLC, Crown of the Sunken King. Is it worth spending your hard-earned souls on the new content?
Dark Souls 2 DLC
The Lost Crowns Trilogy DLC for Dark Souls 2 consists of: Crown of the Sunken King, available from July 22 – Crown of the Old Iron King, available from August 26 – and Crown of the Ivory King, available from September 23. A season pass is also available.
Each of the DLC packs will be accessed from a specific location within the main game – in a manner similar to the ethereal Memories of the Ancients – with Crown of the Sunken King being reached through the toxic caves of Black Gulch.
Each episode will bring with it new enemies, bosses and items. Each will be set in a new location.
Game play footage of Crown of the Sunken King can be seen through here
I know my way around a Souls title. I’ve completed all three games (pauses for applause) and my recent run through Dark Souls 2 took around 80 hours, during which I partook in a fair bit of PvP and defeated the majority of the optional bosses.
So, when Dark Souls 2 global producer Atsuo Yoshimura tells me that a section of Crown of the Sunken King – the first of three DLC packs planned for Dark Souls 2 – that I’ve just spent 30 minutes cautiously negotiating was intended by From Software to represent 10 minutes of gameplay, I’m not sure whether to laugh in disbelief or cry at my apparent ineptitude.
This 10, 30 or however many minutes it might be stand as much as a test of nerve as of combat prowess. Despite being set underground in a huge, well lit cavernous space, this opening section is just as difficult to negotiate as the multi-tiered, inky black of The Gutter and every bit as perilous as I go toe to toe with enemies in as the waterlogged Shrine of Amana.
“I’ve just spent 30 minutes cautiously negotiating what was intended by From Software to represent 10 minutes of gameplay. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.”
A series of switches are scattered throughout the level and serve to raise and lower platforms or to conjure them out of the wall to connect to the existing bedrock. However, such is the puzzling nature of the level and the location of some of the switches that flipping one to raise a platform in one location may hinder your progress once you’ve activated another.
Reading between Yoshimura’s guarded comments it seems that each of the upcoming DLC packs will highlight a particular element of the Souls series masterful design. In Crown of the Sunken King, that focus is evidently on environmental puzzle-solving and seeking a true path amidst the Escher-style maze of interlinking pathways, while being harassed at every turn by enemies, both at range and up close on narrow ledges.
“The main concept of these three DLCs is first and foremost to provide three different situations and as you can see from this first piece the setting is quite different,” highlights Yoshimura.
“The team has taken a lot of inspiration from South American culture in terms of monuments and detailing and that’s something that’s not available in the main game, in that sense it’s pretty new but we want to make sure that the basic game play is the same as in the main game.”
The comparisons are evident and here it’s the environment that makes combat dangerous, rather than the enemies themselves. Such is the sudden drop-away in many areas that players who like to lock on and keep moving around their opponents must be careful of ranging too far in any one direction lest they vanish into the abyss.
The skeletal soldiers that make up the bulk of the enemies in this opening section come equipped with bow and arrow, sword and shield or charging lance and while they aren’t particularly tough on their own they seldom appear without back-up, often opting to fire of a volley of arrows while you’re negotiating one of the many walkways and ledges that fall away into nothingness while their allies crowd you up close.
Similarly, giant, pustule-riddled flying insects serve more to harass you than to proactively end your life but while none of the early enemies are outrageously tough it is, as ever, about choosing the right tool for the job (there’s also one particularly nasty variation of a familiar menace and veterans of Black Gulch will groan to encounter its iridescent green visage here). The challenge is tough but fair, just as it should be.
“We’re paying a lot of attention to game play balance,” Yoshimura assures me later. “We’re going to be releasing the DLC patch files to everyone, not just those that buy the DLC, to ensure that all the brand new items in the DLC will not negatively impact the main game.
“Of course, these items can be taken back and forth between the DLC and the main game and those that don’t buy the DLC will still have the opportunity to access those.”
“We’re going to be releasing the DLC patch files to everyone, not just those that buy the DLC.” – Atsuo Yoshimura, producer
There’s no sign of those new items during my play through and Yoshimura is not in a sharing mood when I ask him about them. Nor do I manage to pry from him details on a particularly intriguing set-up that he alludes to in which players without the DLC will still be able to invade or be summoned into the world of those who do, while they are negotiating the new environment. Apparently, this will be restricted to players on a second, more challenging path through the level, which only opens up once you’ve completed the main path and fulfilled certain, currently mystery, criteria.
What Yoshiumura does say is that FROM Software expects the main route to represent around 2-3 hours of game play, with the challenging path coming in at about the same (although with an estimate of 10 minutes for my 30 minutes of play, it’s anybody’s guess how accurate that is). Both Crown of the Old Iron King and Crown of the Ivory King are expected to be a similar length and, all told, The Trilogy of The Lost Crowns is expected to weigh in at around 1.5 times the size of the Artorias of the Abyss DLC content of the first Dark Souls.
What’s more, the release dates for all three DLC packs have already been set and because of the manner in which they link to the main game from separate locations rather than directly to one another, you can pick and choose which packs you partake in.
“We’re really working on a tight schedule,” Yoshimura admits. “Coming up with enjoyable game content that’s well balanced and represents a challenge for experienced players has been a challenge for the team, but it’s one they enjoy.”
Time is irrelevant in the Souls universe (except for speed-running, glitch-exploiting maniacs like this), and whether that opening section really should take 10 minutes or is closer to my slow-ass 30 minutes, it’s apparent that this is more of the Souls that we all know and love.
As such, I’ll be counting down the days to the Crown of the Sunken King’s July 22 release and look forward to venturing back into Drangleic.
Part one of this three-part Dark Souls 2 DLC is set for release on July 22 on PC and 360, and July 23 on PS3.