Last month's Dark Souls 2 DLC, Crown of the Sunken King, stood as a swift kick in the pants to anyone who thought FromSoftware had been taking it too easy on their victims. The game's main campaign managed to crush countless players under its boots, of course, but this additional content revived some of the more challenging aspects absent since the original.
That said, Crown of the Old Iron King doesn't feel quite as fresh and exciting as Sunken King, simply because all of Dark Souls 2's DLC seems to be following the same design philosophy. So far, each chunk of new content has restored the dense, vertical level layouts we loved so much in the first Dark Souls, added a nifty environmental gimmick to keep our brains churning, and concluded with some of the most harrowing boss fights the series has ever seen. Crown of the Old Iron King even includes the same type of uber-hard co-op-focused area accessible by even those who didn't invest in the DLC. It's a sound formula, and more Dark Souls is always welcome—even if Old Iron King doesn't feel as novel as Sunken King did a month ago.
Old Iron King ditches the dank underground tombs of the last DLC for a completely different landscape: the ash-kissed remnants of colossal towers situated atop a volcano. In case you couldn't have guessed, the main element in play within Old Iron King is "fire," and there's plenty of it. Though this area can be accessed immediately after the lava-filled Iron Keep, the challenges lurking beyond its threshold are intended for the highly skilled, or overly prepared. I hovered around level 120 throughout my playthrough, and felt Old Iron King provided a pretty reasonable level of difficulty, though you might not find it quite as fair if you drop by earlier.
Sunken King provided plenty of memorable enemy encounters, and thankfully, Old Iron King continues this Dark Souls 2 DLC tradition. While most of the enemies you'll fight are the same brand of humanoid equipped with a handful of different weapons, Old Iron King often tasks you with successfully blitzing past foes instead of taking them on. Similar to a mechanic in Sunken King, Old Iron King's Brume Tower features plenty of enemies that can't be defeated for good until the environmental object prolonging their life is found and destroyed—and the items used in this act must be tracked down as well. Some of the most exciting moments of the DLC had me juking around and running through the legs of deadly enemies, desperately trying to find the burning effigies powering their endless resurrections. If FromSoftware ever wanted to branch out and make a football RPG, the action found in Crown of the Old Iron King would serve as good foundation.
Though the level design in Old Iron King doesn't feel as complex as Sunken King, the DLC manages to change its scenery to provide some relief to those tired of staring down poorly lit hallways. Old Iron King's interconnected towers pack a ton of content within their rounded walls, and like any good Souls level, progress is made by gradually unlocking a series of shortcuts to make future progress smoother. And since most of your navigation takes place within a single, vertical space, figuring out a way to zip from the bottom to the top after hours of playing feels incredibly rewarding, just as Dark Souls should.
Even after producing so much Dark Souls content over the past three years, it's nice to see FromSoftware hasn't lost any momentum. Old Iron King might contain the type of recycling that's common in DLC, but its design offers way more than a cheap cash-in for Souls fans. That said, with this second piece of extended content, Dark Souls 2 is beginning to feel a little predictable, which is antithetical to the spirit of the series. One more DLC should hold us over until Bloodborne hits in 2015, though I'm hoping the developers are a little more experimental for their series finale.
Old Iron King's Brume Tower offers some breathtaking vistas, giving it a little more visual flair than the Crown of the Sunken King.
As always, sound is used sparsely and effectively in Dark Souls, and Old Iron King is no different.
Thankfully, no surprises here. Old Iron King feels like Dark Souls should.
Just like the last DLC, Old Iron King offers a lot for your ten-dollar investment, and could take anywhere from 6-10 hours to make the most of it.
If you're on board for another round of Dark Souls DLC, you know what you're in for: A few interesting twists here and there, and a revival of certain elements from the last game, but nothing revolutionary. If you simply want more Dark Souls 2, Old Iron King delivers just that, and with all the thoughtfulness you'd expect from its developers.