From Software’s third and final DLC of the Three Crowns Trilogy brings new surprises, as it takes what works from the Sunken King expansion and removes what didn’t work in the Iron King expansion, to create possibly one of the better Dark Souls 2 experiences, one that melds the philosophies of the previous two episodes to create a window into what an ideal Dark Souls experience is and should be.
The perpetual winds of winter howl through the Frozen Kingdom of Eleum Loyce, where great magics have been locked in place to seal away the old chaos that churns in the deep below. The Ivory King and all of his knights were lost in their crusade to contain that which could not be stopped, and their names have all been lost to the annals of time and fate. Those who stayed behind elected to seal the kingdom away with an endless winter, becoming hulking creatures of ice and anger in the process. Yours are the first steps into these frozen halls as you search for the final crown of the great kings, and to write the wrongs of those who lived here.
From the onset, Crown of the Ivory King feels different from the previous two DLC’s in both scale and aesthetic. Upon entering Eleum Loyce your vision is obscured by howling winds that kicks up snow to hide much of your surroundings, and there is a mystery here that was lacking in the Iron King. Nothing is straightforward in these lands, and there is quite a bit of rewarding exploration needed to find the final crown. The environment is interwoven within itself filled with cross sectional paths reminiscent of the first Dark Souls. These shortcut paths offer a way to bridge the large gaps between bonfires in a sentence that isn’t often said about Dark Souls 2.
Initially, only a small section of Eleum Loyce is accessible as your path is either blocked by large walls of ice or a massive invisible snow tiger serving as the first boss. Adding to the sense of mystery and danger, From Software wisely gives you access to the invisible boss right from the start with nothing but a fog door between you and the king’s pet. A wise adventurer would take the right path and start the long and arduous journey through the ramparts of the old keep. The road is littered with swarms of enemies and obvious paths are blocked by snow and ice.
Reminiscent of the Sunken King, the Ivory King is shrouded in a sense of discovery and mystery that gives a valued sense of accomplishment once figured out. There are secrets everywhere, but rarely are they as obtuse as they’ve been in the past. Things are hidden enough that the seasoned Souls player should find most of them on their first playthrough. Secrets need to be hidden enough that they are rewarding, but not to the point that they’re completely overlooked or flat out ignored. Furthermore, many of the treasures hidden in Eleum Loyce are highly coveted items from the main game that are often extremely difficult to obtain. My sympathies go to those who farmed up several of them as the internet rage over several of these items has echoed your pain.
The previous two DLC expansions both had the problem of ending rather unceremoniously, often with a line of text flashed across the screen before you were ported out of the zone. They were satisfying in their own right to play, but left something to be desired in their stories and presentation. The Sunken King was handled considerably better than The Old Iron King, but still failed to create a sense of purpose as to why you are searching for these crowns let alone venturing into these lost kingdoms. Ivory King presents a narrative reason for both: you are tasked with releasing the burnt king from his quest to contain the chaos by the Alsanna, Silent Oracle.
However, even after that task has been completed there is a rather Dark Souls-ishly hidden ending that will be overlooked by many of the players who did not consult the internet on their playthrough. In fact I had cleverly found the Alsanna ending while completely forgetting about the crowns and where to go to see their story resolved. But that has always been part of the Souls’ franchise’s charm; many players completely missed the entrance to the DLC of the first game, so it should be no surprise that they missed the ending in this one.
The boss fights are also a highlight of Ivory King. After a sub-par showing in Iron, in Ivory, none of them feel lazy or reused bosses from before. Granted, the optional boss is a copy of the first boss, Aava, there are two of them and they have a few extra abilities along side their rather unforgiving gauntlet. Aava himself is a fierce and aggressive melee boss that uses his speed and massive claws to overwhelm your shield and lower your chances to dodge. As in the previous DLC expansions, the bosses here take less damage if you summon in help and Aava is actually easier when soloed.
Once you acquire the fourth and final crown from the Four Kings – I doubt that is a coincidence – you will have to tease out what to do with them to finally get some answers to questions asked during the main game. Without spoiling anything, you will learn the fate of some characters as well as the future for the world of Dark Souls, as it potentially leads into Dark Souls 3. From Software initially stated that the two games were not related, but Ivory King’s ending will put that statement to rest.
After I found mainly complaints – ones that I will not repeat – of my playthrough with the first two DLC episodes, I left Ivory King feeling satisfied and confident in From Software. The entire trilogy of the Crowns expansions builds into one large arc that doesn’t show itself until after it’s been fully completed, and the three expansions provide some of the more memorable content in Dark Souls 2. It is rumored that there will be more episodes for DS2 and as of now I welcome more: there are still unanswered questions that I would love to solve.
Crown of the Ivory King is worth the price of admission and completes the Crown Trilogy to stand as an example of what DLC content should be for games. It is longer than the previous two episodes combined and it provides satisfying answers to questions still lingering. The Three Crowns Trilogy is complementary to the main game, but not a necessity and serve more as an extension of the lore and gameplay. Now that all three episodes are available, I highly recommend them to any fan of the series who has not yet picked them up. Hopefully they’ll be released in a bundle, or at the very least an inevitable game of the year edition.
Dark Souls 2 initially left me feeling disappointed; but with the largely excellent addition of the Crowns expansions, I’m left wanting more. I can think of no greater accolade.