Dark Souls II: Crown of the Old Iron King review

FromSoftware’s second entry into The Lost Crowns DLC trilogy for Dark Souls II went live Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. The DLC package plunges players into a towering amalgamation of ironworks and a heavily fortified castle. Here, the player must fight his way through hordes of ash-encrusted hollow knights, 20-foot-tall headless iron giants and a trio of boss encounters that will leave you staring at the “game over” screen more times than you care to count.

First impressions

One of the best things about FromSoftware’s decision to release their DLC content in a trilogy rather than as a single release is the sheer aesthetic diversity. Whereas the sanctum city of Shulva from the last DLC had the look of a dank, limestone-encrusted cavern, the Brume Tower of Crown of the Old Iron King is brimming with burgeoning flames, mountains of ash and chiseled works of stone and iron. Admittedly, I think that the sanctum city was the more impressive of the two, but it’s very engaging and exciting to be in a completely fresh zone.

The rabble that you fight through this time around are a lot more challenging. The last DLC had a lot of enemies which were laughably easy, which didn’t feel good in a game with a combat system that focuses on one-on-one battles. You still get a bit of the last package’s frustrating swarming tactics, but it’s a forgivable design decision.

The biggest challenge comes from the Headless Iron Giants, the shoulders of which “spit” out deluges of fire as they attack. The giants’ attacks are surprisingly difficult to evade, especially when paired with a bone-shattering swing from one of their solid iron clubs. Possessed suits of armor shoot arrows from across the room that move incredibly fast and deal heaps of damage, seriously complicating group combat situations.

Furnishings of stabbing and stab protection

The weapons and armor added this time around are gratuitously cool in both concept and application, and are dramatically more powerful than anything that showed up in Shulva. While I still think that Crown of the Sunken King’s Drakeblood Knight set is one of the best-looking suits of armor in the game, Crown of the Old Iron King adds two new boss armor sets that are absolutely to die for.

Crown of the Old Iron King adds weapons to match the new armor sets, too. The first is a katana that is easily the largest sword in the game. The katana’s two-handed heavy attack plunges the blade into the player’s chest, enchanting the weapon with a dark red aura that substantially increases its damage. Crown of the Old Iron King also adds an abundance of straight swords that I predict will escalate the rarely used weapon class from the bottom of the game’s offerings to the forefront.

Big, strong men who will repeatedly kill you

Of course, as with any Dark Souls content, Crown of the Old Iron King offers some utterly incredible boss fights. The first boss you encounter is Sir Alonne, the namesake of those pesky samurai enemies that dotted the Iron Keep in the main game. Like Sinh, the slumbering dragon of the last DLC, Sir Alonne is easily one of the best boss fights in the entire game and one tough nut to crack. He can shoot shadowy blades of energy out of his katana at you from across the room. He can impale you on his sword, lift you off the ground with it and then gracefully hurl your helpless body to the ground. The very floor of his room shines with the sweat and tears of people that he has wrecked. Sir Alonne is the man.

The next boss you’ll face is Raime the Rebel, the Fume Knight. At the start of the fight he alternates attacks between a fast straight sword and a heaving ultra greatsword, forcing you to learn the techniques for avoiding attacks with each of his weapons. Later on, he discards the smaller sword and lights the bigger one on fire, adopting a completely different move set.

Unfortunately, the awesomeness of the Fume Knight and Sir Alonne is greatly offset by the painful mediocrity of the third boss, an optional battle against a simple reskin of the Iron Keep’s Smelter Demon. This time around, he’s blue and fights you at the end of a nasty gauntlet. I didn’t notice anything different about his attack patterns and was incredibly disappointed that FromSoftware would include such a cheap cop-out for a fight in an otherwise great DLC package.

Beyond that, my biggest complaint about the DLC is the difficulty of getting to some of the bosses. While the Fume Knight was relatively easy to access once you got the hang of the run, Sir Alonne came right after a terrible gauntlet of flame-spitting salamanders and knights. If you’re careless, the enemies are wont to attack you in droves and are likely to whittle down the durability of your weapons, waste your precious recovery items and (of course) kill you. Additionally, the gauntlet includes archers that can take out about half your health with a single arrow from across the room.

Despite these failings, the DLC package as a whole was an incredibly solid experience and added more than a few hours of quality content to the Dark Souls II experience. At ten dollars, Crown of the Old Iron King certainly won’t put a hole in your wallet, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.