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 27 which explores the Crown of the Sunken King DLC.
“The King erected a magnificent city, and the dragon slept soundly. Until Sir Yorgh disturbed it with a single great strike, and the dragon could bear its store of poison no longer.”
The “summer of Souls” – as I’ve taken to calling it – began in mid 2014 when Bandai Namco released the first expansion set for Dark Souls II. Titled Crown of the Sunken King, this DLC marked the beginning of “The Lost Crowns” trilogy, where each month players would journey to another ruined kingdom featuring sparkly new treasures, brand new enemies and bosses, and as tends to be the way with Dark Souls; a doomed monarch resting right at the heart of it all.
Before exhuming the remains of our unfortunate king, players first need to overcome the dangers of Shulva, Sanctum City. This is a wretched place whose foul poisons and insidious traps are as deadly as its motifs are obvious. Its walls are green and its enemies spit goo. For some that would be enough to file the place under “P” for “poison world” and have done with it. I would agree that Shulva is perhaps the least inspired DLC setting in this sense, but the feeling of repetition that hampered so much of the core game’s second half, isn’t apparent here.
Crown of the Sunken King is a short episode, though I couldn’t imagine being too dissatisfied with it. Perhaps the DLC format was a good fit for Dark Souls; a series whose stifling difficulty and hidden complexities has players clinging to every square inch of turf, no matter how small. As a DLC offering, this level feels breezy in a good way. The slimy yet evidently humanoid enemies remind us that we’re in familiar territory, but soon we’ll be escaping the agoraphobic outer limits, and heading into more danger amid the tombs underneath the city itself.
There is time for eye candy in the briefest of moments. Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon will be seen taking flight as players enter the city, and witnessing him return to scorch an entire bridge clogged with enemies acts as another fine callback to Demon’s Souls. It’s one of those little touches of glamour that often felt absent from Dark Souls II.
Before descending any further, players have the opportunity to visit a place known as Cave of the Dead. In what would become a trend for these DLC packs, Cave of the Dead is an optional area that specifically promotes cooperative gameplay. These environments tend to be short, linear, and quite tough, for the high number of enemies will present a steep challenge even to a full party.
Another quality of these optional areas is their re-use of existing art assets. It’s a common video game trick that is easily forgivable here (you can’t expect a DLC pack to match budgets with a full release), but even where FromSoftware has been economical, their ability to design fun encounters hasn’t gone anywhere. A case in point is the boss battle for Cave of the Dead, which pits players against a three-man team of rival tomb raiders.
In a bizarre twist, Ancient Soldier Varg, Afflicted Graverobber, and Cerah the Old Explorer comprise the most misunderstood boss battle in Dark Souls II. The aforementioned recycling is obvious (each foe uses recognizable gear), which is why a lot of players tend to dismiss this fight as a hack job. This is a shame because the Worshippers of the Dead (as the game’s soundtrack refers to them) are actually a bag of fun.
What you essentially have here is a boss encounter masquerading as a PvP tussle. Each boss uses similar character model data to regular humanoid NPCs, and so backstabs, parries, and all sorts of status effects will be applicable to make the contest more interesting. Even without a pair of phantoms on your side, the added challenge of doing this with a single partner, or even on your own, will still be welcome for those brave players who enjoy a bit of punishment.
Onwards from this side attraction is the Dragon Sanctum that lies beneath the city. This area is also very dangerous and also very green, though the variety of encounters is a little better thanks to some brand new enemies. Florentine-fighting ghosts are the scariest of such foes because they can’t be harmed until their corporeal remains are destroyed. Surging through the tight labyrinth corridors looking for their bodies is dangerous business, however. You also have to deal with priestesses who deploy clouds of toxic smoke, and there’s all manner of deadly traps like classic spiked floors, and several rotating walls that conceal sudden drops into pits of flesh-eating insects.
You can feel FromSoftware getting more comfortable with their level design here. In fact, the waterlogged cave containing those giant beasts that look like walking mouths, feels like it could have been torn straight from Dark Souls III. Every new stretch feels tougher than the last, which is a refreshing experience after some of those sleepy locations of the core game.
Another superb quality of Shulva is the fact that it can be accessed very early in the Scholar of the First Sin edition, which integrated “The Lost Crowns” as part of its remastered package. Travelling to Shulva at an early stage of a new playthrough makes for a steep challenge full of loot and fresh opportunities for character building. This was always one of this sequel’s nicer flourishes, and it was great to see the DLC continuing the trend.
Dragon Sanctum culminates in another stacked finale featuring back-to-back bosses. As with the base game, the decision to insert two bosses so close to each other is odd, but it doesn’t hurt too much considering the brevity of the DLC as a whole. At least it’s better than the game flow feeling too broken up like it did in Harvest Valley and Brightstone Cove Tseldora.
Up first is Elena, the Squalid Queen; the first and only queen we’ll get to fight in any DLC chapter. Elena is really just a tougher version of Nashanda, though her ability to summon regular skeletons as well as Velstadt, remarkably, makes her a reaper at higher bonfire intensities. There’s even a rare chance that she might summon three relatively harmless pigs by accident, which is either FromSoftware deciding to have a little fun, or just them trying really hard to weird us out with their references!
What players really came to see though, is the creature that rests in the cave behind the queen. Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon is a boss that does everything in its power to correct the sequel’s bungle of not featuring a truly epic dragon battle. Sinh is easier than Black Dragon Kalameet and Darkeater Midir, but even as a third wheel of sorts, his majestic form and pulse-pounding theme song wipes away any concern that this DLC won’t deliver during its final moments.
In a first for Dark Souls II bosses, Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon has corrosive skin that hastily degrades any melee weapon used against him. Another fun gameplay concern is the presence of Sir Yorgh’s spear that juts out of the dragon’s torso. Players can deal extra damage by striking the septic wound, though doing so is hard considering how fast the boss swoops across the battlefield expelling his corrosive flames.
Sinh is a much more satisfying coda than the Ancient Dragon was, and thus collecting the crown itself feels like an important moment in this newly developing tale. I would say that its brevity and softer replay value makes it the weakest entry in the trilogy, but overall Crown of the Sunken King is a welcome return to “From“!
Next episode we ascend a familiar iron tower in the hopes of securing our second enchanted crown.
Continue to Part 28 »