Explore a beautiful dead world in Hollow Knight.
I’m in the middle of exploring a lush cavern called the Queen’s Garden when the ground gives way beneath my feet. Instead of hitting spikes and resetting back to safety to try again, I just keep falling. If I had found the double jump ability by this point, I could hop up to an exit path and continue exploring in the relative safety of the Garden. But I haven’t, so I can’t. Instead, I have to fight my way through a spider-filled hell for hours. Hallownest is an unforgiving place.
It’s also ridiculously huge. Hollow Knight is a 2D action platformer centred on exploring an open map, hunting for secrets and finding abilities that let you reach previously inaccessible areas. What makes it stand out, above all else, is how expansive and detailed the subterranean kingdom of Hallownest is.
The themed areas interlock with a logic that only reveals itself through exploration – everything is built on fading history. Hollow Knight’s world is long past its prime. There’s nothing but a desolate and dark landscape on the surface and a winding catacomb filled with the stink of death below. You control an emotionless knight, your purpose not entirely clear at the outset, and delve into that land to ward off the evil within.
Fighting is simple: I dance around enemies, trying to slash them with my nail while dodging their attacks. But the hits feel chunky and real, bouncing me back a little every time I
connect. Likewise, when an enemy hits me, I feel it. The game pauses for a split second as a crack flashes over my character before I go flying back. Those hits hurt, even if healing is as simple as finding a safe moment and channelling a resource called Soul to fill myself back up.
Hollow Knight’s combat never did much to surprise me over the course of the game. You fight with the same weapon and essentially the same moveset the entire time – while attack patterns, strategies and stats will change, nearly every enemy is defeated with a similar rhythm. Variety instead comes more from navigating the levels and the brilliant charm system. Charms imbue the player with special abilities, but you only have a limited number of ‘notches’ in which to equip them. They can do simple things, such as improve your attack range, as well as apply more complex modifications, such as giving you a ranged attack while at full health. The stronger the effect, the more notches they take.
Beating difficult bosses is often a process of finding a new charm combination to give me an edge. At one point I bested a particularly fast boss by equipping all my charms that did indirect damage – one that emits a poison cloud, another that strikes back when I take damage, and so on. It’s not a build that was strong for general use, but it was exactly what I needed against that specific enemy.
The charms come alongside permanent ability unlocks, most of which are movement abilities. There are a few optional combat abilities, such as a sword spin, but I rarely use them due to the long charge-up time they require. Even if Hollow Knight’s combat didn’t change much as I played, my approach constantly evolved as its movement abilities opened up new options. A double jump makes larger enemies easier to get around, while a wall climb makes fighting flying enemies less stressful. I enjoy how intertwined the platforming and the battling is.
The sheer amount of stuff to do in Hollow Knight is staggering. At around the five-hour mark, the map opens up and I started losing track of all the things I could be doing – to the point where I began keeping notes on a custom map of my own. It’s a bit overwhelming. The more effort I put into it, the more Hollow Knight rewarded me with thrilling challenges and beautiful, storied caverns to discover. I reached 100% completion practically by accident. I just wanted to keep exploring all the mysteries the world had to offer me. I can confidently say Hollow Knight is one of the best games I’ve played.
The sheer amount of stuff to do in Hollow Knight is staggering