Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Alana thinks back on a divisive part of a beloved game as she peers into the middle distance, rocking back and forth, mumbling 'Silksong, Silksong, Silkso—'...
I'm a pretty reactive person. I’m anxious, I hate spiders, and I don't like scuttling and scratching noises. But I absolutely love Hollow Knight's Deepnest.
If you’ve played Hollow Knight, then this area might elicit one of two reactions. You may be me and get excited at the idea of scrambling through mazes of dark tunnels and corridors, or you might feel the complete polar opposite and absolutely loathe it.
Deepnest is a pretty divisive area. Most of us can agree that City of Tears is a highlight of Hallownest, an incredible area with beautiful, melancholic music, tough enemies, and a map that’s extremely fun to explore. Queen’s Gardens is lush and full of spikes and traps, but the challenge is offset by its sheer beauty. Deepnest, however, comes nowhere near the top of the pile for some, but for others (like me), it’s quite the opposite.
Why? Because it nails exactly what it’s trying to convey. Claustrophobia. Isolation. Fear. Hollow Knight, like most of my favourite Metroidvanias, understands the importance of atmosphere, but Deepnest is Team Cherry demonstrating its mastery of the unsettling, abandoned, and oft devoid-of-hope world of Hallownest. The genre has always toyed with fear and uncertainty, after all. Don’t tell me you weren’t unnerved the first time you stepped foot into the Wrecked Ship in Super Metroid. And Axiom Verge is full of some pretty unsettling alien creatures waiting for you.
I didn’t get around to Hollow Knight until early 2020, right before the pandemic. At the time, I was in the process of moving house, and I found Hollow Knight’s eerie insect kingdom to be joyous. It was great at distracting me from stress because I could direct that stress to something that wasn’t related to packing up boxes and shifting my entire life from one location to another.
Late one night playing Hollow Knight, I beat the Mantis Lords, a pretty masterful boss fight that’s available fairly early in the game and equal parts exciting and educational. I honestly felt like I could defeat anything after getting past this challenge – I died a handful of times but perfecting the rhythm of the fight was so satisfying.
After beating them, I had a choice: I could either backtrack and head to City of Tears, or go left through a newly-opened door. Brimming with confidence, I went through the brand-new door. That, however, proved to be a mistake.
On the next screen, I was greeted with a dark, grey screen with only the residue of mist from the Fungal Wastes brightening the area. A pile of dead insects (Dirtcarvers and Weaverlings) lay atop each other, impaled by spears. I carried on walking, the name ‘Deepnest’ faded in, and I could feel all of that confidence begin to melt away.
Darkness swallowed almost everything around The Knight as I kept walking There was no music, just some ambient sound and some squeaking and rattling. I saw small pits of squirming, spiky creatures between platforms. As I pressed on, giant centipede creatures were burrowing through tunnels, while other bugs started crawling out of the ground. I panicked, and with no health or nail upgrades, I was soon scrambling for the exit, only to die by falling into a spiky pit.
I made a lot of mistakes. I didn’t have the Lumafly Lantern, which would’ve given me a bigger field of vision. I didn’t have any nail upgrades – I hadn’t even been to the City of Tears where The Nailsmith resides. And I panicked. I tentatively went back to grab my shade (I needed that geo, after all), and then scurried back to safety.
I was rattled, and even the idea of going back to Deepnest filled me with dread. I knew I wouldn’t forget it anytime soon, either. I was lucky I didn’t literally fall into it earlier in the Fungal Wastes, honestly.
No other genre turns me into more of a risk-taker than a Metroidvania. The whole point of these games, to me, is about being curious, being brave, and trying things out. As someone who’s pretty inquisitive, if I love something, I want to know everything about it. I’d already fallen in love with Hallownest in the first few hours of the game, with its sombre music and bucket-load of friendly and fearsome bugs. Of course, I was going to wander into an area I wasn’t ready for. Being punished for not having the skill or the right tools to get through it was par the course.
Lots of parts of Hollow Knight and, in turn, the map of Hallownest, are completely optional. Depending on whether you're a maximalist or you just want the normal ending, you might never see some bosses or locations. But not Deepnest – you have to set foot in this dark and dingy area at least once to see even the basic ending because one of the Dreamers – Herrah the Beast – is found there.
So I knew I had to go back, and when I did – after making lots of progress and getting another of the Dreamers (Lurien) – what I found was a spider’s realm of brilliance in Deepnest, the darkest corner of Hallownest.
Honestly, Hollow Knight does a really good job of preparing you for the scariest screens in the kingdom. The game flirts with horror, terror, and unease throughout, from hulking husks of creatures filling the backdrop of many an area to corpses dropping down to the bottom of Kingdom's Edge. Heck, the first boss, Gruz Mother, has babies that burst out of her stomach when you beat her. You're not even an hour in at that point.
Deepnest is definitely not a nice area, and it’s certainly not arachnophobe-friendly, but my second time diving in was thrilling. I was on edge the whole time, bundled up on the sofa in the dark, Switch in hand, making my way through tight corridors and all sorts of squelches, squeaks, and scratches. Corpses of some bugs re-animating and scarpering after The Knight. Huge, unkillable Garpedes crawling through corridors which I had to take risks to squeeze through to the next section. And many, many spider-like enemies.
Even though I was more powerful, there was this constant bubbling of anxiety inside me. I still found myself loving every second. The thrill of making it to a bench after being trailed by reanimated corpses and burrowing enemies was unmatched. Finding a Garpede’s corpse tucked away in a corner was harrowing but it helped instil a sense of danger. Don’t get me started about Nosk or Midwife, either – please tell me you shrieked and put your Switch down when Midwife, after talking to you about Herrah and the Weavers, suddenly swiped and snarled at you.
The Spider Tribe, the Weavers, and the associated enemies have some of my favourite lore in the game. I wasn’t expecting to stumble upon an abandoned village (aptly named The Distant Village) at the end of Deepnest, and the way you’re encouraged to sit on a bench by a group of villagers is pretty terrifying – just another unforgettable scene in an area full of frighteningly magical moments. The game used your knowledge to its advantage, but it’s also the only way to get to Herrah, as it leads you to the Beast’s Den, where she sleeps.
That Den is home to some pretty spine-tingling creatures, many of which you’ve already seen in Deepnest on your way to the village. Little Weavers are kinda cute (no? Just me?), but the way they crawl into the screen is ingenious and always catches me off guard. And any Hollow Knight player knows what it’s like to encounter a Stalking Devout, a huge creature that can only be attacked right as it’s about to attack you. I’ve died to these many a time, and I can hear their shriek as they swipe at me in my sleep.
The Spider Tribe itself, narratively, it’s another fascinating thread in Hallownest’s complicated web of lore. The Spiders were regarded as the most intelligent group in the kingdom, but they fell under the rule of a commoner (Herrah) rather than The Pale King. They remained their own little Nest of creatures, protecting their home to stop the building of the Tramway. You can really feel the emptiness of the area, of a small kingdom that – despite Herrah’s efforts – also fell victim to the Infection after The Pale King and the Hollow Knight attempted to seal it away.
Like a lot of places in Hollow Knight, there’s a lot of sadness and emptiness in Deepnest. From abandoned corpses to lost history, thoughts of what could’ve been for this intelligent group if the Infection hadn’t seeped out. Herrah herself desperately wanted a child, and the only way she agreed to work with The Pale King was to have one with him. But she couldn’t spend any time with her daughter, Hornet. When I opened Herrah’s seal and returned to see Hornet at her mother’s bedside, I wanted to mourn with her.
Everything about Deepnest is perfect, to me. It’s a masterclass in the atmosphere, a worthy challenge, and makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck just enough. But I was reminded of the divisiveness of this area a few months ago when my partner played Hollow Knight for the first time. Like any good other-half, I was eager for him to discover the pits of Deepnest and the Spider Tribe, excited for him to experience one of my favourite games ever. But he fell on the opposite side of the web to me, finding Deepnest unsettling, frustrating to navigate, and just not nice.
Honestly, I can understand that. Deepnest dives so far down the rabbit hole of 'uncomfortable' and 'awkward' that it might be too much. And that’s okay. It’s pretty annoying to renavigate if you need to go back there, I agree, and I completely understand how frustrating it is to lose a Shade or two there along with a thousand or so geo. And, do I want the entire game to be unsettling all the time? No way. And Midwife, honestly, still gives me the creeps – but nothing is as bad as the Entombed Husk underneath The Resting Grounds (have a listen, but be warned, it makes a horrible sound).
But despite being a person who hates being disorientated in tight spaces, doesn’t like getting scared, and threatens not to sleep in a room if a spider crawls under the bed, I think Deepnest is amazing. I replayed Hollow Knight recently and I was so excited to get back here and see if I still felt the same way about it. I did. I still panicked and shivered and held my breath, but it was all worth it.
The best part of Deepnest now, though? We could get more of what makes this place tick in Silksong. The remaining Weavers reside in Pharloom – the setting of Silksong which stars the Beast’s daughter, Hornet. We’re more than likely going to get more on the Spiders, the Weavers, and hopefully another area that tests my emotional strength and skill.
In my eyes, Deepnest is a perfect slice of Hollow Knight and a shining testament to why this game is so memorable. Whether it’s this area's crawling, creeping fear or the brief peace that Greenpath offers, the fallen kingdom of Hallownest hides all sorts of secrets, sublime and scary. Deepnest is the game's crowning achievement in the latter department.
So, after clambering through the caverns and corridors of Deepnest, it seems like Alana's a fan. But what do you think of this dark dungeon? Vote in the poll below and then scurry down to the comments.
It’s not my favorite area, that belongs to City of Tears. But I think it’s a fantastic area, and I’ve never understood the hate for it. The atmosphere is never tenser than at this moment.
Gahhhh nooo don’t send me back
I got so lost in that place it was great, and the Mantis Lords were damn tough
I think it's well-designed and cool, but it's wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too scary for me and is one of my least favorite areas, ha ha. I wish there was accessibility settings to turn off the spiders that come from the foreground.
quirrel. I miss you man, best character in the game!
I loved this area solely because of how uncomfortable it made me 😂 it's very strange because I normally hate horror games or jump scares in general. I don't think I'll ever forget the first time I ran into Nosk omg...I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't that!
It's one of the most memorable areas for sure, maybe the most memorable. But navigating it has always been a little bit of a pain to me.
I Think I like Kingdom's Edge the most.
I don’t really like Deepnest myself, but I do appreciate the creepy, unsettling feelings the dev team invoked in the area. I can see why some would really love it
Not sure I'd call it a favorite, but it's definitely one of the areas that left the greatest impact on me. I think it's important for any game focused on exploration to offer punishments as well as rewards for your curiosity, and force you to weigh preserving your hard-earned progress against seeing what's around the next corner. Hollow Knight carries this idea through the entirety of its world design, but Deepnest is the area that most strongly embodies it.
Greenpath all day every day!
Love HK to death, but imo those darkest areas could've been 10% brighter so I didn't have to strain my eyes, without sacrificing any of the atmosphere.
Yeah loved that place too, in general Hollow Knight's atmosphere and sense of exploration were excellent. Wish these guys were the ones making new 2D Metroid games instead of the hacks at Mercury Steam.
I got so tired of the environments in this game, and just bugs, bugs, and more bugs. That said, the movement in this game is fantastic.
This was a fantastic piece to read. Unfortunately for me, I just could not enjoy this game. I’ve made several attempts, putting in at least 5+ hours each time, and it just never hooked me. I’m glad that it has for other people. I’ll maybe try it again one day, and I’ll probably play Silksong when that comes out.
Mantis Lords was a thrilling battle. When you started moving along with the Lords' deadly moves in complete sychronization, it looked almost like a dance, it was a dazzling, mesmerising experience, I still remember it.
That said I loved City of Tears. The music, the atmosphere, the music, the statue of the Hollow Knight, the music, the skyscrapers with huge windows, the music, the soothing rain. And the music
I like Deep Nest. People say it's too creepy, but the moist sewers (Royal Waterways) with the flukemons is much creepier to me and I hate it. (But also I love it).
Hollow Knight is my favorite game and I can never pick a favorite area, but Queen's Garden is certainly up there.
Yeah, it's a good area. It's not the best, but it never feels like it's supposed to be. What I mean by that is that, for example, and conversely, it's pretty obvious that City of Tears is built to be the "best" area in the game: from the way it's set up and foreshadowed through lore to the visual sumputuousness of it all, that's the role it plays in the overall world design. Deepnest, on the other hand, plays a different role. It's dark, weird, and unsettling. It's tough to navigate. It's not a place you want to be in for very long. But that's fine, because it's not like the entire game is like that, just this one specific area that's called DEEPnest. It certainly lives up to the name.
I still haven't played Hollow Knight (I know, I know, I'll definitely play it eventually) so reading about Deepnest in this article made me equally terrified of and thrilled at going through it!
I voted the area as my favorite. Not having played the game before, i feel now i have to some degree. Such is the quality of this article. Descriptive.
Regarding the tiny, many-legged stalkers of the night; well, they don’t alarm me. Awakened by a fuzzy pitter patter across my flesh in the dead dark; a smile stretches my face. A sigh oozes. Sleep is returned to in short order and the proceedings are a good deal less fitful in the wake of my fuzzy flat-mate’s visit. In short, i dig it.
Thanks for the happy read!
@Chozo “Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs” legit better title than “Hollow Knight”.
This is one of the few titles on Nintendo Switch that I am kind of sad that I didn't finish. i ran into a tough boss fight towards the end of the game that tested my patience and I ended up silently putting the game down and never touching it again. I do feel urges from time to time when I glide past its icon on my Nintendo Switch to boot it up and start the adventure all over again, but I haven't pulled the trigger up until this point. Perhaps I will consider it after I complete Metroid Prime Remastered so I can at least see the game through to the end.
I remember finally picking this game up when the pandemic first hit in March 2020. What an amazing game. Never replayed it since , hence why I can't remember a favorite area, but what an amazing experience it was.
This whole game is my favorite area!
It was a super hard area. I totally agree about the mantis though: Before I was fumbling around and I never thought I could beat the mantis...but then I did and I felt invisible. So I kept going and going untill I beat the endboss (well, the regular one. I still have to do the true endboss).
I want to see the "Why I adore the Path of Pain" article.
It's like, really deep man.
I’m currently replaying Hollow Knight, a true masterpiece. Every area is memorable, except for maybe The White Palace
I love how much I hate it. It's an area where you want to go in prepared, and especially don't want to die because going back to reclaim lost progress is very hard. It's easy to fall in but hard to come back out of.
Really reminds me that I need to finish this game. I'm at the final boss but I have so much left to explore!
Just started this game. OK so far
Reading this article made me remember how good this game is. The atmosphere it creates is something special
Logging on and seeing a thumbnail of HollowKnight got me all excited for something else, despite that character not necessarily appearing in the new game.
I think my favourite is Kingdoms Edge. Always feels like there is more secrets buried there than I can find, and that the outside of the kingdom is almost within grasp. That's the problem with myself and games, no matter how big the world is, I just want to go that bit further.
I didn't know there were divisive areas in this wonderful game.
I fell into it by accident. It was horrifying.
Hollow Knight is one of my favorite games of the last decade. It's pretty special.
@Beaucine There's also a geographical reason for the City to constantly have rainfall, if you look at the map.
I know I’m basic, but City of Tears is my favorite area. I love rainy areas, and the music is one of my favorite themes ever. I would do all of my geo farming there so I could listen to the rain and music.
I hit Deepnest deep into the game and it did its job perfectly. Taking away all the niceness and ambience of the other areas. I couldnt say it is a favourite but it sure is memorable!
Such a consistently weird and wonderful game all the way until the end. One of the better "metroidvania" games I've played, and the atmosphere is definitely a huge part of what makes it so good!
Love this article! I also really don't like getting scared, I'm still processing horror movies I saw 13 years ago LOL. And yet, I think Hollow Knight also got me to enjoy eerie atmospheres and creepy feelings just like you describe here. Something about metroidvanias makes me feel brave and enjoy it.
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