Crown of the Sunken King fits right into Dark Souls 2: it's infuriating, swear-inducing and takes you to the brink of insanity. Where this DLC stands apart from the rest of the game, however, is that it's an example of the developers being brave enough to offer an experience free of nods to the past.
Dark Souls 2 leant so heavily on its predecessor it nearly fell over. As you may have read, I had a bit of a moan about this, but Sunken King stands tall, with wonderful environments to explore and new enemy types, without relying on what has come before.
There are some excellent encounters throughout the three main areas, all of which will provide the vast majority of players with a stiff challenge. The Phantoms, whose corpses must be broken in order for them to humanise and become vulnerable, are a particular highlight.
That said, it does become unfair in parts. For players who are still going through the main game, this DLC probably isn't for you. Many of the enemies prove capable of one-hit kills, especially the dinosaurs in Dragon's Sanctum, which are the stuff of Spielberg's nightmares.
People may palm this off as part of the Souls series' charm, but it's more of a balancing issue. Rather than a gradual increase in enemy difficulty as you descend the tombs, the pacing is frequently off and the challenge spikes at odd moments, sometimes near bonfires.
The new level design has an over-reliance on verticality, but in many instances this is achieved with the game almost becoming a platformer, something for which the mechanics weren't designed. So many deaths were a consequence of the automatic roll which follows the jump, or escaping a swathe of enemies thanks to a convenient gap between two ledges.
Sunken King is a promising start to Dark Souls 2's DLC: if From Software can build on it, and address the traversal issues of this pack, we could see some of the best moments in the series to date.
Version Tested: Xbox 360.