Eleum Loyce, the setting of Dark Souls II: Crown of the Ivory King, is the first location in a Souls game that I would want to visit. Ignoring the cursed creatures who want nothing better than to kill me, the unreachable frozen expanse in the horizon renews my craving for a Nordic vacation or a wintery trek through a frosted New England forest. And as foreign as Eleum Loyce is in relation to Dark Souls II’s kingdom of Drangleic, it is the one locale out of all the downloadable environs that is most relatable in real world terms. It involves a centerpiece of a castle that’s not much different from the ruins found in the early part of the main game. This callback does not alone make Crown of the Ivory King a fitting bookend to the odyssey that is Dark Souls II, but this third and final DLC is nonetheless an exquisite way to end the journey.
Even with the Aztec-inspired temple in Crown of the Sunken King, the oppressively dark and dank look of the first downloadable adventure conveyed environmental continuity with the equally gloomy lands of the main game. Same goes for the Crown of the Old Iron King and its visually thematic connection to Iron Keep. I love the sense of cohesion within these first two episodes, and I adore the sense of detachment within the frigid lands of Crown of the Ivory King.
The sheer hostility of snow culminates by about the third hour of Crown of the Ivory King, where you’re practically walking through a blizzard. Eleum Loyce is one of the more dynamic lands in the series, one that makes backtracking worthwhile. Solve the mystery of the Ivory King, and treasures once hidden in the snow are thawed out for the taking. This is not just an ordinary, obligatory ice level; snow and ice create fitting variables and escalate what is an already challenging experience. Changes in movement through the snow are subtle, the differences noticeable but never drastic, and enemies are equally hampered.
The game is more than plentiful in enemy variety, though Crown of the Ivory King still features the occasional reskin. Nevertheless, for every familiar Flexile Sentry there’s something more unusual, like the Rampart Hedgehog. I’m especially enamored with the Frozen Reindeer, a merciless creature that made me think of an evil version of Yakul, the noble, mystical elk in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The boss battles of Crown of the Ivory King exemplify the two dominant encounter types of Dark Souls II: the manageable duels against enemies who are slightly larger than you, and the exploratory puzzle-based battles. The riddle of the Ivory King is an exploratory puzzle, one that introduces a new way to do battle. As with some elements of Dark Souls II, explaining further would ruin the sense of discovery and reward, but let’s just say that you are not alone.
This is not just an ordinary, obligatory ice level; snow and ice create fitting variables and escalate what is an already challenging experience.
As with the Frozen Reindeer, there is imagination at work with the Ivory King and his pets. And he is a cat lover! After the boss rats and overabundance of knights in the main game, the lethal and regal presence of the king’s phantomlike tigers makes for a welcome change of pace, adding to the sense of finality to Dark Souls II. These ghostly felines are as otherworldly as any of the exotic Souls bosses that have come before them. However intimidating or unintimidating these pets might be, they can be dealt in the same way you’ve dealt with other four legged beasts in the series.
By conforming to the mold of most Dark Souls II bosses, Crown of the Ivory King offer comfort in providing much of what you expect. As much as continual roll-dodging has come to represent the unintentionally lighthearted side of the Souls games, it’s a popular defensive choice for a reason. Still, it’s never as gratifying as standing your ground with well-timed fencing-inspired melee attacks, offensive moves that are wholly complemented by satisfying blocks with your shield.
Based on the setting alone, Eleum Loyce could have easily been the main area for a conceivable Dark Souls III, not something I could say about the Iron King or Sunken King expansions, as great as they are. And if any one game series effectively encapsulates the cliche of the journey being more important than the destination, it’s this one. If you need a reminder, look no further than the fanfare-free ending to Dark Souls II. The finale is not so much a payoff for 100 hours of enduring trials and heartache, but rather an interlude to be enjoyed before entering the fray once more in a new-game-plus. Crown of the Ivory King pulls off something unexpected: it feels like Dark Souls II’s true payoff.
The lethal and regal presence of the king’s phantomlike tigers makes for a welcome change of pace.
Crown of the Ivory King is a melancholic victory lap in the only way a Dark Souls game can present a finale. From Software congratulates you on your achievements by giving you even more, even harder goals, specifically, some of the hardest boss fights in all of Dark Souls II. It’s not about the spectacle of a drawn out ending cutscene; the spectacle has always been about your own survival in battle, especially those victories when your lifebar cannot withstand one more hit. What could be a better Dark Souls II send-off than more punishment? The answer is “nothing, fellow masochist.”