Having recently finished the main story of Dark Souls II, I decided to check out the three part The Lost Crowns DLC. Each of these pieces opens up at different points during the main game, but can be tackled in any order. I haven't finished the DLC yet, but have covered almost every area to explore in all three. For the sake of this write-up, there will be minor area spoilers, so consider this your warning.
The first DLC, Crown of the Sunken King, is available via teleport in the area found after defeating The Rotten. Players begin this adventure in a ruined, cavernous area known as Shulva - Sanctum City. This mazelike area will have players dropping through holes, using obelisks to raise and lower platforms, and battling powerful, poison-coated soldiers. Initially, I had a tough time with these early areas using my melee build, thanks to having to dodge arrows from distant foes while taking on multiple soldiers. There is a bonfire right at the start of the area, but the second one was hidden in the mess of platforms, so I didn't find it until much later. Eventually, I opted to simply dash past everything and try to get into the next area. Once I learned the optimal path to take, this was an easy enough option.
The second area of the Sunken King DLC was more confined, but even more puzzling. That said, I found it to be more enjoyable than Shulva. The enemies here posed more of a challenge, as not only did the poison soldiers return, but now there were priestesses firing powerful spells and knights who were invulnerable to melee attacks. Not only that, but the area lacked a good home base bonfire to start from. It took quite a while to work my way through this area, but things eventually started to make sense as I found some key items, unlocked new doors, and found a couple bonfires.
From here, there were two paths to choose from. One led into a claustrophobic area called the Cave of the Dead, an area supposedly designed for co-op play and ending with an interesting boss encounter that I was actually able to handle solo after a couple tries. It was harder to get to the bosses on my own than it was to actually beat them, as the small area is filled with a lot of hindrances. While a neat addition, there wasn't really any good payoff for finishing this area.
The other path took me downward into an area which required precise jumps and careful falls. This path led to two very tough boss encounters that are both required in order to finish the DLC. The first one is challenging, because of it being able to summon assistance. The other boss required a completely different set of tactics to beat and was no joke. I've been able to wear this one down to about a quarter health, but have yet to be able to finish it off. I could only retry the fight so many times before I felt the need to move on.
Verdict: Play it for the bosses.
Found behind the Iron Keep's boss is the portal to the second DLC. The Crown of the Old Iron King DLC is in many ways the opposite of what was offered in Sunken King. I found the level design and pacing to be much improved here, with it very clear on how to proceed to new areas, but offering enough hidden and side content to be worth checking back on. On the other hand, the boss fights are killers...literally. Having fought a couple of the bosses in this DLC multiple times with no victory in sight, I can say that these battles are definitely for those seeking a challenge.
Most of the Old Iron King DLC takes place in the vertical Brume Tower, as players must descend all the way to the bottom of the tower to unlock its secrets. As I said, the level design here is really great, because while it's generally clear as to where to go next, there are enough side branches that it's not really that linear. While still challenging, most of the encounters in Brume feel more manageable than most of those in the prior DLC. One task you'll have to do this time around is to deal with Ashen Idols scattered around the area that will heal any foes nearby. Good luck trying to figure out the best way to do this.
Beyond that, the tower is pretty much what's expected from a Souls area. There's a magical-themed version of another tough foe you might recognize from the main game, and it's every bit as painful as during the main game. This fight takes place in another of the new co-op areas, but I was able to find a quick path that took me to the boss without too much trouble, though I wasn't able to beat it alone. The boss at the bottom of Brume is incredibly frustrating. This one will punish you for even the slightest mistake. I recommend improving your dodging skills as best as you can, because mine weren't able to save me. While I did really enjoy exploring Brume Tower, the area was way more fun than these bosses.
Verdict: Play it for the level design.
The final DLC, Crown of the Ivory King, is accessible by opening the Shrine of Winter and features a frozen castle ruin. This is easily my least favorite of the three pieces of content, as it takes forever and doesn't really do anything new or exciting until the very end. It is a snow-covered area with crowds of tough enemies in tight sections that are pretty manageable, but it just feels like more of the same, only harder.
The layout of Frozen Eleum Loyce is fairly straightforward, though players exploring every corner might find a very creative, but tough, challenge early on. While there is one neat aspect to this area related to the frozen environment, it doesn't add enough variety to counter the feeling of repetition. You'll also have some backtracking to do if you want to finish the area completely, which also makes it less desirable to play through. While it's hard to point out anything specifically wrong with this, it just wasn't as fun and there weren't any rewards worth playing through for beyond what you receive when you beat the entire DLC.
That said, the bosses in this area are challenging and unique. The first is no walk in the park, as players will have to be at the top of their game to survive the huge range of attacks this one brings. If you are lucky enough to defeat it, next up is an even more insane boss than anything else you'll have fought so far. There are multiple steps to the whole process of this next fight, and if you head straight in without paying attention to what you are told, you will be severely disadvantaged. The Ivory King areas might look pretty and offer a decent challenge, but the monotony and insane battles just left me cold. Good luck for all who venture here.
Verdict: Play it for the challenge.