I may have been a bit hard on Dark Souls in my original review (despite spending like six months playing it before I reviewed it). I guess - despite my best efforts - I just couldn't get over my love for Demon's Souls (which I still think was a better game for its time). But Dark Souls ended up eating up a lot of my time, and I have fallen as much in love with it as I had for Demon's Souls. As such, I have updated my original review with a new, retrospective score to go along with this DLC review. I bought and downloaded Artorias of the Abyss DLC on day one (PSN) when it was released last year, but didn't get around to playing it until earlier this year.
Instead of just unlocking a special quest as soon as the DLC is download (ala Skyrim), the DLC of Dark Souls can only be accessed by defeating an existing, but entirely optional boss in an existing, but entirely optional area of the world; then defeating an existing enemy that allows access to a specific NPC; then defeating another monster in one of the end-game areas (after acquiring the Lordvessel) in order to unlock the "key" to the DLC content. Phew. That's a lot of hoops to jump through! So it took me a while just to be able to access the new content - let alone play through it. Sure, you may have paid for this DLC, but FROMSOFTWARE is still gonna make you work for it; and kudos to them for not compromising on their principles!
In and out in a jiff
Fortunately, once you get into the DLC area, you can warp out and back in via the normal bonfire teleportation ability. You aren't stuck in the DLC the way you were in the Painted World of Ariamis in the base game.
I had a small problem with being unable to summon phantoms due to my character being overleveled (lvl 91 in a first playthrough) because I had already started challenging the end-game bosses before downloading the DLC. This may also be the result of fewer people having the DLC, so the pool of available players is much smaller to begin with.
Time to save a princess!
The new content is basically a "save the princess" side quest intended to flesh out part of the game's backstory by allowing the player to travel back in time to witness the downfall of Oolacile (something that is hinted at by an NPC character in the base game). There's also a charming "cameo" by a younger version of one of the base game's better bosses, who shows up this time around to help you as a summonable ally!
The actual amount of content added is not very much. It basically amounts to adding one new "level" to the game with three bosses and a fourth optional (but brutal) boss. There's also a couple new merchants in the new areas, as well as some new equipment and magic.
Of darkness and mazes
The content itself fits in pretty well with the existing game; although, some of the new magic seems a bit too strong. The new bosses are tough and fun to play (although Artorias was actually a bit of a pushover), and the new enemies and environments also offer a brutally-satisfying challenge. There's a good mix of tough enemies (some of whom use the powerful new "Dark" magic introduced in the DLC), as well as maze-like environments that offer some fun exploration and platforming bits. Parts of the new areas are incredibly dark and maze-like, and so they reminded me of the Tomb of the Giants dungeon in the base game. Be sure to bring a flashlight and some Prism Stones!
My only real complaint is the new Dark Sorceries. These abilities are insanely powerful and can quickly and effortlessly lay waste to opponents - especially in PvP. They deal large amounts of physical damage that can't be completely negated by even the best shields, and the only effective counter to them is a consumable item that is hidden deep within the DLC areas. If you're still playing Dark Souls, you've probably been seeing more and more Black Phantoms using these spells - much to your frustration. The only way to deal with them is to go do the DLC content yourself.
The last area of the DLC also acts as a fertile humanity farm. There are ghostly-enemies in this area that frequently drop Twin Humanities items. These enemies are no pushover though. They deal damage to you on contact, so they are best dealt with via ranged weapons, magic, or melee weapons with high reach. Using short-range weapons like daggers, axes, or swords will likely cause you to step right into these non-corporeal entities and start taking large amounts of damage.
[LEFT] The "Humanity Phantoms" cause damage on contact, but they drop lots of Humanity.
[RIGHT]By the time I returned from the DLC levels, I had a large stockpile of consumable Humanities
They aren't impossible to deal with though. At first, I kept stepping right through them and taking damage without killing any of them, and so I panicked and feared that they required a divine weapon or cursed weapon (like the skeletons in the Crypt or the ghosts in New Londo, respectively). But this is not the case. You just have to be very careful when dealing with them, so that you don't over-step your attacks and get yourself killed.
The best part is that the DLC provides an opportunity for a new "first playthrough". Dark Souls has a very trial-and-error design philosophy to it, and so once you've traversed an area and learned all its threats, they become significantly less intimidating. Having totally new content to explore for the first time is very refreshing, and was just what I needed to hold me over (and build anticipation) for the release of Dark Souls II!
It's too bad it all doesn't last a little bit longer.
See you in the arena! Or not...
In order to offset the lack of content that the DLC offers, it does provide a completely new game mode: a multiplayer arena. The "Battle of Stoicism" is a no-risk way to practice your PvP skills by challenging other players to duels in small arenas. There are 3 different variations: a 1 v 1 duel, a 2 v 2 team battle, and 4 player deathmatch.
It's a fun and great way to hone your PvP skills and to find out just how well your character would compete against a Black Phantom invader. It's just too bad that this arena isn't available sooner in the single player game, so you can get the practice early enough for it to be helpful in the high-risk PvP areas of the base game. Also, depending on your level, you may find it difficult to find people to play against (especially for the four-player battles). This will no doubt be especially true once the sequel is released and most multiplayers jump ship to that game.
"I may be in over my head..."
More of Dark Souls to love
Overall, the DLC content is pretty good and well-worth a purchase from fans of the game (assuming you haven't done so already). The Battle of Stoicism by itself could have been a great-standalone DLC that would have been worth a purchase. Or at least, it would be if the arena were more accessible, and if more players actually used it. The fact that it comes packaged with quality single-player content just adds icing to the cake. The only downside is that the release of Dark Souls II will no doubt pull a lot of players away from this game, which will only limit the opportunities for both "jolly cooperation" and arena battle.