Blight is a terrible thing. Just ask any Irishman: the legacy of Phytophthora infestans lives on to this day in the populace and is the root cause of any explanation worth its salt of why it is difficult to get served in a pub in the Republic with any accent from Cornwall to Cumbria. That’s real suffering, not decades of famine.
Moving away from any further trivialisation of an Gorta Mór, Dark Souls‘s Blighttown is very much deserving of the first half of its name. It serves as the recipient of the runoff waste from the sewers of the Depths and also as the home of pretty much everything either poisonous or toxic in the game, with all varieties of enemy from standard large and small Hollows to the dogs being perverted forms of enemy varieties that have been seen before. Combining incredibly likely falls from the rickety bridges that constitute the majority of the area’s platforms with powerful enemies on the ground and either elevated poison dart firing enemies (who, fortunately, do not respawn upon being killed once) or infuriating flying mosquito-type enemies means that, for the first time so far, the game has become truly and consistently three-dimensional in the threats that it presents to the the player.
Most importantly, before even descending from the Depths into Blighttown, I think I may have done something stupid. Though my approach thus far had been the standard, non-sociopathic “chat and be mocked by everyone” approach to NPC interaction, but I make the mistake of putting my DualShock 3 onto my desk a little too suddenly: I now understand why people moan about the L2 and R2 pseudo-triggers being a little squishy, and merchant near the door to Blighttown was not best pleased. Reacting in a fairly panicked mental state, I ended the fight with their death. At the time, I didn’t think much of it as they did not have much of interest to purchase – I’ve been informed, however, that that doesn’t stay the case as the game moves on. Missed opportunities.
Upon actually entering Blighttown proper for the first time, I was quickly given the experience required to understand why people have so much trouble with the area. After descending two ladders, I was presented with a single Infested Barbarian. Amateurishly, I had sprinted down to meet him and had little stamina left to block this attacks. My guard was broken and a great deal of damage done to me, as well as being knocked to the floor. I attempt to get up, but it appears that I’d been knocked too close to the edge of the platform. “You died” flashes onto the screen in front of me. If it wasn’t cruel enough to have just one of these guys on this platform, there’s a few more lurking on similar terrain up ahead, I was to find out. Battling through hordes of enemies all capable of poisoning me, in spite of poison-friendly armour and the Spider Shield (thankfully picked up in the Depths) led me feeling genuinely elated upon seeing the flickering embers of an unlit bonfire.
That said: it’s little respite at this point. There are some wonderfully useful items in this area (such as the lightning-resistant Eagle Shield) that running through it attempting to avoid the majority of enemies is to do oneself a disservice. Even from a level design perspective, not moving up and down ladders off the quickest path to the second half of Blighttown is to miss the lion’s share of what is most obviously a borderline over-engineered series of interconnected platforms. It’s also worth bearing in mind that rushing through the area will probably mean being made toxic by some of the hidden dart snipers – pretty much a guarantee of death unless you happen to have explored Darkroot Garden earlier.
Upon reaching the bottom of Blighttown, it becomes fucking incredibly clear that the entire area is a joke at the expense of the player. A swamp that will impair movement speed, coupled with that swamp being poisonous to move through, leads to a situation where damage inevitable. That said, the presence of the bonfire is a friendly concession: one may, however, argue that it’s only there so that players are able to become human once again so that a staged NPC invasion (and admittedly easy one) can occur. From Software: you are utter bastards; wonderful, wonderful bastards.
Bonfire lit, humanity restored and dearest Mildred defeated, I continued to explore the area. Following some embarrassingly naive platforming mistakes involving a wooden lift, I ascending to the top of this side of Blighttown and discovered the exit to the Valley of the Drakes. Wanting a little light relief from the drab and tense experience of the browns and greys of Blighttown, I explored around here, opening the gate that led to New Londo Ruins, going to pick up some teasingly placed loot: teasingly placed loot that happened to be near, perhaps unsurprisingly, a drake. I was killed, but not before I’d picked everything up. There’s something oddly satisfying about suicide runs in the game that help you pick up new equipment: it’s just a shame that I was unable to use most of it owing to my Faith stat being so low.
Returned to the second Blighttown bonfire, I refocussed on doing what I needed to do down here in the first place. Exploring the swamp a little more, pausing for thought and the processing of poison from my body on each of the little islands of refuge from liquid death, fighting barbarians and leeches as appropriate, I spotted what looked like a spider’s nest, and what would turn out to be the home of Quelaag, a Chaos Witch apparently. True to form, the gamer community couldn’t refrain from supporting me in what was to come through the orange soapstone messages. “Amazing chest ahead.” Fuck’s sake.
With Quelaag defeated with little hassle (with a little help from Mildred and her cleaver), I headed on the second Bell of Awakening and rang it, to be greeted be a cutscene of the gates to Sen’s Fortress. I think, for the first time, the game just told me where to go. God knows I didn’t want to be in Demon’s Ruins. Too much lava is never a promising thing, particularly in a game that teaches you to be fucking terrified of anything bright.