Sunday, 1 April 2018

Gaming's Best Levels #3: Blighttown - Dark Souls

A journey through some of video gaming's greatest levels. Or, the ones we like at least.

By Sam Graham

I already know what you’re thinking, so calm it.

Firstly, this isn’t going to be some ‘lore video’ narrated by a breathy-voiced nerd talking slowly for melancholic effect just so’s you lot can fill the comments section with oh-so emotional droolings. “Oh, I feel so sad for the beautiful Knight Artorias. Every time I slay him, I sit at the bonfire and weep IRL as I have slain a part of myself.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I once saw a comment from someone saying they thought the character was sexually attractive...

Jesus Christ...

Anyway, Blighttown. It’s horrible, yes, but it really is the focal point of the entire game. Why? Because it’s most decisive section, which makes it the most important.

Talk to anyone who has played Dark Souls and they’ll all have one thing in common: they all bitch about Blighttown. Whether it’s the upper sections with its ramshackled, easy to fall from walkways, those weird salamander-men who make you toxic and kill you in seconds, or the fact that you can pillage the larger enemies’ faeces and throw it like a dirty grenade at their peers, or the bottom end which is like walking through a sewer. Knee deep in waste, covered in flies, slugs and massive spiders, and with a frame rate so hindered, it makes looking where you’re going all but impossible.

So why is it important? Because it’s the part of the game that lets you know if you intend to carry on. For every person who has gone on to finish Dark Souls, there are a great many who have tried and given up. The first few sections treat the player a lot better than they deserve. They’re they usual fantasy settings: a medieval village, a church, sewers, a valley, a cemetery, ruins. Barring the sewers, these are all nice wide spaces, lots of places to retreat to if things get a bit dicey. The majority of them are in broad daylight and there are lots of gaps between the enemies where you have time to compose yourself for the next fight.

That all stops as soon as you hit Blighttown.

In Blighttown, flies track you from a distance. Ogres throw boulders from out in the darkness. The majority of the ground is poisonous, so even the floor is against you. Standing still will get you killed. Getting to higher ground will get you killed, because it’s so easy to fall off. Even the camera doesn’t work properly here and will probably get you killed. Most of the items are knee-deep in the poisonous slurry, usually guarded by slugs.

Sewers might be underneath a town (a ‘burg’ is a walled town, before you feel like being pedantic), but Blighttown is even further below that. It’s at the bottom of a massive hole at the bottom of a sewer. It gives a sense of oppression and isolation that the player hasn’t felt up to this point. In Blighttown you are alone. You’re in the dark at the bottom of the bottom. The sun is nowhere to be seen. No one but you can get you out. Getting back to the surface is harder than it was getting down.

Blighttown separates the wheat from the chaff. From those who are driven to push on to those who will quit and complain that the game is too hard. Yes it’s hard, but if that’s all you can see in Dark Souls, then it isn’t meant for you. That’s not a bad thing per say, but to presume it is all about difficulty is folly. Dark Souls is an adventure. It’s an experience. And that experience comes at a price.

Is Blighttown the prettiest? No. Is it the most fun? If this is what you call ‘fun’, you’re beyond redemption. Is it anyone’s favourite location? It certainly isn’t mine. But is it the most unforgettable part of the game? You bet. We all have the same memories of Blighttown, and we can all do it again when the remaster comes out.

Then you have to kill a spider-woman with massive boobs... Oh Japan

Enjoyed this piece? Then 'like' The Crusades of A Critic on Facebook. Sam also has a novel which can currently be viewed here, and features ten times the swears, snarc, and rage of the above piece.