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Places: Dark Souls' Blighttown

When people bail on Dark Souls and its enthralling world, Lordran, they’re typically in one of two places: Anor Londo, the city of gods; or Blighttown, a deep, hostile cavern. The latter is commonly strung up on forums and message boards as a sacrificial lamb for all to point at and punish. The frustrated lambast its narrow walkways, powerful enemies, and stingy bonfire placement, which essentially serve as the game’s checkpoints. When you finally reach the bottom – and I assure you, there is one – you’re met with endlessly respawning enemies and filthy muck that clings to your heels, slowing your movement and poisoning you in the process. You’re not playing by the rules anymore, Dark Souls. I’m out!

The level and enemy designs are gross and unforgettable. Located beneath a sewer, Blighttown is commonly entered through a series of rickety wooden walkways. One unexpected ambush later and you’re falling, wasting your last words on crude profanities. The swamp at Blighttown’s feet is rife with leeches, giant mosquitoes, and boulder-tossing giants. Aside from making your way back to the top, the only other obvious path out of Blighttown is a mountain of white webbing with a small hole in its center. You can guess what’s in there.

All sections of Lordran have something to teach you, and Blighttown is perhaps the best instructor of them all. It has to be, because Blighttown is literally a road to hell. Past the boards, past the sewage, and past the witch, Quelaag, is a lake of lava leading to some of Dark Souls’ most tormenting areas. Do you really want to walk those paths while you’re still soft? Still untested?

In a typical game of Dark Souls, Blighttown is the first area encountered where the world itself is more deadly than the foes inhabiting it. Most of the earlier environments offer ample space for combat. Dodging, rolling, and strafing emerge as valuable tactics. When they don’t work as well in Blighttown, an area whose brand of combat is as claustrophobic as the setting itself, people lose hope. They don’t see that Dark Souls is fostering new skills, useful both later and in the present. Fighting on small, uneven ground forces you to mind your footing. Diving is risky, so blocking becomes more prominent. With blocking comes stamina management, crucial to mind as foes start hitting harder and more frequently.

On the surface, you can learn to toy with enemies and backstab with ease. In Blighttown, it’s kill fast or be killed faster. And in a world like Lordran, so sparsely populated yet so hostile, taking life efficiently soon becomes your most useful skill.

Blighttown even manages to distort the game’s purest image: the bonfire. At bonfires, you can rest, heal, repair weapons, and level up. Seeing one after a long stretch of difficult gameplay is often reason enough to leap and celebrate. When I spotted one at the base of Blighttown, still without flame, I wasn’t happy. Lighting that bonfire meant Blighttown was my home until I was skilled enough to claw my way back to the bonfire up top. You can take a rest if you wish, the game says, but the worst is yet to come.

In such a hazardous place, it’s easy to forget that you can look up every once in a while. I’d recommend doing so. With your head raised high, you can catch a glimpse of the sky above, and it’s always lit with sun.

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