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Crown of the Ivory King is the coldest, maybe the cruelest Dark Souls 2 add-on yet

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Crown of the Ivory King, the third and final downloadable add-on coming to Dark Souls 2, will send players to a frozen, desolate land where blinding snowstorms and ice-covered monsters will deliver what may the game's most difficult challenge yet.

Like the first two add-ons in Dark Souls 2's The Lost Crowns Trilogy, Crown of the Ivory King is designed to provide players with a unique level design experience not seen in the main game, game director Yui Tanimura said at a Bandai Namco press event this week.

In Crown of the Ivory King, accessed from Dark Souls 2's Shrine of Winter area, players will experience a new climate that changes over time. Snow and whipping winds will come and go, obscuring the player's vision and altering the layout of some areas. In one instance, we came across a frozen treasure chest that couldn't be opened, apparently until there was some change in the weather.

The new add-on will also introduce a new gameplay element to Dark Souls 2, which Tanimura called followers. Over the course of the downloadable content, players can gradually accrue followers — allied, AI-controlled characters — who will help them in a battle against a tough boss character. The more followers a player has, the lower the difficulty of that final fight will be, he said.

Exactly how those followers are acquired and what they look like, Tanimura wouldn't reveal; there were non-playable, non-aggressive characters scattered throughout the Ivory King sections we played, though it wasn't clear what their purpose was or if they are the followers he was talking about.

Crown of the Ivory King's snowy weather is designed to give players a sense of disorientation, Tanimura said, leading to players potentially getting lost. At one point during development, the bitter cold was designed to have an impact on the player's health, but that punishment was removed as it didn't offer a good gameplay experience, Tanimura said.

Players will encounter a variety of new and familiar enemies in Crown of the Ivory King. Snow-covered rotten dogs, icy golems and wintry sorcerers from the original Dark Souls 2 fight alongside ice crystal-covered humanoid creatures. One of the add-on's boss encounters, against a creature called Aava the King's Pet, is available from the very beginning of the DLC. But without the right item, the monster is invisible. Even with a high level debug character, the battle felt almost impossible.

Bandai Namco says the new DLC, which drops Sept. 24, is one of the hardest sections yet. For players looking for a high-level challenge, one particular boss fight is said to meet their expectations. After that fight, players can continue to play a "challenge route," summoning other Dark Souls 2 players — even if they don't own the Ivory King DLC — to battle something even more difficult.

After players complete Crown of the Ivory King and secure the third crown, they can visit the game's King Vendrick for a surprise that Tanimura was keen not to spoil.

Now that Dark Souls 2 is nearing the end of its development, we asked Tanimura if the game was coming to new-generation consoles. He said that there's always a potential for a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One port of the game, and that he's personally interested in working on those platforms.