Like moths drawn to a flame, Crown of the Old Iron King, the second of three add-on scenarios for From Software‘s Dark Souls II, brings players to the ashen stronghold of the eponymous monarch. The scenario tries to keep the momentum going from the Crown of the Sunken King add-on, while shifting away from the previous DLC’s focus on puzzles. There’s no question Crown of the Old Iron King will burn you, but does it burn with the masochistic flame Dark Souls fans crave or merely the dull embers of disappointment?
Scalding: Exploration is a requirement.
Each add-on scenario will have its own theme. Crown of the Sunken King had a heavy emphasis on puzzles. This time around the name of the game is exploration. Immediately upon entering the new areas brought by Crown of the Old Iron King, players are introduced to the most unique “boss fight” in the entire series. Instead of your standard fare of facing off against powerful enemies in a closed arena, you are tasked with hunting down and destroying the Ashen Idols that contain fragments of the Bride of Ash’s soul.
Exploration is more than simply rewarding, it’s now essential. Every player must comb the Brume Tower for remnants of the Bride of Ash. At times it can feel frustrating, but not in the way that makes a game bad. It’s frustrating in the sense that you wish you could fight this boss in the standard way, but she’s actually made things inconvenient for you. By fighting in a manner unique to this encounter, she forces the player into danger by making them seek her out in hostile territory, as opposed to a relatively safe designated battlefield. It’s a great decision that was implemented amazingly.
Scorching: The best boss encounters in Dark Souls II.
There are four boss encounters in Crown of the Old Iron King, three required and one optional. I only mentioned the Bride of Ash because she is literally the first thing you encounter in the Brume Tower, so it’s not a particularly big spoiler to outline the fact she’s a unique boss in her own right. I refuse to truly spoil the other bosses for you, but I will say this: The required bosses are all cream of the crop for Dark Souls II.
The little touches to the other two required bosses, that won’t be named in this review, really make them shine. There are nice call backs to the original Dark Souls, hidden traits for those that follow the lore, and a rewarding bonus for players that show exemplary skill. These bosses also show off very different fighting styles, so you don’t feel like there was a copy and paste from a previous encounter. To further add to the greatness, the surroundings for each battle are complete opposites and could not fit their respective bosses more perfectly than they do now.
En Fuego: Strategic level design and enemy placement.
The Brume Tower, where a majority of the action takes place, feels very vertical and revolves around clock-like machinery that’s powered by flame. Enemies are placed in such a manner that they can easily overwhelm a solo adventurer that doesn’t think before acting. While exploring, players need to keep an eye out and plan their next course of action instead of cheesing their way through every encounter, because there are now less viable sniping positions and means of baiting enemies. That’s when the environment, loaded with fire spewing statues, black powder, and sheer drops, becomes a great ally.
At several points, situations that once seemed cruelly difficult can be made much more manageable through enemy manipulation, and it’s damn fun to do. For example, enemies carrying casks of black power will flee when approached. By scaring a few onto a lower level, where you fight several Ashen Warriors and a molten Iron Warrior, you can level the playing field. The playing field and anything on it. Encounters like this remind me of the fun to be had in the original Dark Souls area Sen’s Fortress, where you could lure foes into their own traps, but on a much grander scale. This is the most fun I’ve had in all of Dark Souls II.
Freezer Burn: Re-skinned optional boss.
With everything this add-on scenario does right, From Software really phoned it in on the optional boss. I know it’s optional and they didn’t have to add it in, but couldn’t they have at least tried? They took a previous optional boss, put him in the Iron Passage, slapped some blue on him, and called it a day. It was the most disappointing thing I’ve ever seen in the series, especially after playing through an expansion that had me fall in love with the series all over again.