Beautiful as they were, the mostly dank stone sprawls of Crown of the Sunken King and Crown of the Old Iron King presented familiar territory. For the third and final slice of Dark Souls 2 DLC, From Software takes you somewhere you’ve never been in Dark Souls—a winter wonderland.
Snow! Besides the brief Painted World of Ariamis, there’s never been snow in a Souls game. To get there, once you have the frozen flower in your possession, visit the Shrine of Winter and use the warp. The opening vista is typically grand. ‘Gorgeous view ahead’ messages litter the ground before an arctic version of the Grand Canyon.
The white stuff is a new element at play. It records your footprints. It coats your armour. It limits visibility. Melt through it though and you’ll find conventional mapping underneath. It’s no coincidence the long bridge before an imposing set of doors leading into the DLC proper recalls the start of Demons’ Souls. And inside is a complex of walkways, locked doors and corridors—yet another trap-filled fortress from the same mould as the last two expansions.
Still, there’s plenty of juicy new story to tuck into. Past the entrance you’ll see the kingdom of Eleum Loyce looking not unlike Anor Londo with a few coats of white Dulux. The fiction goes that this was once a thriving metropolis, but it’s long since fallen into ruin. It’s your job to quell the evil and reignite the fire.
As always, there are multiple paths but only one right one. Wander astray and you risk meeting a sudden end at the hands of an invisible monster. The correct route brings you up against a series of icy new enemies, rampart soldiers with crystalline spears and frozen protrusions on their back. One-on-one they’re simple enough, providing you’re a healthy level. I recommend at least level 70.
Down in a courtyard sit stray ice dogs, basically skin swaps of existing enemies that attack the same way. There are also icy takes on everyone’s favourite, the pinwheel, in the form of wintry hedgehogs that do roly polys. Cute, but deadly. Push a little farther and you’ll discover more enigmatic nasties.
Hooded witches dot the place, kneeling passively and in total disinterest of your presence. While I’ll leave others to ponder their backstory, in function they’re a bit like Heide Knights, dormant until disturbed then attacking with aggression. When they gang up with rampart spearmen and golems, their backstabs can pose problems.
The road to the boss feels shorter and more linear than the last two DLC instalments until you factor in the amount of easy-to-miss nooks and crannies hiding goodies. Some are frozen over, prompting various comical orange soapstone comments. On the ground in front of an ice-encased mimic, someone’s written "Poor fool".
You’ll reach the first boss in less than an hour. A deadly creature is revealed with the right item, and it’s fierce, attacking with healthbar-depleting bites and homing crystal soulmasses. Like the rest of the DLC, a co-op buddy or two are highly advised. Though, I don’t understand why bosses always gravitate towards me when I sit at the back of the arena chugging Estus juice. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an actual measure by From Software to punish cowardice.
The highlight of the DLC is delivered by a stunning foray into a cathedral, which I won’t spoil. Both of the last two Crowns seem to treat players to a visually incredible room after the sometimes drab trawl through tight hallways, and Ivory King is no different. It also has a fantastic finale. Throughout the expansion you’ll occasionally stumble across imprisoned Loyce knights. Release them and they’ll aid you in the battle. With several AI buddies fighting a boss’s backup, as well as two co-op companions thrown in the mix, you'll experience some impressive confrontations.
Again, it’s a fight only the truly hardcore will win alone. Do so and you’ll complete your crown collection, but it’s not the end of the DLC. The Frigid Wastes await. They fulfill the promise of promotional screens, a broad, featureless tundra to tackle as unseen horrors stalk through a thick blizzard.
Your haul at the end of it all? Disappointing. There are ten armour pieces in all, but few any self-respecting adventurer would actually wear. The symbol of avarice is a chest with a great flopping tongue hanging out, and the old bell helm is, well, a bell—without eyeholes—you wear on your head. The Ivory King set just about excuses the abundance of paltry hats and robes. Shields are equally weak, with just four in total. Weapons save it from being a total washout. There are 15 to find, and with rapiers, staffs, greatswords and bone fists, most characters will find one that suits their build.
And with that, so ends our Dark Souls 2 journey. The Crown trilogy haven’t been the most filling morsels. Unlike Dark Souls’ Artorias of the Abyss, they feel superfluous to the main show, something scooped off the cutting room floor. It’s still Dark Souls, and it’s still brilliant, but the Ivory King is a similar deal to the last two—a solid five-hour chunk of adventuring in another enemy-filled fortress. Like its wintry setting it might leave you a bit, well, cold.