Following on from the way we travelled back in time to the lost land of Oolacile in the DLC for the first Dark Souls, Crown of the Sunken King once again sends us back into history itself, this time to the days before Vendrick had conquered the land and built the kingdom of Drangleic. We've gone back to acquire the same crowns Vendrick once used to build his kingdom although it's not really clear why we're doing it, but I'm certainly not going to complain the Emerald Herald isn't telling me to "seek lest bear" them anyhow. So mysteriously compelled to travel back in time for no properly explained reason, the first of our ventures to loot these three pieces of magical headware takes us to the Sanctum City Shulva, a sprawling labyrinth of temple ruins that have been slowly corrupted under a lingering miasma spewed forth by a venomous dragon. Because what Dark Souls 2 really needed was yet another poison themed level
. Thankfully though, the status effect isn't too prominent a theme although I'm am still very dissapointed in the wasted potential for some more diversity. At the very least repeating a theme that wasn't already repeated in four areas
in the main game would've been acceptable, but ultimately this concern isn't really about the quality of the DLC so much as a general issue I have with Dark Souls 2's areas, so moving onto the actual content;
What stands out most when you first lay eyes on the city of Shulva is that the level design is very vertical, you're going to be going down and around a lot
and often find yourself stumbling back into areas you've been to previously but from different vantage points, the Sanctum City is chock full of intersecting pathways and more shortcuts than you can shake a sequence break at, which makes it incredibly easy to actually get lost in on your first run. This is only exemplified by the number of switches you'll find throughout that will raise or lower certain platforms or open and close different passages, a large number of which will lead down different paths to the same places, only making it easier to get disoriented in the near maze like city. The second area, Dragon Sanctum
, on the other hand is enclosed and claustrophobic but still packed with doorways linked to switches built onto every surface because ancient architects apparently had far too much time on their hands (I joke as I review DLC for a video game) and the contrast between the two is certainly interesting although I personally feel the first area is honestly much more interesting as it invokes feelings of the layered level design of the first Dark Souls which is something I honestly feel is missing from the sequel, but I will say I appreciated Dragon Sanctum
on account of simply feeling very unique for its emphasis on 'puzzles' as simple and uninspired as they may be, and the enclosed areas certainly made the tougher enemies of the DLC much more threatening encounters.
Speaking of which, there are about six
new kinds of dastardly foes for you to pit yourself against in CotSK but the enemies that populate Shulva are effectively redesigned versions of already existing foes and honestly offer very little in the way of challenge. The individual enemies aren't really the danger in the city, but rather the enemy placement as if you don't pay close attention as you make your way down the sprawling walkways of Shulva you can very easily find yourself flanked, ambushes are scattered about and there's no shortage of Sanctum Warriors around every other corner. It's not until you reach Dragon Sanctum
that you'll start encountering the more interesting and surprisingly challenging foes, one particularly ghastly group stand out for being some of the fastest enemies in the entire game but for the most part there's nothing that's really new
in a meaningful sense, experienced players will quickly learn how to handle enemies that ultimately still follow the same rules most other foes do, and one on one encounters will remain simplistic affairs with the game only ever becoming difficult if you're facing multiple foes at once. Although, I will commend the AI of the Drakeblood Knights
who will actually backstab you for trying to heal in front of them, and seem to have much more precise evading than any other regular enemy in the game. It's a shame they're relegated to the very end of the DLC, if they'd been a present threat throughout both maps then CotSK could've actually been very challenging.
So what of the bigger baddies then? Well there are three
bosses in CotSK, one of which is optional, and although they're all very different to one another, they're also all similar to already existing bosses. They're also challenging and quite a lot of fun to fight, and I'd say that they're a far sight better than the vast majority of bosses the main game has to offer. Relatively speaking you could make a comparison to the disparity in quality between the bosses in the first Dark Souls & AotA and now the bosses in Dark Souls 2 & CotSK. Although in spite of really enjoying the bosses and I do mean that, I'd consider the final boss of the DLC to be one of the best bosses in the Souls series period, it is rather dissapointing that they're all effectively redesigned versions of older bosses, although this could be considered a boon for people who happen to enjoy those fights, if you're a fan of the Kalameet
boss fight in AotA you're certainly in for a treat.
Long review cut short, I had a lot of fun with Crown of the Sunken King, the new areas were a blast to explore, the bosses ranged from fun to fantastic, and I actually really like the art direction of Shulva, the only real let downs for me were the more interesting enemies not getting anywhere near enough exposure in favour of the totally new
Hollow variants, and to some extent the 'recycled' undertone the bosses had to them, even if if the fights are absolutely improvements over the originals. I'm more dissapointed in the missed oppurtunity of what could've been rather than what we got, but what we got was still pretty damn good and absolutely worth ever penny.