Welcome to See Drangleic, an episodic playthrough journal exploring the world of Dark Souls II. Be sure to check out the introduction post first if you haven’t already, otherwise continue reading for Part 29 which explores the Crown of the Ivory King DLC.
“You, approaching Eleum Loyce, turn back. The old Chaos hungers still.”
Frozen Eleum Loyce is a snow-covered kingdom that sets the stage for our final slice of post-release content. Approaching the city for the first time prompts a chilling wind to blow through the main gates; an effect which actually inflicts damage on your character. The blow is far too miniscule to cause any inconvenience, but the intent behind that gentle bite is clear. This is a warning shot. Anyone who values their life should turn back now.
And for the most part this location makes good on that threat. The individual enemies, whether they be soldiers clad in ice, huge golems powered by souls, or those little beasties that look like a demented Sonic the Hedgehog, are all equally adept at killing players. The same goes for Aava, the King’s Pet; a massive sabre-toothed cat that players can encounter immediately upon entering the front gates.
Aava is a fast predator who attacks by pouncing, clawing, and summoning the odd icy bolt of magic. The beast’s corrosive skin is a feature we already saw during the battle with Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon, and really, there isn’t a whole lot else to say considering that the fight plays like another Royal Rat Authority, albeit with better gameplay balance and a bit more pizazz.
The most interesting thing about this boss is the fact that its character model will be completely invisible to players who haven’t yet collected a key item further into the level. This results in a near impossible challenge for those who take the wrong turn at the beginning, but it is a cool thing to see or ‘not see’ as the case may be.
The rest of Frozen Eleum Loyce is yours to explore once Aava is defeated. Whereas your first venture through its frosty township was blockaded by walls of ice, Aava’s death prompts a thawing that unlocks many areas that were inaccessible the first time around. For a DLC pack where development budgets are understandably constrained, forcing players to make a second circuit of the area makes good economic sense, and like it was with Brume Tower, players are going to need to keep careful track of their passing in order to locate every secret.
This second half to the DLC could have felt uneventful if that’s all there was to it, but FromSoftware were careful to mix up certain aspects of the latter run by introducing new enemies and other surprises that players may not have seen during their initial pass. Frozen Eleum Loyce offers a fresh gameplay experience for a much longer period because of this, and once the ice thaws, there’s a lot more zany stuff to see.
You’ll meet a frosty Covetous Demon who becomes a fun regular enemy (something the original boss should have been to begin with), along with another Flexile Sentry guarding a hidden cave. The golems who stood guard outside Drangleic Castle get a better opportunity to shine in the valley area, and the concept of intelligent NPC invaders, the likes of whom we saw in the previous DLC, is also expanded upon with some extremely devious red phantoms who use confounding spells and even emotes to lure their victims. It was disappointing that Dark Souls III didn’t feature any NPCs who could do that.
An extremely well-hidden area further within Eleum Loyce leads players to the only cooperative zone in this DLC. The Frigid Outskirts, as this part of the kingdom is called, is the top contender for the most difficult, or otherwise most unpleasant gameplay area in any Dark Souls game. Ever. Clearly with this being the final DLC offering for Dark Souls II, the developers said “screw it”, and decided to throw every cruel and unusual trick they could at the players.
The only nice thing one can say about this place is that it’s optional. Everything else about the Frigid Outskirts is designed to tax, confuse, and frustrate. With this being Dark Souls, I wouldn’t be surprised if the area has as many supporters as it does detractors!
The action takes place in a barren area outside of the city; a hostile place undergoing a constant blizzard which obscures a player’s viewing radius at all times, save for an irregular (and far too brief) interval when the snow clears. Your goal is to reach the fog door on the other side of the level, and it’s a pilgrimage that will take even the most prescient of players several minutes to complete because there are no bonfires anywhere! Finding your way through the snow without accidentally doubling back on yourself or getting lost behind a dune is troubling enough, and you’re not the only lifeforms out here.
An insidious breed of reindeer are on the prowl, and whilst that might sound ridiculous, it won’t take long for these enemies to carve themselves a piece of your character with their pulverizing antlers. The frozen reindeer are fast too, and they can even fire lightning bolts should you try escaping to a safe distance. Frozen reindeer can track players almost indefinitely, and there exists a spawn point that is set to birth them at a higher rate than those encountered earlier on. There’s no doubt this so-called “murder zone” has claimed the lives of thousands of characters – as well as joypads – and all of this before you even reach the boss!
After surviving the gruelling ordeal to reach them, Lud and Zallen, the King’s Pets will probably disappoint most players. These kitties are dark palette swaps of their cousin Aava, and for the most part their battle plays in the same way, only with the difficulty sharply increased.
Fighting two bosses at once will prove hard even for a full team, and it’s a prospect not made any easier by the prior trek. When one of the bosses is killed, the remaining cat enters an enraged state which replenishes health and increases vital stats for a significant duration. This is a very tough scenario, and although it’s not without some charm, it feels like FromSoftware may have gone a little overboard. If anything though, Frigid Outskirts is at least memorable; this being the operative word as we head towards the big send-off.
A fiery dimension known as Old Chaos has frozen the beautiful kingdom of Eleum Loyce in a state of purgatory. The Queen Alsanna urges us to free her departed king’s soul from limbo, and whilst players can attempt this task anytime after slaying Aava, the correct approach is to scour the untrodden ground of Eleum Loyce enlisting captive knights who will help you in the coming battle. It’s exciting and well-considered design that breaks formula slightly by giving players an explicit objective, but none of it would make much difference if the final encounter wasn’t entertaining. Fortunately, the battle versus the Burnt Ivory King is one of the series’ best.
The production value for this fight is more akin to Dark Souls III in terms of quality. The scorched battleground is a vibrant setting for the showdown, and yet the touches of nuance are what really help the battle feel memorable. Things start off innocently enough. Charred Loyce knights wielding all manner of weapons begin pouring out of the gates surrounding the circular arena. Pretty soon your own company of white knights are joining in the fray, thus creating a unique team-orientated skirmish where survival is your only goal.
Then your own knights are sacrificing themselves to help seal the gates, and once three waves of enemies have passed, the Burnt Ivory King makes his awesome entrance; walking through the flames to take you down personally. It’s a blend of glamour and thrills that intelligently dresses up an otherwise routine boss. The Burnt Ivory King is yet another sword-wielding humanoid clad in armour, though whilst his offence isn’t as varied to match the intimidating Fume Knight, he’s still an enjoyable, well-balanced opponent that allows this DLC to end on a suitably high note before players add the last remaining crown to their collection.
One final challenge allows players to grind special souls in Old Chaos to be exchanged for special goodies including new weapons and armour sets. If only the ancillary bosses were a bit stronger, Crown of the Ivory King could have been the best episode in the “Lost Crowns” trilogy. As it is, this DLC is still a clear win for Dark Souls II. It was no wonder FromSoftware packaged it in with the Scholar of the First Sin edition a year later because all three chapters are arguably the best of what this sequel has to offer.
And with that, CelJaded’s retrospective approaches its end. Every location in the game has now been covered, so our next episode will offer one final look at the complete experience before signing off for good!
Continue to Outro »