Dark Souls II: The Crown of the Iron King (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: August 26, 2014 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
MSRP: $9.99 ($24.99 Season Pass)
Iron King starts off exactly the same way as Sunken King. This time around you'll make your way through fire and brimstone to the Primal Bonfire of the Old Iron King, which will allow you to enter a door and enter the DLC. Almost immediately the zone draws you in, kicking off with a vast expanse of castles, clouds, and a giant imposing chain that leads to the core part of the add-on -- Brume Tower. From there you can touch the bonfire and teleport around to any area at will.
Unlike Sunken King where I had no real attachment to the zone, Old Iron King exhumes lore and nuance. Ghostly whispers in the dark, melted and ash-ridden corpses, and even the types of enemies you'll encounter all tell a story that's relevant to the area you rode in on. Don't expect anything new or mind-blowing -- it simply fits, is all. The imposing bronze-kitted skeletons feel like natural denizens, as do the hulking giants that spew lava from their arms.
One of my favorite new enemy types are the harmless barrel-holding imps, who you can "corral" into fires to blow them up and dish out damage to other baddies. In addition to a set of brand new foes you'll also find the Ashen Idols -- mysterious demons that are impervious to damage unless you strike them with special items called "smelter wedges." You'll get a handful of these items at the start of the DLC, then you're on your own after that.
If you're the type of person who rushes through zones in Souls games, you're going to be disappointed when you conquer the main path in just several hours. But fortunately as someone who loves the spirit of exploration, I found a number of sidepaths, including a giant optional zone that is one of the biggest tests of skill in the entire game. Everything in Iron King thankfully gels with rest of the game both aesthetically, and in terms of overall level design. While there were a few parts of Sunken where I became frustrated and didn't feel as compelled to go on, Iron King sucked me in.
Bosses however are still a problem, re-iterating the biggest issue from the first DLC. They simply either aren't memorable enough on their own, or they're complete re-skins of prior encounters from the core game. That's not to say that they aren't just as satisfying at times as their predecessors, but for a piece of $10 DLC it would be nice to have all-new content.
Crown of the Iron King didn't blow me away, but it's a very nice zone that feels like a natural extension of Dark Souls II, and it's meaty enough to feel like a real DLC and not just a bonus area. Now that there are two DLCs down and one to go, it's hard to really recommend the Season Pass unless the third zone really knocks it out of the park. Stay tuned in September for our coverage of The Crown of the Ivory King.
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