There is an unwritten code of multiplayer etiquette in Dark Souls II. Alongside an elaborate selection of weapons and keys, the game offers a few simple gestures your character can use as a greeting: a traditional bow, a hand wave, etc. (My personal favorite is the “Nooooooooooooo!” one.) If a player invades your world, saying hello instead of immediately attacking means the difference between an honorable duel and senseless violence. There is a lot of killing in Dark Souls II, and a “hello” puts it in the proper context.
Connections with other players are rare in the brutal world of the Souls games. Players wander in isolation through a demonic medieval landscape, fighting off a zoo’s worth of nightmares with broken sword hilts. Meeting other players—summoning one for help with a boss battle, say—is a welcome respite. In horror movies, it’s always a relief when the hero’s friend stumbles back into the storyline. Friends in Dark Souls II come when you’re beaten and bruised from a particular boss and need a veteran by your side. But once the boss is dead, your ally disappears. It’s a fleeting relationship.
The three downloadable post-release expansions for Dark Souls II, which have been parsed out over the last few months as The Lost Crowns Trilogy, bolster the game’s already excellent social aspect. Allies do far more than expedite the beatdown. They become travel companions, unsure when they’re going to be sent home and eager to see what’s around the next undiscovered corner. The moments between hello and goodbye feel like a lengthy, wordless conversation.
Dark Souls II is the tale of a fallen kingdom ruled, at one point, by a guy who has been locked away, left shirtless and walking in circles—though he does have his bone-thin crown. The three downloadable add-ons transport your character to other kingdoms where regal headwear unleashed the fury of endless enemies. These worlds may be smaller, but boy, are they more brutal. “Crown Of The Sunken King” kicks things off, a sadistic maze of moving platforms and invisible zombies that leads deep into the catacombs of an abandoned temple. Friends fighting by your side at least mitigate the bloodshed. Even the enemies get friends, with one of the new bosses summoning her own armada of allies in the same way the player might. Bringing a pal into the world, by calling upon them at their “summon sign,” at least makes it a fair fight.
Summon signs are a rare sight around these new bonfires (the Dark Souls universe’s resting places and checkpoints). The three added levels are only accessible after playing through a chunk of Dark Souls II’s malicious carnage, plus they’re newer and have to be bought separately. There are fewer applicants when the entry-level exams are not only rigorous but cost-prohibitive. Thus when the light of a sign cuts through the darkness, calling out from another console or PC far far away, inviting that fellow journeyer should be a priority, and can be your guide through the strange worlds of The Lost Crowns Trilogy.
When I originally reviewed Dark Souls II, I applauded the newfound kindnesses it extended to players—like the ability to teleport between bonfires from the beginning, mitigating the amount of time spent banging your head against the same fight because you can always easily go try something else. It was also less obtuse. In the original game, shooting arrows at the tail of a dragon from a secret sniper spot provided a weapon so powerful you essentially breezed through half the game. The only arcane thing I discovered in the sequel, purely via wiki-help, was an okay spear after I broke a rock I didn’t know I needed to break.
Lost Crowns ramps up the mystery, giving back to those players who enjoy dying all the time without knowing why. In “Crown Of The Old Iron King”—which takes place in a dusty, cursed, comically large forge—the final boss heals himself automatically. Why? It might take a few deaths to discover the answer: piles of glowing goo that sit outside the arena and are only killable with a special item, of which you are given a limited supply. So a-backtracking you will go, praying for an answer, and notes left by other players, viewable when online, help immensely. Everyone’s in this together.
It’s certainly not a mandate to play any of the add-ons online. Just in case your Internet connection is spotty and/or nonexistent or you’d prefer to go it alone, the game allows you to summon AI-controlled allies before every big fight. This is not a new feature, though the phantoms here take a more personal tack. Summon Steel-Willed Lorrie, for example, and she will insist on saying “hello” just like a human would (by throwing a wooden face onto the ground that emits a greeting that sounds like André The Giant). In Lost Crowns, all friends—even robot ones—are best friends.
Visits to each world are brief, but the soft, frozen tundra of “Crown Of The Ivory King” and eerie monoliths of “Crown Of The Sunken King” are so textured you can use them in an “after” picture for a conditioner commercial. And the hankering to obsessively mine all three dry, even after squeezing every last drop out Dark Souls II proper, reaches further than your individual world. When approaching the final boss in “Ivory King,” I discovered a bonfire so lit up with summoning signs that I couldn’t find the floor. Players wanted to fight this boss on repeat—one hello right after the other, defeating sadism with genuine excitement and camaraderie.
The Lost Crowns Trilogy (“Crown Of The Sunken King,” “Crown Of The Old Iron King,” “Crown Of The Ivory King”)
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Price: $10 for each; $25 for all three on PC; requires Dark Souls II