Release date: Out now
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: From Software
Multiplayer: Online Competitive and Co-Op
Link: Official Site
The first add-on for Dark Souls 2 restored some of the original Dark Souls' legendary difficulty, but The Crown of the Old Iron King, part two of From Software's trilogy of DLC, doesn't follow suit. Instead, it evokes the sad, forgotten, wistful feeling I got in the first game's world. It's built to be explored, with lots of optional areas that branch off the DLC's main path, and that comes at the cost of difficulty.
The Crown of the Old Iron King refers to one of Dark Souls 2's main bosses, and it explores the kingdom he ruled over. Since the Old Iron King was a creature consumed by fire, his world is a kingdom of ash and soot, and that ash is an ever-present reminder that the DLC's world is completely dead. It's a feeling that contrasts with the 'alive and growing' feel of Majula from the main game, and a throwback to the exploratory vibe that I loved in the first Dark Souls.
I love the use of fire and ash in Old Iron King. Its new enemies are bathed in it, from the massive guardians that spew fire from their sides as I roll past to the charred undead carrying barrels that explode when ignited. I used this to my advantage in a heavily-protected room, luring the barrel-wielders in and hitting them with fire arrows. The resulting explosion leveled the massive armored guardians in the room, who would have otherwise smashed me to mush. Later, in a dark, foreboding corridor, I encountered crawling Ashen soldiers who light themselves on fire and grab on to me before exploding—From's version of Mario's bob-ombs. The noise they make is unnerving.
I also spent much of my five hours clomping through ash fields, almost as pure as driven snow, or stomping on the crumbling remains of the kingdom's doomed inhabitants. Brume Tower, the main area, is covered in the stuff, hiding enemies until they're ready to ambush you or some of the DLC's many new items. It's a constant reminder that you're far too late to save this world, and a great throwback to the ultimate confrontation in Dark Souls. I loved the first game, and I got a nice nostalgia boost from exploring the ruins here.
That's important, because I had to focus on exploration to get the most of this new area. The path to the one required boss before you grab the crown is surprisingly straightforward—especially compared to Crown of the Sunken King. The other areas are tucked away, and while they're not required, they contain new items, spells, and weapons From has hidden away. That rewards playing methodically instead of rushing past enemies to get to the boss. The boss isn't the point this time around—the world is.
None of this changes the game dramatically: Crown of the Old Iron King still plays like Dark Souls 2, even if the focus is more on the area I'm exploring than the boss I'm trying to dodge. I like that these DLC packs reward faithful Dark Souls 2 players, not just with new challenges but with improved items and equipment. I wish the boss fights, and even the normal enemies, were a little tougher—Old Iron King feels far easier than Sunken King, which arrived alongside big balance changes to the combat—but just because pro players won't die repeatedly at fog gates doesn't mean they shouldn't play this. Treat it as a stroll down memory lane.