Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Dark Souls 2 DLCs - Complete!  


If you read my Top 10 of 2014 post, you'll know that Dark Souls 2 ranks high on my list. I think it's a great game pretty much any way you slice it, and I enjoyed all the time I spent completing the main campaign. I had a few minor problems with it (of course!) but overall, it was fantastic stuff.

I’ve been waiting to crack into the DLC ever since it was announced earlier this year, but due to review responsibilities and the demands of real life, I knew I wouldn't have time for any of until right about… now -- everything that needs to be looked at has been looked at, the write-ups are done, and the madness of the silly season has faded. And really, thank goodness for that.

Anyhow, I took the first available opportunity to jump into all three separate pieces of DLC for Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Sunken KingCrown of the Old Iron King, and Crown of the Ivory King.

For the record I completed all of the DLC, but by ‘completed’ I mean finished the proper last boss and earned the crown from each new section. I did not fight or defeat all of the optional bosses. These DLCs were a bit strange for me because I thought the level design was basically amazing in all three cases. On the other hand, I felt like the devs went off the rails with the bosses. Almost all of them (especially the optional ones I skipped) felt like they were intended to be fought in co-op, and the difficulty was scaled too high. Coming to the content this long after release, I found very few players available to be summoned into my game, and most of the ones I did find were not up to the task at hand. It was rough at times, to say the least.

Anyway, for those interested, here are my final stats after wrapping up the final DLC, and brief summaries of each new area follow below.


Crown of the Sunken King: I heard some people say that they weren't satisfied with this one, but I felt like it was a great place to start. This subterranean level starts off with strong visuals – a tunnel opens up onto a chasm overlooking a temple secreted away in a giant cavern. The devs also made no secret of the fact that there is one big-ass dragon wandering around, and you're going to meet up with him sooner or later. 

This level plays a lot with vertical space, and there are switches which raise and lower platforms, granting access to different parts of the area. This level also features new enemies, spirits that can't be damaged until the player find their corporeal body hidden somewhere else in the level. Although I dreaded running into them, I thought they were a cool idea, and it was quite satisfying to finally find those bodies and rip them all up.

The main boss is the giant dragon that I mentioned earlier. He’s quite mobile, flying around the level and dishing out several swipe attacks and poison gas. Although he looks impressive, I found it was really, really difficult to fight him as a melee, non-magic character. It's not that he was necessarily that difficult, but the camera struggled to keep up with him because he’s so large. It was too hard to keep him on-screen long enough to be able to read his attacks. I honestly don't think the Souls series is built to handle enemies that large (I had the same problem fighting the Giant Lord in the main game) and it was more difficult than it needed to be due to that technical issue.


Crown of the Old Iron King: Another level that plays with vertical space. The entire area is set inside a tall mountain spire with the inside hollowed out to make room for a giant forge, elevators, and some metalworks. This section also features new ‘idols’ which must be destroyed, but the game didn’t a good job of explaining what they are, or what their purpose was. I eventually figured it out by accident, but I felt like it should've been introduced in a more concise way. This is also the area where the developers play a lot with explosive barrels, and observant players will find many opportunities to use flammable enemies to take out our larger threats and expose secrets.

While I enjoyed the area itself, I hit a massive brick wall at the proper boss, the Fume Knight. The Knight is a tall melee combatant with one short sword and one massive greatsword. It seems like a straightforward battle at first and I had no problem getting past his initial phase. However, once he gets down to about 50% life, his greatsword ignites and the hitbox on it seems to multiply to an unreasonable degree. Of course he does massive damage with it, and even one mistimed dodge pretty much ends things.

I have to be honest, I was having real doubts as to whether or not I would be able to finish him, and I tried a lot of things to get an edge; things like experimenting with different weapons (my favored Drangleic Sword +5 was too slow for this battle) and also started trying spears and other various things with different ranges. I eventually decided to use the Black Scorpion Stinger (a rapier) because it was so fast and I was able to enchant it with magic and bring it up to +5 for a very decent level of damage. However, even with that, I still wasn't able to get the job done.

Everyone I talked to had different advice and I tried most of it, but there were two things that put me over the top. First, @Maclark89 suggested I put more points into my ADP stat. I had no idea what ‘iframing’ was but he explained that with more points the window of invincibility during a roll was widened, and that sounded like exactly what I needed. That definitely helped, but the thing that made the biggest difference was that I eventually got frustrated and used one of my rapidly-dwindling human effigies. I got lucky by finding a real person to summon who knew what the hell they were doing, so between the two of us, we were able to make short work of the Fume Knight. It was a huge relief… I was genuinely bracing myself for the idea that I would never be able to finish.


Crown of the Ivory King: Another excellent level, this one is a huge castle complex with a small township at its base, and the entire area is buried under a winter freeze. Snow covers everything, and many parts of the level are closed off by huge ice accumulations blocking doorways and clamping treasure chests shut.

The twist in this area is that the final boss is a huge mob fight followed by a large swordsman. The swordsman is quite easy compared to the other DLC bosses, but getting through that mob was a nightmare. When starting the battle, the game gives one friendly NPC to support you, but the damage it does is pretty minimal, and the AI is not great. It took me a while to figure out, but there are actually three other knights to be found in the level, so it's all about finding these other NPCs to help -- a pretty neat idea, I thought. Once they've been recruited, the fight becomes much more manageable and I blew through it in short order.

Side note, this level also holds an optional mission area the Frigid Outskirts which I didn't even bother to try. I watched a video of it on YouTube and basically said EFF that. Look it up for yourself if you want to see what makes it so crazy, but it seems impossible without a second player, and in general, it looks like FromSoft is (as the British say) taking the piss.


Overall, these three pieces of DLC are generally excellent except for the difficulty problem with some of the bosses (easily remedied if you have access to friends able to join you) but one of the most satisfying things about completing this content is that From decided to take a very small step away from the ‘cryptic, don't-explain-anything’ stance they usually take, and they just came right out and started explaining things. Some Souls hardcores might object, but I've never been very interested in trying to puzzle together the various pieces of lore into some kind of sensible theory… I mean, I don't need a bunch of in-your-face cutscenes explaining everything, but I don't think the series will be harmed by being a bit clearer about certain aspects. Demon’s Souls actually did a great job of that balance -- it was easy to follow, but there were definitely some mysteries left by the time credits rolled. Dark Souls 2 is a little more overt than Demon’s in the DLC, but I’m absolutely not complaining.

Specifically, there's one NPC in Ivory King which tells the player point-blank who she is and where she's from, and that information has a lot to do with the main game. Following that, there is a lengthy discussion to be had with King Vendrick once the player brings him all four crowns. (Including Vendrick’s own, from the main game.)

Vendrick gives a neat item reward for doing so, but the real win here (to me, anyway) was to be able to chat with him and have him explain in perfectly clear terms about what he was doing and what happened in Drangleic. It was a satisfying finish to an excellent game, and gave me some of the closure that did not come in the main game. I mean, when I beat it for the first time, I had no idea who the last boss was, or why I was fighting it. With these new bits of information and some other things that I've come across recently, everything makes sense and I have a newfound appreciation for the level of detail and the depth to which the devs craft their worlds.

(One of my favorite resources? The Dark Souls Two Podcast, highly recommended for anyone who wants a deep, deep dive into the gameplay, level design and lore of this specific game. Highly recommended)

At the end of the day, these three Crown DLCs were all excellent additions to an already-excellent game, and are the kind of additional purchases that I’m glad to make. I’d recommend the trio to anyone who wants more Dark Souls 2, just be prepared for some very stiff, borderline-unfair boss battles… If you plan to go through these new levels, either be a complete badass, or be ready to summon some people to help out.

Just saying…  


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