I've never been the biggest fan of DLC—when I'm done with a game, I'm typically done with a game. Of course, my attitude would be different if add-on content strove for ambition, but, outside of some rare exceptions, it's typically engineered to deliver an extra helping of the same experience to players still hungry for more. But Dark Souls has to be different.
Just as the first two installments of the Souls series upended the conventional wisdom of gaming, Dark Souls 2 proved DLC didn't have to be an afterthought designed to fleece fans 10 to 15 dollars at a time. With the Crown trilogy, developer FromSoftware made it their mission to deliver entirely new experiences to the Dark Souls crowd, while actively addressing some common criticisms of the core game. If you love Dark Souls 2, both Crown of the Sunken King and Crown of the Old Iron King contain some of the greatest fights and most memorable moments of the series—an amazing feat for so-called "optional" content.
If you've been worried FromSoftware would run out of steam with Crown of the Ivory King, the final chunk of Dark Souls 2 content, allow me to allay your fears: As with the last two volumes of the trilogy, Ivory features the same thoughtful design, environmental puzzles, and harrowing enemy encounters you've come to expect. And, just like with its predecessors, you can't always rely on prior Souls knowledge, since this content tries its hardest to place you in situations you've never seen before. If you're expecting Ivory to act as a Rosetta Stone for the game's cryptic storyline, you may walk away a bit disappointed, but—come on—this is Dark Souls we're talking about. Just wait a week, and some kind person will explain it all via the magic of YouTube.
While the "ice level" stands as one of the oldest traditions in video games, it's rarely been used in Souls. The original Dark Souls had The Painted World, but its snow-kissed environments didn't slow your progress any more than running across grass or rock would. Ivory King takes a different approach, and drops the player into a castle-contained snowstorm that lowers visibility, freezes over treasure chests and doors, and blocks off paths with impassible snow boulders. Thankfully, you won't be slipping and sliding across the ice, but the blizzard also makes certain enemies invisible—in an effect identical to the transparent enemies in the Shaded Woods—which can cause some major problems, especially when said enemy is a boss. (Yes, they did that.)
FromSoftware has used the Crown Trilogy as a chance to really toy with environments, and their efforts on Ivory stand as the most impressive yet. Once you manage to stop the snowstorm via actions I won't detail here, the DLC effectively doubles in size, since those treasures, doors, and passageways become freed from their icy prisons. Calming the weather also changes formerly docile enemies into hostile ones, so revisiting old areas also brings brand-new twists to enemy encounters.
Combat may focus on the same type of themed, humanoid soldiers you took on in the last DLC installment, but they seem a little more versatile this time around, as many now have strategies for both close and long-distance fighting. Some of the most terrifying enemies, however, come in tiny packages, like (what can only be) FromSoftware's tribute to Sonic the Hedgehog. Even after besting 2-3 armed soldiers at once, I died an embarrassing amount of times being careless in one-on-one fights against those demonic rodents—their spin-dash cuts through you just like the infamous bonewheel skeletons of Dark Souls. There's plenty of great NPC invader fights in Ivory as well, and just like with Sunken King and Old Iron King, FromSoftware's made some improvements to AI in order to make their behavior harder to predict. One guy didn't seem like he wanted to attack me, so I left the scene—only to have him stab me in the back while I threw a switch.
Ivory King also delivers in terms of boss fights, including a visually spectacular finale that fills the screen with more players and enemies you've ever seen in a Souls game. Just like the bosses of the last two DLC installments, Ivory King's pose a much bigger challenge than anything found in the core game, and will leave you cursing and burning through your limited supply of human effigies in the hopes you'll summon someone who'll survive longer than a minute.
Really, the only disappointing thing about Ivory King can be found in its special co-op area, which follows Dark Souls 2 DLC tradition by being ultra-hard while placing an extra emphasis on working together. Just like with Old Iron and Sunken King, the difficulty of this area lacks the grace and thoughtful design of the surrounding game, so I've never felt the greatest desire to take on these optional challenges. This one places you smack-dab in the middle of a complete whiteout as demonic reindeer attack from all sides, which feels a bit too similar to the Shaded Woods area of Dark Souls 2—though not nearly as brief or fun. Thankfully, the rest of Ivory King is meaty enough on its own, so you can skip this bit of the DLC without missing much.
It's hard to believe Dark Souls 2 has only been out for around six months; in that short span of time, I've racked up over 250 hours across the PS3 and PC versions, and, like any Souls devotee, I don't think this obsession will end anytime soon. And Ivory King only reinforces my love for the series, since it proves FromSoftware still has plenty of ideas left to inflict on their willing audience. As long as they continue to improve and innovate, I'll gladly be on board for Dark Souls 3—or whatever they have waiting for us after Bloodborne.
Ivory King offers a setting rarely seen in a Souls game, and the world of Eleum Loyce contains some of the most visually stunning environments of the series.
Nothing surprising, though the sound design of Ivory King helps reinforce the bone-chilling atmosphere by means of an oppressive wind that constantly howls around you.
If you've played Dark Souls 2 for this long, you should know what to expect at this point.
There's a lot to dig into here, and plenty of reasons to take the amazing treasures of Ivory King into new game plus to clean house in the core game. Start planning your Bone Fist playthroughs today.
If you've been playing through the Dark Souls 2 DLC up to this point, Ivory King offers plenty of reasons to see the last of what FromSoftware has to offer. It features the same focus on new experiences and terrifying boss fights as the past two Crown installments, tucked into a setting that's atypical for a Souls game. Once you tie the bow on Dark Souls 2, the only thing left to do is start counting down the days until Bloodborne.