The Prepare to Die Edition of Dark Souls released for PC early this year was equal parts ramshackle and obnoxious. While its initial bug flaws were eventually overcome, the inclusion of new content for the PC release left a green stench of envy seeping out of the console gamer. For the fans desperate to continue their journey throughout Lordran, the only option was to purchase this new version or be left behind in the abyss of being a console player. While it certainly helped boost PC sales, as a game that is best played on consoles it therefore seems finally satisfying that the new content has finally reached its home on the Xbox 360 and PS3. But was it worth the wait? And does it justify investing £15 into just a few more souls for your undead? The answer is yes, for the most part.
Titled Artorias of the Abyss it is exactly what a fan of Dark Souls would expect from additional content. It provides a further exploration into the remarkable and yet subtle lore of its world, a series of new areas to explore, as well as some seriously challenging new bosses. The new locations fit snugly into the world of Dark Souls, striking that excellent visual quality that combines the fantastical imagination of J.R.R Tolkien with the perversity of a David Lynch film. The Oolacile township is a ruinous mess of exploration that is inhabited by bizarre long-armed monstrosities who clamber at you insanely, while the Sanctuary Garden is a soft home of green landscape that is looked over kindly by Elizabeth, a talking giant mushroom (trippy, I know). There’s also the Royal Woods, which while providing a reasonably difficult trip throughout, nevertheless look like a lazy clear copy of the previous Darkroot Forest location. Finally the Chasm of the Abyss lives up to its terrifying mythos in its dark emptiness and creepy Shade monsters.
What is so engaging about Artorias of the Abyss though, is the way the new content blends seamlessly with the central game. There are no in-game messages barking at you to find the new locations, but instead like The Painted World of Ariamis requires a little exploration and a little discovery. It also sheds light on the fate of Knight Artorias, one of the more likable and popular figures of Dark Souls, who famously faced the Four Kings in the Abyss before apparently being slain. There’s even a cameo in the form of a young version of a certain fluffy boss. All this provides a backdrop to some truly challenging boss fights, that more so than previous encounters, require ludicrous timing, a strong strategy, and a high series of deaths before learning the trick to victory. It definitely lives up to the advice of the phrase prepare to die.
However, maybe the most interesting feature of the DLC is the inclusion of a PVP arena. Dark Souls and its predecessor Demon Souls multiplayer have always maintained a degree of subtlety to its fighting, but here you are able to face off, show off, and back stab your way to victory in a dedicated area for combat. However, while the anticipation of this feature has led people to believe that it would fundamentally change the game, it actually turns out to be the most disappointing feature of the DLC. Finding a game takes horrendously long, even during peak times, and at some points certain other gametypes such as deathmatch I found impossible to even get a game. It’s very frustrating, but actually laughable considering the usual method of PVP in Dark Souls through invasion is achieved in at least half the time. It ultimately proves that the former form of multiplayer is a far more unique, dynamic and enjoyable experience that merges with the central story, and should not be constrained by the orthodox walls of a typical arena.
Nevertheless PVP aside, Artorias of the Abyss is an excellent addition to one of the most compelling worlds conceived in recent gaming. It provides more challenge, more exploration and more reward for your investment which instead of feeling tacked on like the majority of DLC, instead compliments the central experience and minimalist plot. £15 is very steep, but if you’re the kind of person who prefers Lordran to reality, then you won’t be disappointed.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360