When the first Dark Souls received its additional content, it was pretty much a swan song for the game. Many had rung out the joy sponge after finding everything the vanilla game had to offer, and the adventures into Artorias’ Abyss were something completely new and different to tackle – and were received with delight by fans of the series.
It has only been six months since the release of Dark Souls 2, and the first of three parts of DLC has just been released in the form of Crown of the Sunken King, and I find myself beckoned once more into the realm of Drangleic and the deeper mysteries of Shulva. I must admit, I’m slightly concerned that this is going to become a regular occurrence and that the only game I’ve completed this year (because I adored it so much ) is going to be watered down by continual content releases for the sake of the money. Because, let’s face it, you’ve already bought this. You would have bought it even if you’d read this review first and I’d given it a 3 out of 10, because it’s more Dark Souls 2.
I’ve listened to the those who say the name was tainted already by the things that Dark Souls 2 did incorrectly: the onslaught by groups of enemies, the repeated corridor layout that ended in a boss too many times, the bosses themselves being samey in their attack patterns or simply relying too much on double teaming instead of skill. There was no real story, people said. There was no real depth.
Well, From Software have listened to those same people, those with the disappointed faces and self-justified opinions. It’s almost like From has put a hand round their shoulder and said: “Have a butchers at this, me old China, and tell me why you can’t smile.” I’ll not spoil too much. Even the walk to Shulva sets the anticipation levels by showing you this place once lived and breathed, but has been broken and corrupt for some time.
When I got to Shulva, I’ll admit it, I wowed. I’ll leave it to you to see why. It’s the first reassurance that this is different, or maybe more like how things were. The first enemy is tough, taking more than the two hits I’ve been dealing out so far to take the bad guys down. He’s easier to backstab, and falls once I’ve circled him and delivered some macey goodness. Further on up the hill, there is a frown as I see a group of them. Some things maybe haven’t changed.
A glowing pillar ahead of me, which I hit through curiosity, turns out to be a switch. It evens up the odds by hitting the group with a massive rising stone monolith. Looking around, the immediate area seems to have these switches dotted all around. This is new. This has changed the game into some kind of interconnecting spacial puzzle. This is more than even Dark Souls ever did.
The switches are present throughout the rest of the DLC in various forms, and are a welcome addition, adding some depth to the usual “kill the enemies, keep moving forward” routine that we are all too used to. Whether it’s to raise a platform to find the way forward, or open a door to a hidden bonfire, you’ll be clearing an area of enemies just to allow exploration to find them.
I would suggest you equip a bow and arrow as otherwise you’ll find things tricky to reach. I found myself feeling daft after missing a few secrets because I simply just didn’t stop to look around. Clearly this is From telling us to slow down and drink in Shulva, and it certainly has areas which are lovely to look at. It’s majestic at times, with a grand sense of scale. On the opposite side of things, you really feel the oppression and lack of space inside some of the buildings, which helps to build tension. From has done well to mix architecture and natural features but not have anything that looks out of place. The sound design is also great, creating atmosphere when required and tension when needed.
The enemies are varied, some more interesting because they require unusual tactics to dispose of. Some give nods to previous games in the series, especially a certain boss fight that will make you grin with nostalgia, then turn and run. Special mention to some beasts that are all legs and teeth, who will take you back to a certain Lost Izalith. Again, I’ll let you discover them for yourself without spoiling it too much. You won’t find any exploding zombies here, thank goodness!
Although, you will find an abundance of NPCs to summon, which troubles me, as it still means that the boss fights must be imbalanced if you just want a straight one on one, thus warranting the need for two little helpers at your side. It could be that I’m just rubbish, though.
You’ll reach the end within four to six hours, having picked up a weapon and spell or two, flicked a lot of switches, taken down some interesting foes and ended the DLC with a challenging but enjoyable last boss, which then ties back into Drangleic lore at the end. It’s a different direction to where Dark Souls 2 had been travelling in terms of both gameplay and execution. It may not fully placate those who claim that Dark Souls 2 is flawed, but then I’m not sure what will.
VERDICT: From Software could have taken the lazy route and delivered more of the same, but instead they have really listened, and have strived to give us something that steps away from the established Dark souls 2 template. With nods to the previous games, it makes you wonder what else they have up their sleeve. Probably more genius, tucked up there like a spare hanky. Anyway, now for that 3/10. Oh, it’s too late. You’ve already bought it.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.