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 28 which explores the Crown of the Old Iron King DLC.
“This child of Dark, bearing inconceivable strength, found herself in a kingless land devoid of souls. And in journeying there, has all but condemned herself to a fate most wretched.”
Brume Tower is the largest location in all of Dark Souls II, so expect many memorable set pieces within its forbidding depths. Whereas Earthen Peak saw players ascending a virulent tower of brick, the journey through the ironclad Brume Tower is a perilous descent into ash. The sense of verticality that defined Earthen Peak is expanded upon here, with the tower acting as a spine that links many rooms together via a makeshift elevator system. Dark Souls II sometimes lost sight of its franchise’s thoughtful level design, but Crown of the Old Iron King has done a lot to make amends for that.
Brume Tower’s central bonfire becomes a convenient nexus for players to regroup, and the layered nature of its construction makes it easy to relocate previously trodden paths. The number of floors means that there is still room for secrets, mind. Those who enjoy exploring will have plenty of shortcuts to unlock, which is good seeing as how important exploration is in order to make progress here.
Dark Souls often allows players to run past a lot of its content, relying less on locked doors or mandatory battles, and more on the merits of its individual systems to keep players hooked into the world around them. This DLC episode isn’t afraid to do things a little differently, however. Whereas Shulva was a fairly linear trek towards an obvious goal, Brume Tower is an expedition that requires a bit more finesse.
It’s a welcome dose of complexity that, combined with some memorable set pieces, makes backtracking a pleasant experience rather than a frustrating one. The gauntlet run around the furnace area is especially fast and furious, and whether you’re fighting gigantic enemies in the ash, or fending off powerful invading phantoms – one of which who is programmed to behave like a human would do – you should be having a pretty fun time.
The importance of exploration isn’t a small concern either because collecting the scattered Smelter Wedges allows players to destroy “Ashen Idols” that infest key areas of the tower. Eliminating these sinister monuments is a process that players learn early, and with good reason considering the powerful blessings they bestow upon any enemies operating in the nearby area.
The four idols outside the boss room at the base of Brume Tower are easily the most important to remove because the last thing you want to do is lock horns with a Fume Knight who regenerates health. I’ve already shared my feelings on this boss in great detail, but to really stress one of FromSoftware’s greatest successes with Dark Souls II, I feel it important to reiterate just how utterly fantastic the Fume Knight is. This is the only mandatory boss in Crown of the Old Iron King, and the reason for that billing seems pretty clear when you consider the effort that has gone into moulding him.
Fume Knight AKA Raime has a varied fighting style with a number of individual attacks that top what other bosses can deliver combined. He is also the only boss in the game I’m aware of who reacts to players who try to heal themselves; often performing unique thrusts and slams whenever a player sips their Estus Flask in plain view. It’s no wonder that his failure rate is reputedly so high!
In a level already full of surprises, it’s impressive that the Fume Knight; a boss that is neither original nor showy, could be considered the highlight of the whole thing! The backing music for his encounter is also quietly thirlling, as it infuses the battle with raw sounds of fury and despair. Overall, it’s a superb bit of business!
The challenge of defeating such a worthy foe is a level of difficulty that’s ably matched by the rest of Brume Tower. It’s arguably the hardest content that Dark Souls II has to offer, and a significant leap up from the base game. The hike in challenge also makes this location highly suited to cooperative play. The centralised construction of its core environment makes summoning other players convenient, which is lucky because there are two dedicated areas for co-op this time around.
The first of these areas is Iron Passage; a rather hellish location where players battle their way past Fume Sorcerers, knights, and even giants, on their way to a second meeting with the Smelter Demon. This “aged” variant of the rather awesome Iron Keep boss is a straight palette swap with the colours changed to blue, but seeing as it was already a good boss anyway, having it here as another bit of plunder is perfectly acceptable. It also has one of the most action-packed bonfire runs in entire series, if that’s your sort of thing.
Iron Passage is also notable for breaking up the scenery. The interior areas are admittedly a bit samey, but between Iron Passage’s gleaming rocks and the beautiful vistas seen in the outdoor segments of Brume Tower, Crown of the Old Iron King is a location that oozes atmosphere.
The second cooperative zone is another of those dreamscapes we saw in the base campaign, and thus players need the Ashen Mist Heart in order to reach it. It’s a disappointing prerequisite for those hoping to explore Brume Tower early (an ‘ultimate challenge’ if ever there was one), but you’ll probably end up appreciating that condition due to the absurd number of overpowered enemies who await you within.
Thus the Memory of the Old Iron King becomes a miserable area for players without a buddy, which is actually something I find quite strange considering how well-balanced its final encounter would be for those very same solo players.
Sir Alonne is another boss who isn’t breaking any new ground with regards to how he looks or moves. He’s another armoured knight who fights with a sword, and he moves with both pace and precision. It’s a dance that’s comparable to the Fume Knight for a couple of reasons, even if Sir Alonne is ultimately the weaker of the two.
One of the reasons for this is the damage dealt by his weapon. Whereas the Fume Knight supplements his offence with fire that is harder to negate through blocking, all of Sir Alonne’s primary attacks are physical, and are thus much easier to withstand if you have a decent shield equipped. Being slightly easier than Fume Knight isn’t a bad thing as such, though it is strange considering how the boss sits at the terminus of a ruthless co-op zone because, if anything, Fume Knight acts as a much stronger challenge for teams than Alonne does.
Despite the gripes, Sir Alonne is still one of the best bosses in Dark Souls II, and a lot of that comes through in the presentation. Fume Knight may have the edge in terms of gameplay and replay value, but Sir Alonne brings some much-needed razzle to the proceedings. The arena is a beautfiul throne room whose polished floors reflect all the action. There aren’t any outcrops or other gimmicks getting in way of the battle either, so it all feels very pure. And what more can be said about that riveting music? It’s sublime.
Another touch of theme can be witnessed if a player defeats the boss without taking damage themselves. Achieve this feat and Alonne deems you a foe worth committing seppuku for! Between this secret death animation and the Fume Knight’s anger towards those wearing his brother’s armour, you can see how FromSoftware were once again enjoying the little touches that only a small percentage of their players would see.
Featuring a trio of decent to essential bosses, loads of tough enemies, and a searing motif to underpin it all, Crown of the Old Iron King is my favourite DLC pack for Dark Souls II. As a post-campaign expansion it’s hardness is only a boon, and there is plenty of extra stuff to do once the crown itself has been secured. The bosses are fun to repeat, and the scavenger hunt for Queen Nadalia’s lost soul fragments will keep completionists busy.
And that leaves only a single location left for us to explore. Tune in next time for the penultimate entry in See Drangleic that explores the snowswept environs of another faraway land.
Continue to Part 29 »