Dark Souls, but Harder
*MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW*
Players familiar with Dark Souls won’t notice much of a difference besides a few lines of new NPC dialogue, at least until they reach Darkroot Garden, a shadowy valley beneath the Undead Parish. From here there are three tasks that must be accomplished in order to open the way to the DLC, after which a giant hand covered in eyeballs and teeth appears to snatch you into the brand new realm of Oolacile.
One of the most genius aspects of Dark Souls was the world map. Every area in the game was part of a single, connected map built around a massive tree. I’m not 100% sure how Oolacile fits into that map, but you can see what appears to be the Undead Parish high above, and one of the NPCs claims that you are in Lordran’s distant past. Apart from that, the level design isn’t *quite* as refined as it was in the original game, though there is still a lot to appreciate here. In addition to a four open arenas where you’ll be repeatedly slaughtered by four new bosses (three main and one optional), you will come across a Stonehenge-like campfire, a forest, steep cliffs, valleys, a crumbling stone town, and murky underground caverns, all with the requisite unlockable pitfalls and shortcuts. Most surprisingly, there are also several interesting new NPCs who will chat with you and sell some new items.
The new enemy types, like the new geography, are basically reskinned enemies from the main campaign, but they can still kill you dead if you play sloppily. Basically, the DLC is all about fighting monsters that hit harder and faster than anything else in the main game. This is especially true of the new bosses, the first of which is called the Sanctuary Guardian. A short hike from the first campfire, you’ll come face to face with a creature with a lion’s head and body, an eagle’s wings, and a scorpion’s tail—Dark Souls’ take on a traditional Chimera. It is so damn fast that, regardless of your character build, you will have to come up with some new strategies to take it down. However, take it down you must, because it stands between you and the real meat of the DLC.
After a bit more exploring, you’ll face Artorias himself, the corrupted knight for whom this DLC is named. And Artorias is—I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it for myself—much, much faster than the Sanctuary Guardian. And your reward for defeating him? A third, outrageously overpowered boss ahead of you and TWO slightly smaller versions of the Sanctuary Guardian back the way you came. Ha ha! Good luck! Taking down Artorias also grants you access to the new PvP multiplayer arenas. (PvP is not my thing, so you will want to find another user review if you are hoping to hear more about it.) Lastly, there is also one optional boss whose identity I won’t reveal here except to say that anyone who was disappointed with Skyrim should find some satisfaction.
The Artorias of the Abyss DLC captures perfectly what Dark Souls is all about: punishing but fair trial-and-error combat situations that test your reflexes and strategic preparation wrapped in inventive (if occasionally obscure) level design. Or, put another way, remember when From Software announced that Dark Souls was going to be like Demon’s Souls but even harder? Well, Artorias of the Abyss is like the rest of Dark Souls but even harder. If you’re the type of person who views such a statement as a challenge rather than a threat, I urge you to jump into the Abyss.