The finale to From Software‘s Dark Souls II DLC trilogy, Crown of the Ivory King brings Chosen Undead to the icy realm of said king. Players will traverse the frozen Eleum Loyce and dive into the heart of Chaos itself. With each prior installment surpassing the original entry, and the second scenario surpassing the first, Crown of the Ivory King had a lot to live up to. Does it live up to the hype?
You more than likely already saw the rating before reading this, so you know it is rated highly, but why does it deserve that rating? Let’s break it down, we’ll give you five reasons that the Crown of the Ivory King is the best Dark Souls II has to offer.
1) The setting and the level design
Once again level design is on par with the original Dark Souls, feeling like a fusion of two areas previously in the the Souls franchise: Boletaria of Demon’s Souls and the Painted World of Ariamis in Dark Souls. The castle type setting is perfect and done much better than castle or keep locations in the Dark Souls II main campaign. Drangleic Castle and Aldia’s Keep look like they’ll be large and grand, but are revealed to be small areas mostly confined to a few corridors and a handful of off rooms, For structures so large, there’s so little to do. That is not the case for Crown of the Ivory King‘s primary area, the stronghold of Eleum Loyce. It looks massive and it feels just as large. Players will comb the icy area from top to bottom, changing the layout halfway through. Also, an old acquaintance from Dark Souls makes its presence felt as it permeates the area.
2) Boss battles
From Software has been really hit or miss with bosses in Dark Souls II. They have truly great boss encounters and then they have reskins of an already terrible enemy from earlier in the game. Well, Crown of the Ivory King may have been bitten by the reskin bug for its optional multiplayer area boss, but the encounter was one of the better ones. The first boss of the scenario can be engaged immediately in a disadvantageous, to say the least, battle. By journeying through an Eleum Loyce that’s in a deep freeze, you can level the playing field. That’s actually the key to this scenario: Evening the odds. Crown of the Ivory King boss encounters are stacked against you in a manner that’s not been done in the series so far. You can attempt to brave the nigh impossible challenge as is, or you can explore and find the means to help secure your victory.
3) Bone Fist
This has got to be the greatest thing ever added to a Souls game. Hand to hand weapons were essentially a somewhat boring and limited weapon class. Powerstance, get close, break poise, spam jabs until opponent is dead or stamina is depleted. It rewarded players brave enough to get in close. Playing through Crown of the Ivory King as a hand to hand user was frustrating because of enemies with high poise, quick attacks, and spikes that hurt you when you get in close. I’ve never hated my short range more. Enter the Bone Fist. I have never had more fun playing a Souls game than when I shot an ice horse in the face with a hadouken. That’s right, a freaking hadouken. The Bone Fist adds a unique move set to hand to hand users consisting of moves from Heihachi Mishima, a Hadouken, and a flying kick. Not only are the references just awesome, but the move set makes hand to hand users far more flexible in PVP combat, fixing extreme weaknesses of an entire weapon class.
4) The children of the Dark
With the addition of the crown scenarios, we learn of the Dark Queens. I really don’t want to give away too much because it could be seen as spoilers. Let it suffice to say that the story of these children of Dark takes an interesting turn with Crown of the Ivory King. Beyond that my lips are sealed.
5) Seek adversity, as befits you
This was touched on before, but it applies to more than just bosses. Crown of the Ivory King leaves everything you want right there for the taking. The question is, can you take it? If you can, then fine, you are truly fit to take the crown, but if you can’t you’ll have to journey through Eleum Loyce to find the power to do so. Crown of the Ivory King is difficult above and beyond the other two scenarios. It teaches you the adversity faced by those who would be true kings. While Crown of the Old Iron King was also difficult throughout its setting, guile could overcome most if not all of your foes. There are no tricks or traps in Eleum Loyce to save you from difficulty.
Nothing is perfect.
Crown of the Ivory King is no different in that respect. The recycling is there as usual for the optional area bosses, but even the primary enemy soldiers feel a little rehashed. instead of poisonous growths or molten slag, this time it’s obviously going to be ice covering the mooks. Not exactly unique. You also have enemies reminiscent of the priestesses in Shrine of Amana, but not nearly as annoying. There are some creative new enemies, they just aren’t as prevalent as the rehashed. Which is sad, because I was hoping for more encounters like a certain white phantom miscreant you encounter in a particular room. Unfortunately, he’s the only one.
There’s also a bit of a grind to acquire the final great soul. Many will complain bitterly about the grind as if it never existed before in souls games. I guess those people have never joined a covenant, as virtually every single one of them consists of grinding X amount of kills/tokens for increased rank. It’s just that Crown of the Ivory King is the first time grinding is required to acquire the soul of a Dark child. It makes sense from a lore and design perspective, but it’s just not fun.
Finally, there’s the optional area. I love the concept personally, but the execution is somewhat flawed. Players are tasked with traversing the tundra during a blizzard that drastically removes visibility. The idea is to catch a glimpse of landmark in the lulls of the storm and make your way in that direction. This is immersive and genius in itself, but the problem comes when you consider the fact that the storms spawn enemies. The spawned ice stallions are fast and aggressive and while fighting them, you can become disoriented, having to wait for another period of calm to get your bearings. In a truly sadistic move, the storm respawns any defeated ice stallions in greater number with each successive period of activity. Having much shorter but more frequent glimpses through the storm could have preserved the genius of letting players become tundra trackers while not being as frustratingly easy to become lost and overwhelmed while you fight in a complete white out.