Review: Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 10/23/12

One year later, almost to the day, console owners are receiving DLC for Dark Souls. Dubbed Artorias of the Abyss, this content was included in the PC release of Dark Souls, dubbed the Prepare to Die edition, and by all indications, this content lives up to that name. The DLC content was indicated to add several new zones, bosses and items to acquire, as well as a healthy added challenge for fans who had seen and done everything they could with the game and wanted more. The content also promised better support for Player versus Player battles, including an entire arena to play in, so those who wish to fight one-on-one or even in teams would have the option to do so without having to rely exclusively on invading the worlds of others. The twelve hundred point, fifteen dollar price tag seems a little on the steep side at first glance, even considering the content added, but given all that it adds, with effective execution this could certainly be forgiven. So let’s jump into Artorias of the Abyss and see how the new content, both single and multiplayer, is handled, and if it’s worth the asking price for fans.

Note: as there is a full review of Dark Souls available that discusses the mechanics of the experience in full, this review will be strictly dedicated to what content Artorias of the Abyss brings to the table. As such, for any discussions on the mechanics of the core game itself, please refer to the above linked review.

So the first thing to understand about Artorias of the Abyss is that you’re not going to be able to jump into it without having made some progress into the main game; specifically, even for those who have completed the main game, you’ll still have to be at a point where the Lordvessel has been placed. In other words: you’ll have to be at least halfway into the game before this content is accessible in order to access some zones, so while this obviously isn’t for newcomers, if you beat the game once and never looked back, you’ll have some work ahead of you to get here. Once you’ve gotten to the appropriate point, you’ll have to go down into Darkroot Basin and kill the Hydra, quit and reload the game, and liberate Dusk of Oolacile from her prison inside of the amber golem at the rear of the cave the Hydra guards. Then, after talking to her twice (once to set her up as a shopkeeper and once to summon her), you’ll have to go to the Duke’s Archives (hence needing the Lordvessel to be placed) and kill a newly added crystal golem near the entrance, which drops a pendant you can then take back to the Darkroot Basin. A portal appears in the cave where Dusk was liberated, and interacting with this brings you into the land of Oolacile, which is where the content takes place. So, from the start, if you’ve not done any of this in your current game, you’ll want to make the appropriate preparations, but if you’ve accomplished most of it for fun and profit, you can basically just kill the golem and be on your merry way.

The plot itself revolves around Dusk, interestingly enough; upon arriving in the land of Oolacile (and facing down a boss because screw you if you think this is going to be at all easy), you meet a mushroom guardian named Elizabeth, who identifies herself as Dusk’s guardian. Princess Dusk, it turns out, has been abducted by… something, and you are asked to liberate her from her abductor. It turns out this entire series of areas takes place in the past, to add to the interest factor, so not only will you be fighting in new zones, but you’ll also be meeting characters from the history of the world, including Artorias himself, and you’ll be able to learn a bit about the Abyss and where it comes from. From Software fans will notice some interesting inspirations/ties to the Shadow Tower series throughout this expansion, and Dark Souls fans will find that the new content fills in some of the backstory and dramatically increases the significance of your Chosen Undead in the world itself. You’ll also likely be able to spot what the zones themselves have become in modern times, as the aesthetics of the expansion share more than a little with the aesthetics of zones in the main game, which is novel and ties the expansion together in a pleasing way.

For those who are more interested in the challenge of the affair, of course, there are seven new zones to travel through, though a couple are only small connections to other zones. Royal Wood (yes, seriously, I know), Oolacile Township and Chasm of the Abyss are where most of your combat will take place, as there are seven new enemy types to face, as well as four bosses (three mandatory, one optional, two offer tail cuts) and a new Black Phantom to best to boot. Further, there is a fully functional PvP arena, the Battle of Stoicism, to jump into, which allows solo and team based combat against others in your general Soul Level range, for those who want to get into battles without having to invade another’s realm. If it’s gear you’re interested in, there are a couple of NPC’s who can be killed for new gear, and two of the four bosses drop souls that can be made into new weapons, while two of the bosses also drop tail cut weapons for those who are into having all possible combat options. There are also a compliment of Abyss-based spells for sorcery users, and while many of these spells have similar traits to other spells/miracles/pyromancies in the game, they’re interesting in form and function enough that magic users will likely have some fun with them.

From a design and aesthetic standpoint, Artorias of the Abyss is very interesting, whether you’ve spent a good amount of time with the game or not. The visual style is very reminiscent of other locales in the game, to the extent that it’s apparent that some of the areas are purposefully based on others in the game world. The plot also calls back to elements from the main game while also expanding on concepts that were not heavily dealt with, which expands the lore of the product well. The little touches that are evocative of King’s Field and Shadow Tower are also nice for From Software fans, and it’s interesting to see them come up here and there. Aurally the game also sounds quite nice, as the game music, effects and voice work are all quite fine, as they were in the main game, and nothing feels compromised or out of place in the least. Everything about the expansion, from a design standpoint, is top-notch, from the layout of the environments to the enemy and world designs and beyond, and it’s clear that a lot of time was put into the design to make it interesting while keeping the things that make Dark Souls the kind of game it is intact. In simple content terms, you can complete the expansion in around ten to twenty hours, depending on how solid your skills are and how prepared you are to take on the monsters you’ll be facing. Make no mistake, though: the bosses you’ll face are easily some of the toughest in the game, hands down, so this isn’t simply a content expansion, it’s an expansion for those who ground down the core game under their boot heel and demanded more. The PvP arena is also a very nice addition for those who enjoy invading worlds (which seems to be more than a few players, apparently), as it expands on the options available to players who want to take on others in the game.

Having said that, while Artorias of the Abyss is a solid expansion, whether or not it’s worth your fifteen dollars will depend on a few things. First and foremost, a good bit of what’s here consists of reused assets from the main game, visually, so you’ll not be seeing a lot of new content; with only a handful of new enemies and gear, the price point can feel a bit steep. Further, if you’re in the position I’m in with the game, the expansion is, frankly, annoying and pointless. The expansion offers you no new gear that you’ll be jumping for joy to acquire and use, as most of the gear you already have is comparable, there are no new Achievements tied to the content, and any time you attempt to do anything that requires you to be in Human form you will be descended upon by players out for your blood, whether you wanted to be involved in PvP or not. It’s no exaggeration to say that, in two separate instances where I returned to human form to kindle my fire, I was immediately invaded, because the zones are extremely busy with players. This is part of the game, obviously, but it’s very telling that, even with a full PvP arena available to players, invasions are still extremely common, to the extent that I finally had to start playing offline just so I could get my fires kindled. Oh, yes, and the final boss of the zone completely changes up the game, mechanically speaking, using techniques that can instantly kill you (depending on how many playthroughs you’ve completed) unless you have a specific item that is hidden behind a wall in an earlier zone (the Silver Pendant) and have the timing down on how to use it. This is very reminiscent of King’s Field in a few ways, to be sure, but it’s also a big departure from how Dark Souls has operated up to this point, and while the battle is very tough and should be exciting for even the most experienced players, you walk away from it with a soul that you can use to make a catalyst or an Abyss version of Homing Soulmass.

Which brings us to the point, actually: Artorias of the Abyss is a fine expansion on its own, but if you’re not highly interested in expanding the plot of the game, still working on your first playthrough, or heavily interested in PvP, it’s probably not worth fifteen dollars. It’s certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, as the location is amazing in design, both aesthetically and functionally, and there are several challenging bosses for you to face down for those who want to test their mettle against the very best the game can throw at them. There’s some expanded universe concepts here for those who love the plotline of the game, some decent equipment if you’re still fairly early on in your time or starting over, and plenty of PvP options, including an arena to fight in and a bunch of players trying to invade locations since the zone is fairly new and attracting attention. However, if you’ve completely bested the game in all respects, you’re not going to walk away from the expansion with anything exciting to show for it, as there are no Achievements to recognize your accomplishments, the gear you can find is functionally little better than what you can find in the main game, and the expansion shares assets with the main game obviously and feels like less of an expansion for it. If you’re a dedicated fan or just looking for a challenge, Artorias of the Abyss is going to be worth your money, but if you’ve done everything you can and PvP isn’t your drawing motivation, you’ll find this to be a bit pricey for the actual content offered.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: UNPARALLELED
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: BAD
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss is the sort of expansion that’s meant for the diehard fans above any others, and while the end result is sure to please them, it’s harder to recommend to anyone outside of that group. The expansion is certainly very good in design, as the plot takes a very minor character and expands their role into an awesome one while also fleshing out the backstory of the game notably, there are a sizable amount of zones to traverse and bosses to face, and a decent amount of new content is available to explore. Further, the new enemies and bosses put up a more involved challenge than anything that has come before them, making this worthwhile for those looking for more of a challenge, and a PvP arena plus an active player base looking to invade makes this instantly interesting for those interested in that aspect of play. However, the expansion lacks significantly interesting additions in some respects, as the new gear and spells aren’t notably better than anything in the core game, there are no Achievements tied to the pack, anyone who’s done with the game entirely will have to put in some significant effort to get to the content to begin with. Further, if you’re not interested in PvP, the pack is going to lose some of its value, as returning to human form almost guarantees you’ll be fighting someone whether you want to or not and the PvP arena, which is a big part of the content, will offer you no benefit to speak of, and there are clearly reused assets from the main game here, so you’re not getting a completely new experience. Artorias of the Abyss is worth the money for diehard fans, PvP fans and those who simply want more content, but for anyone else the price is a little steep for what’s offered; the pack is certainly good, but it may not be quite good enough for the asking price.

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    • Mark B.

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