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.