A few words about Hollow Knight

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While waiting for some big releases I've decided to dive back into Hollow Knight. This is a game that I have bought and played several hours of on the PC quite a long time ago but moved on to other games. That in itself is a warning sign, that I originally was not entrenched enough in the experience to keep going. Well it is also on Game Pass and I decided to give it another go starting from the very beginning.

Much has been said about the map system in Hollow Knight. This very much being a metroidvania, you would expect a classic map showing you where you've been, where you are at and what remains locked away from you - for the most part this is the case. The biggest point of contention has always been the rather odd decision to not have the player show up on the map unless you have a special badge equipped. These badges basically act as skill slots and you do have a finite amount to pin onto your bug-like character. So unless you have the Compass badge taking up a precious slot, you will see the map of the area but not have a player icon indicating where you actually are on the map which considering the twisty-and-turny nature of the maps in the game can become a problem. It's weird, but once you get the compass badge which is available from the very start of the game it's not a huge deal. What I do think is a big problem in Hollow Knight is direction.

In typical metroidvania fashion the game is very non-linear, but it does funnel you through your lack of abilities.. at the start. As you hit dead ends you tend to naturally gravitate towards the next logical location, but the map in the game is quite big so bouncing off areas can take a long time. Eventually you uncover many areas that go quite far in the "wrong" direction before you realize that this isn't the place where you should be going. The trial and error nature of finding out where to direct your adventure next is the biggest failing of this otherwise really well made game in my opinion. There was a point where I had defeated a boss and was shown a cutscene and given a cryptic clue on what to do next.. and I had no idea where to go. The map loomed giant in front of me. I explored far reaches of the bug kingdom, encountering locations and items that I was not yet prepared to handle because I had not unlocked skills and abilities found completely elsewhere. You see there is quite a lot of side content to explore. Plenty of passages will simply lead to health upgrades or new pins, bringing you trasure but ultimately ending in more dead progression-wise. Plenty of times I thought I was finally going in the right direction only to find that I was on an arduous errand of increasing my health all along. What doesn't help is the limited fast travel system.

The map is quite big
The map is quite big

In the bug kingdom you will encounter plenty of benches where you can save. You can never fast travel between these benches though. There is a Stag Station fast travel system, and these stations are not nearly plentiful enough to cover the entire kingdom. Plenty of times I had to make do with getting semi-close to where I needed to go and then have to hoof it on foot through multiple screens. For a game with such an incredibly vast map it is strange that your travel options are so limited. Then again, this is a complaint I've seen raised on forums only to get shouted down by numerous players stating that fast travel would "ruin" the experience. As I had recently posted a thread regarding the practice of boss run backs and learned that many people would rather suffer the inconvenience for the sake of immersion it is not all that surprising that the developers of Hollow Knight have not yielded to these complaints through the numerous patches and content updates over the years.

At this point in time I'm nearing the final boss fight and unlocked 90% of the map and it has becomes somewhat of a chore to finish out my remaining tasks. To do this I need to travel around the bug kingdom far and wide - mostly on foot. This, at this point in the game, is no longer as fun as it used to be. Traversing the dark, maze-like depths of Deepnest is quite frankly a pain. Having to go anywhere is a journey. I've enjoyed the game quite a bit and it is extremely well made but the travel has ceased to be exciting and is now busywork that I've begun to dread.

Hollow Knight is a great game that is a little too obscure for it's own good. When your main technique of signposting is simply letting players hit dead ends, you should present them with a faster way of getting around the map and trying new directions. When you're at the very bottom right corner of the kingdom, but you really need to be at the top left portion, it's a pain to travel there even with the use of the Stag Stations. I wish bench teleporting was a thing, but if it hasn't become a thing by now it never will. At the same time it is quite ironic that I'm complaining about travel time in this game, when I'm simultaneously anticipating Death Stranding knowing full well what type of experience I'm signing up for. I guess it's a matter of taste in the end.

Have you played Hollow Knight? What did you think of it?

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