The main character in the Dark Souls series has always been the world itself. Whether you’re exploring dark crypts, forgotten kingdoms, or overgrown forests, the unpredictable and terrifying environment is central to the Dark Souls experience. Never has this been more true than with the final chapter of the Dark Souls 2 Crown of the Lost Kings DLC trilogy, The Crown of the Ivory King. The conclusion takes place in Eleum Loyce, a frigid, frozen wasteland with enemies hiding around every corner. The Crown of the Ivory King stands out as the strongest of the chapters in the Lost Crowns Trilogy (which were already largely more fun than the vanilla Dark Souls 2 game), in what I would consider to be the most challenging Dark Souls experience yet.
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Eleum Loyce is vastly different from any of the areas we’ve visited in a Dark Souls game. Blizzards obscure the player’s vision of their surrounding area, a creepy voice warns the player to turn back after they overcome each new obstacle, and enemies and treasures lay buried beneath ice, only uncovered once the player can thaw the area out. Enemies come in a wider variety than any of the areas we’ve seen before, and are unforgiving—even outnumbering the player ten-to-one in some cases. Some enemies come in a ghostly form that cannot be harmed by the player’s weapons, while others sneak up behind the player for a backstab while they they try to open a chest.
The bosses in Crown of the Ivory King are also some of the most challenging I’ve ever fought, the final boss in particular who probably killed me more times than the entire core game of Dark Souls 2. Some of these fights aren’t straightforward either, and require preparation and exploration/puzzle completion during combat in order for the player to win at all. Best of all, you’ll be fighting a minimal amount of humanoid enemies when it comes to the bosses, so fans of unpredictable creatures should rejoice.
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The biggest factor that sets Crown of the Ivory King apart from Dark Souls 2 and the previous DLCs is that it has a damn good story. Unlike the disappointingly straightforward story of the core Dark Souls 2 game, Crown of the Ivory King draws the player in with subtle clues throughout the game, and eventually gives the player a story-based motivation to get back up again after each death. Like most things in Dark Souls, all of this is better-off if I’m vague about it, but players should rest easy knowing that their struggles carry context and will not go unrewarded.
If there is anything to be disappointed about with Crowns of the Ivory King, it’s that I want even more. The new areas, enemies, and bosses are great, but can be navigated and beaten within a matter of hours (not including the various attempts at a single boss fight). This DLC also seems to offer the fewest amount of new items and equipment than any of the previous add-ons to Dark Souls 2. While usually I find myself pleading for the end of a particularly troubling section of Dark Souls, Eleum Loyce left me wanting more, which was a bittersweet feeling.
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